Listen in at Lumiere 2021

16 November 2021


Edward Twiddy
Edward Twiddy
Durham Cathedral lit up in bright gold and orange lights for the Lumiere event, a huge crowd of people stand in the dark garden to look under the night sky

Lumiere is a fabulous festival of light that takes place every other year in Durham City and - for the first time this year - on a number of high profile sites across the county such as Raby Castle and Penshaw Monument.

The festival brings up to 200,000 people together to enjoy a mix of creativity and technology that in recent years has put a humpback whale into the Wear, projected stories of the cosmos onto the university, allowed free climbers to scale the railway viaduct and turned the cathedral into a huge cinematic experience.

Dozens of artists from across the world are commissioned to produce the 50 or so installations that festoon the City for three nights in November. It’s a hotly competed platform for artists who know that this is amongst the leading festivals of public art in the world, and has been a springboard for many of the best installations to go on to other cities and venues worldwide. And amongst the international superstars of light displays this year are a group of GCSE students from the Durham Federation school in Ushaw Moor.

Located just a couple of miles west of Durham, Durham Federation is amongst 30 secondary schools in the North East being supported by the Department for Education and a widely drawn group of public and private sector partners to boost GCSE attainment, progression to 16-19 education and beyond into employment outcomes.

Durham Federation is the nearest of those 30 schools to us at Atom, and is on a rapid path of improvement thanks to the hard work and inspiration of its leadership team, the students who go there and a big investment in capital works. Nonetheless there is more to do to ensure the students can make the most of the opportunities ahead of them. To support the school a number of us have agreed to become Governors, run business breakfast events, help with IT and with the school’s brand and marketing activities. Holly T, Jon H, Paul E and Leigh P-G should take a bow.

The school has a particular focus on bringing art and science together for practical and creative projects. So when Leigh and I were talking with the team at Artichoke – the creative agency who organise the Lumiere festival - about getting involved and sponsoring an installation, we challenged them to come up with a proposal that the school could get involved in. We wanted to mix language, design and science in a way that would give voice to the students’ emotions after nearly 2 years of Covid.

In response Artichoke came up with a project that has involved writers and poets, designers and digital blueprints and latterly glass blowing, noble gases and mercury. Simple - often very raw - phrases that summed up how the students felt about their recent experiences were translated into first hand-drawn and then digital designs. These designs have been expertly shaped in glass, before neon and argon gas and compounds of mercury and phosphorus have been added to create 6 pieces that call out to those who are looking and listening. For the duration of the Festival the pieces will be in shop windows along Silver Street, next to the Market Place. After the crowds have gone the pieces will return to Ushaw Moor and be installed around the school.

The project is called Article 12. This is a reference to one of the Articles in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child - a long title for the international agreement that 196 nations (but not the USA…) have brought into their own legal statutes to protect children from such abuses such as being forced into war, slavery and the sex trade.

Alongside these fundamental protections are a number of provisions to enable children to grow up in an environment that respects their future. Article 12 of the Convention enshrines the right for children to have a voice and puts obligation on the rest of us to take heed. For all sorts of reasons, listening to the future and acting right now feels like the very least we can all do. I hope you can make it to Lumiere and listen to what the students are telling us. And if you want to help us as we grow more opportunities for young people in the North East drop me a line.