Lumiere is to the people of Durham what Halloween is in Derry. And the good news is that in 2013 we get to do both.
Thousands and thousands people packed the cobbled streets of the ancient north east English city last week as the festival of light returned for a third time.
It’s been held there every other year since 2009 and has now firmly established itself as the biggest event on their cultural calendar.
Now Lumiere is coming to Derry for the first time as part of the UK City of Culture celebrations next week and if the reaction on the streets of Durham is anything to go by, it is going to be as much of a hit here as it has become there.
Similarities between the two cities in terms of size and nature – if it had a complete set of walls Durham’s city centre would be uncannily like Derry – make this the perfect place for Lumiere to stage the festival outside England for the first time.
The majority of the installations in Durham are brand new for this year, but many of the favourites from two or four years ago will be making an appearance in Derry.
Two, in particular, have made quite an impression in the past – the Fire Garden and Les Voyageurs (The Travellers) – will be star attractions when the festival runs in Derry from Thursday November 28 to Sunday December 1.
The Fire Garden is set to light up St Columb’s Park next week while the ghostly figures of Les Voyageurs will soar over the Peace Bridge.
This year’s Durham festival attracted record crowds of almost 175,000 people over the four nights making it the most successful ever.
This year’s attraction included Elephantastic, a life-size 3D elephant welcoming visitors to the town centre on the pedestrian bridge over the River Wear, Solar Equation, a scale model of the sun (100 million times smaller than the real thing) at the Durham University Science Site, and even an old city centre phone box transformed into an illuminated aquarium – complete with dozens of different types fish.
But the highlight was Crown of Light at Durham Cathedral as the entire façade of the building was illuminated by projected images from ancient manuscripts.
It’s a similar project to Novak’s Voyage which will transform the Austins Building in the Diamond next week when the festival opens here.
Both cities feature the work or local artists alongside more established international artists.
In Durham they had Robin Reliants with stained glass windows dotted around the city while here we will have Northern Ireland artist Deepa Mann Kler’s neon balloon dogs in and around the City Walls.
Children in particular will love the interactive installations Change Your Stripes at the Credit Union and Marbles in The Fountain, although the whole festival has been designed to be family friendly.
Each of the different installations has its own merits, and while some will be visible pretty much all over the city, other more interactive attractions will gather crowds.
Sometimes it’s the simplest ideas which make the biggest impression.
My own favourite from Durham was Helvetictoc, which shone an approximate time up onto a wall – it’s almost quarter to nine, it’s just gone ten o’clock - lamenting the lost art of asking a stranger the time.
Simple, but wonderfully effective and I want one for my kitchen.
But it is when the festival is taken as a whole that you can see just how it creates such an impact on the city.
It’s a tall order to get around every single one of the installations in just one evening and that will also be the case when the festival opens here next week.
Durham was one of the cites which missed out on the inaugural UK City of Culture title when it was awarded to Derry in 2009 and their response to that was to create their own mini cultural programme, with the first Lumiere festival as the highlight. Bringing it to Derry as one the main attractions of the closing weeks of the year brings it nearly full circle.
Graeme Farrow, the Culture Company’s Executive Programmer, hails from that part of world and leapt at the chance to bring Lumiere to Derry when the opportunity presented itself.
“It was such a big success there that it seemed a natural idea to want to bring here,” he said.
“One of the main themes for the programme for the year was to tell a new story about Derry~Londonderry and I can’t imagine a better way of doing that that having thousands of people coming here and seeing the city in a completely new light.”
On a cold November evening forget about heading home and sitting in front of the fire – you’ve all winter to do that.
Instead get out there and take a walk around the city. It’ll never seem quite the same again.
You’ll need to abandon the car to get the best out of Lumiere and to accommodate the thousands of people expected in and around the city centre park and ride facilities have been set up for the festival.
They are located at Fort George on the Strand Road where the bus will transport people to Queen’s Quay roundabout, and on the Limavady Road with the bus taking people to Ebrington.
City centre car parks will also be open.
No road closures are planned for the festival, but due to large numbers of people moving about in the city centre, normal traffic flow might be affected.
The latest traffic updates will be available from the local radio stations and also by searching #lumierederry on twitter.
For family and friends travelling to Lumiere from outside the city special coach returns from Belfast, Enniskillen, Omagh, Strabane, Dungannon, Cookstown, Magherafelt and Dungiven are being laid on by Translink on 29 and 30 November.
Additonally there is a special family train service from Belfast with on-board entertainment on 30 November.