BY JAMES FW THOMPSON
Each year the streets of Sydney are transformed for only a brief time into a beautiful interactive gallery of arts of all kinds. Artists, patrons, and just the plain curious congregate and roam the streets of downtown awestruck and inspired by works popping up in public places that have been changed from the mundane to the extraordinary. For the past six years, the Lumière Arts Festival has been creating and welcoming people to enjoy local and national art. It has also been growing, and 2017 is expected to be the annual event’s biggest year yet.
“An estimated 2,500 people attended the first Lumière art-at-night event in 2011,” says Sara Roth, one of the event’s coordinators. “For 2017 we’re expecting audience numbers to reach over 10,000 people for the first time in Lumière’s history. There are over 40 projects, by an estimated 200 professional and emerging artists and community members.”
One of the major draws of Lumière, at least in my opinion, is that it makes art accessible. That’s not to say that it is basic by any stretch of the imagination. There is a lot of pretty complicated stuff, but it’s presented in a fairly bare-bones, no pretenses format that allows the audience to get up close and, in many cases, interact with the pieces. Roth describes the typical audience experience as an “energizing, exciting, and childlike experience.”
In addition to making art more accessible to the masses, Lumière also presents public, civic places in a brand new light. Places that people pass everyday and ignore, or perhaps even their own workplaces, become the gallery for a huge installation. Since the first Lumière in 2011, the downtown/waterfront district has seen a jump in the number of night time events and festivals. For years, the CBRM has been looking forward to real social and cultural development, and with Lumière and many other similar events, it looks like that might finally be happening. Roth agrees: “I think Lumière has had a small part of that by inviting residents and visitors to feel to occupy these spaces again.”
Other than the main event (the art-at-night festival on Saturday, September 23) there are a number of events leading up to it.
On Wednesday the 20th there will be a handmade pasta workshop and supper in partnership with the Inverness County Centre for the Arts and CBU’s Cooperative Study Club and Lumière. The event hopes to draw attention to issues around food security and community building.
Next, on the 21st, there will be a film series at the Highland Arts Theatre featuring a series of Canadian short films as well as We Have An Anchor, New York-based filmmaker, Jem Cohen’s ode to Cape Breton. Cohen will be in attendance and there will be a Q & A session following the film.
Of course, the big show happens on the 23rd. According to Roth, though not universal, there is a theme to this year’s event. “The relationships (often conflicted) between the beauty of this Island and the economic realities of living here. This year’s artists have developed some really interesting works in this vein.”
Some of these projects include Melissa Kearney and Nelson MacDonald’s project, it is what it is, a multi-media installation including a series of polaroids, mostly of sites downtown and North End Sydney; Mooring, by Newfoundland artists Diana Chisholm and David Dyck, addresses the relationship between CB and NFLD due to the ferry that connect them; and Put it in the Company House, which features pieces by Glace Bay youth including paintings, drawings and projected video animations, facilitated by local artist, educator and Lumière alumnus, Joey MacNeil.
The full schedule of events can be found at lumierecb.com. In the coming weeks, artist profiles will be added, and by mid-September you can expect to see the full map and guide.
Personally, I have attended each Lumière since it began in 2011 and have taken part in four of the six. Being able to present works at the festival is a great privilege, but, perhaps even more than that, is the joy of being the spectator. Of having the often dreary, early autumn evenings of downtown Sydney turned into a literal wonderland of sights, sounds, and performances.
You never know what you will see at Lumière, but at the 2017 event, I guarantee what you do see will leave a lasting impression.