An Interview with Lumiere Production Coordinator, Maeve McDonnell

Posted 12/17/2020

This week we spoke to our Production Coordinator, Maeve to gain an insight into her experience of working as part of the festival team.

In 2019, Maeve joined Artichoke team to work on Lumiere through Create Jobs’ STEP* programme. Maeve was involved in two Create Jobs programmes: ‘Transforming Spaces’ and ‘Creative Opportunities’, which consisted of two six-month internships in the creative sector. Her first internship was a Gallery Intern at Fashion Space Gallery and her second was as a Production Intern at Artichoke for the 10th anniversary edition of Lumiere, Maeve played a key role in coordinating the production of the festival and worked with community groups in Durham on the Learning and Participation Programme.

Tell us a bit about your role and how you came to start working for Artichoke and Lumiere.

As a Production Intern, I worked with Artichoke Producer Louise on the Learning and Participation programme. For Lumiere 2019 we had two key community projects, Keys of Light and Bottle Festoon. My main focus in the lead-up to the festival was getting these programmes up and running. 


What was your most memorable moment whilst working on Lumiere?

I had a few memorable moments whilst working on Keys of Light, which was an interactive light installation displaying stunning projections in response to live piano performances by local people. I worked on the project from the very beginning, so it was great to see it all come together at the festival. It was lovely to see people really engage with installation, going from the nervousness before their performance to the adrenaline and excitement afterwards. The project definitely gave the participants more confidence as pianists.

Another great moment was when the youngest Keys of Light participant, who was 4 years old, and the oldest participant, who was 88, performed at the installation on the same night. It was a pure coincidence that they happened to be there at a similar time, but it was a lovely representation of the wide range of age groups involved.


Lastly, I saw someone proposing in front the installation! Apparently it’s not the first time that someone has proposed in front of a Lumiere artwork.


Important lessons learned from your experience working on Lumiere?

Everyone kept warning me about how cold it was in Durham, but because I’m Northern it wasn’t nearly as cold as I thought it was going to be. I brought far more layers with me than I needed. Next time I’ll take into consideration that if you’re Northern, you can probably handle the cold a little bit better than the Southerners!


Do you have a favourite Lumiere 2019 artwork?

There so many works I loved, but my favourite has to be one of the installations at Durham Cathedral, Spirit by Compagnie Carabosse. It incorporated two of my favourite things, fire and live music.


Is there anything which you know from working behind-the-scenes that you think would surprise someone in the audience?

Having worked in the Production team, I think people would be surprised by the precautions we take for animal welfare. For instance, the Cathedral has bats, which are a protected species. With the Compagnie Carabosse fire installation, there was a risk of the space going over a certain temperature, which could cause them harm. To make sure the bats were kept safe, we fitted fans in the areas of the Cathedral where the bats roost.

Similarly, when we install any artworks in the River Wear, we have to do thorough checks to ensure that the works are not harmful to any of the wildlife in the water. I don’t think the audience would necessarily realise that we need to consider that kind of thing.


Were there any differences between what you expected the experience of working on Lumiere to be like and the actual experience?

The experience was completely new for me so I didn’t have any expectations either way. It was quite an adventure!

The main difference was that I didn’t expect to have as many important responsibilities as I did because I was intern. I helped coordinate the installation of the Bottle Festoon installation, which was around 300 chandeliers created with plastic bottles in community workshops, so that was quite a big task. I also had to organise the transportation of the chandeliers in a van to the location in Durham.


I was also responsible for running piano practice sessions for participants in preparation for Keys of Light and during the festival, I organised the general running of Keys of Light over the four nights. I had to manage the public, project trainees and staff. I loved every minute of it.


Keys of Light was projected onto a student accommodation building, which meant that we had to make sure that the students kept all of their blinds down throughout the evenings of the festival. I also programmed around 150 participants over the four nights. Each participant had a 10-minute slot, so it was a quick turnaround. I had to work closely with the project trainees to make sure we were on schedule and that people were arriving. Overall, I didn’t really feel like an “intern”. I felt like an integral part of the team. My previous internship was on a tiny scale and mainly administrative, nothing like what I did at Artichoke.

Louise, Artichoke’s Learning and Participation Producer, was a great mentor because she drip-fed me the responsibility and then later told me, “Maeve, you do realise you are project managing this?” It meant that it didn’t feel overwhelming and it was a great way to introduce me to working on this scale. I was gently navigated through, while also managing my work independently.


What were some of the big challenges/intense moments you faced?

I think the biggest challenge was the transition from being in an office to being on site. When you get to Durham, you’re working from very early in the morning until late at night. When you’re in the office you can have a strong sense of what everyone else on the team is up to, whereas in Durham you’re doing a lot of work on your feet in the cold, wet and rain so you’re not checking your emails as regularly.

One of my challenges was that during the festival, it was easy to be very focused on what was happening at that moment and forget all other responsibilities. With Keys of Light, I had to be really on top of emails from the participants and managing the admin work while also working on my feet on site.

As intense as it gets during the festival, everyone on the team really supports each other. There’s a lot at play and you need to be able to multitask, but that also makes it really exciting and fun. It’s a great way to bond with your team.


What was the most impressive or unexpected transformation of a location in Durham at Lumiere in 2019?

I would say Bottle Festoon, as I’d been working on it from the very beginning. When we installed the chandeliers, we did it during the day so we honestly had no idea what it was going to look like in the dark.


When I finally walked around the festival on my own, honestly, I was taken aback. It was one of the most beautiful moments, because I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so magical. The magic was definitely enhanced by knowing how much work and effort had gone into creating the artworks.

I was also especially stunned by the artworks installed on the walk down to the Count’s House. Javier Riera’s Geometrical Traces was in a great location by the river and people were really engaged with it – they would stop on the bridge for a long time to watch the patterns change.


What are you most looking forward to for the upcoming Lumiere?

I’m now working in a new role at Artichoke as Production Coordinator, so Lumiere 2021 will probably be completely different experience for me. I’m looking forward to having totally new responsibilities and challenges.


What do you enjoy most about working in production?

Being able to see behind-the-scenes and learning about the logistics is something I find really interesting. I also love being on my feet solving problems.


Why do you think public art is important?

Public art is important because it has no barriers. I love that it gives people the chance to be distracted from their day-to-day for a moment. Especially in this current climate, it provides a moment of joy and takes people away from what’s going on in the world. You just feel different when you see artworks like the ones at Lumiere and I think it’s important that everyone is able to experience that. 


All photos by Matthew Andrews

Explore People Make Lumiere: the festival behind-the-scenes

*STEP trainees are paid at London Living Wage – click here to find out more about Create Jobs’ programmes