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Back on site: Chartres

Take a look back at the LUCI Annual General Meeting in Chartres and get a glimpse into the early days of one of the longest running light festivals in the world, the Chartres Light Festival.

In September 2010, the City of Chartres (France), welcomed 130 city representatives and lighting professionals for the LUCI Annual General Meeting 2010.

While the days were spent at conferences and workshops focusing on heritage lighting and LUCI Commissions, the evenings were a much appreciated opportunity to experience the Chartres light festival first-hand.

Launched in 2003, Chartres en Lumières is an unique festival that lasts for six months over spring and summer each year, and encompasses almost the entire scope of this small city of approximately 39 000 inhabitants located 96 km southwest of Paris.

“We wanted to create an event that would draw tourists to the city. We are lucky to have lots of visitors from Paris that come to visit the Chartres Cathedral, which is a World Heritage Site, but we wanted to encourage them to stay the night and spend their money in our restaurants and hotels. Chartres en Lumières was a result of this,” explains Laurent Lhuillery, the Deputy Mayor of Chartres and initiator of the festival.

A tourism product

“Chartres en Lumières exists since 2003 and the number of visitors keeps increasing from year to year. The results are excellent – an initiative like this is touristic manna. It has been a tremendous success and we were pleased to show it off to lighting experts from around the world during the LUCI AGM,” he says.

An initiative like Chartre en Lumières is touristic manna.

The success of Chartres en Lumières means that the city has had to keep up with accommodation and dining demands for the increased number of visitors staying the night.

Chartres has had to increase the diversity of its touristic options. “We have a more diversified touristic offering, professional teams, and improved tourist reception because, with Chartres en Lumières, we primarily created a tourism product,” explains L. Lhuillery.

The city has seen new hotels, new restaurants, and more and more homestay possibilities set up to provide a wide range of options for all people and all budgets.

Staying on top

But time flies and in the competitive world of light festivals (a world that has grown considerably in the past few years), it is essential to maintain an edge to remain successful. Following the 12 years since its first edition, Chartres en Lumières has evolved considerably.

The festival, which began with 6 illuminated sites in 2003, has grown to 30 sites today. It has also extended its duration: initially lasting 4 months, it now generally lasts up to 6 months.

“Of course, it is a constant challenge to stay on top. In terms of artistic direction, we have renewed the festival’s offering with new artists,” says L. Lhuillery.

In 2010, the festival maintained its unique character by using exclusively one artist, French painter/scenographer, Xavier de Richemont for all of its lighting installations.

“It is important for us to modify and renew scenographies while maintaining the coherence of our specific concept – our speciality is to illuminate our heritage while respecting it. We do not want to use our heritage monuments simply as screens for projection,” explains L. Lhuillery. Artistic direction has been a prerogative for the city since the creation of the festival.

The municipality has also initiated an international video-mapping contest to “simply discover up-and-coming artists,” says L. Lhuillery. “Responding to project tenders for a big festival is often very complicated and we wanted to enable talented people to bring their creations to life through this competition.”

The festival has also had to keep pace with technological evolutions, not only in terms of equipment and material for the lighting  installations and projections, “but also in terms of communication, which is vital as it allows us to better interact with more and more people,” says L. Lhuillery. Chartres en Lumières is active on all major social media and developed a new smartphone application for visitors.

Maintaining local citizen support for the festival is vital.

This increased engagement with the public has paid off. With the city being illuminated for 200 nights of the year, maintaining local citizen support for the initiative is key. “The Chartrains are on board, without qualms. Their city is transformed and sublimated. The Chartrains are proud of their city, they talk about it, they ‘sell’ it as a destination not to be missed. As long as we keep surprising them with new lighting designs, the magic of light does the rest,” says L. Lhuillery.

  • The 17th edition of the Chartres en Lumière festival which took place from 11 July 2020 to 3 January 2021 featured a brand new lighting scenography, a 4-minute sound and light show, for the Saint-Pierre Church.  Read more here

An edited version of this article originally appeared in  Cities & Lighting magazine (Issue #2, 2015).

Images (c) City of Chartres