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City of Light, City of Sanctuary

Writing on the Wall partnered with Lantern Company to bring City of Light, City of Sanctuary, a magical floating city of lanterns on the park’s boating lake from 20th to 24th February. Over the weekend, we had thousands of people visit the installation and listen to the soundscape that WoW helped curate with writing workshops about light, home, city and belonging. 

‘Downtown. Lights on buildings and everything that makes you wonder. And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.’
Stephen Chbosky

I remember reading this as a teenager, not necessarily my favourite of books, but it resonated with me, stirring something that began my life-long fascination with cities.

When the Lantern Company approached us at Writing on the Wall (WoW) to partner on this project, City of Light, City of Sanctuary, I jumped at the chance. Obviously, the idea of a floating city of lanterns captivated me but it was the opportunity to talk to people and communities about cities, about what they mean to us. An opportunity to share memories, some positive, some painful, to create new, exciting work and then go on to record it all. That to me, seemed like the perfect project.

WoW worked alongside four wonderful writers, Cheryl Martin, Ashleigh Nugent, Jeff Young and Lizzie Nunnery, to deliver writing workshops with people from across our city. Some had been here all their lives, some were newly arrived, some were here for shelter, others found love and never left. It was a melting pot of experiences and that was what made it so important.

There is something about being in a city isn’t there? Completely surrounded by life but also being entirely alone at the same time. Somewhere were anything is possible. Cities can be a source of great joy, nights out when lights, and memories, blur into one, journeying out into new streets in unknown places, but they can also be a place of great pain. Stories of isolation, fear and loss littered this project but there was an overwhelming sense of resilience and happiness too.

My previous jobs have given me the great pleasure of working with people from all over the world, particularly with people who have come to this city to seek refuge, in search of support or a ‘better life’, whatever that may mean. I know all to well the importance of community and acceptance, feeling like we belong. That can be a long, fraught process for some but I think this project offered an opportunity to support existing communities and to create new ones, to have others not only listen to our stories but understand our experience.

And it isn’t just people coming into our city that found a voice through this project, as we get older there can be a sense that we lose a connection to the places we live. They change before us, as do our lives, our bodies, our health, our relationships to ourselves and our cities, often without our approval. Memories and stories from older communities were vital to building this project, bringing together the young and the old, the new and the traditional and realising that cities belong to everyone and should welcome us all.

We laughed, we cried, but most importantly we shared. And that is the power of telling our stories. Standing up and being heard. We are part of the fabric of this city, our memories line its streets and long after we have gone our words will remind those after us that we were here.

Emma Hulme

Programme Manager

‘I thought it was such a magical event. Walking through Sefton felt like walking through a dream. I think an awful lot of people will want it as an annual thing.  It was probably the best event Liverpool has had in a long time and the standard of events in this city is very high.  I would even say it was better than the giants - for someone who is not from Liverpool it definitely gave me a huge sense of belonging to this city.’

- Nina McCallig

'Looking back at the installation it was quite an emotional experience listening to the stories mingling with the music and looking out across the lake at the lights. It was wonderful to see that so many people had turned up to experience the event. It reinforced to me that the arts should be inclusive and I think the fact that the event was free to the public was important .All people should feel that art, in all its forms, is accessible for them.'

- Janet Gardiner

'I felt really proud to be a part of City of Light. Not only because it was a beautiful and poignant installation but it was overwhelming to see so many people attending and enjoying it! The weekly workshops were incredibly beneficial to me; my confidence in my own writing ability grew because I was getting regular, attentive and tailored feedback from the workshop facilitators and our peers. Having a clear focus (writing for the installation) meant I was able to apply my learning in that context. Plus I really valued feeling a part of a community of writers.' 

- Hayley Greggs

'The City of Light Installation exceeded my expectations in that the lanterns looked even more beautiful than I had anticipated and the soundscape added to the charm of the theme. It was lovely to hear everybody's pieces but especially thrilling to hear my own and I am extremely proud to have been part of such a wonderful event. It felt as if the whole of Liverpool had come out to celebrate our work.'

- Irene Stuart 
Have a listen below to our supporting artists who helped on the project:

Have a listen to more snippets here 

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Writing on the Wall believe in creativity, community, diversity, artistic excellence and social and economic justice. We are Liverpool’s longest-running writing and literary organisation and festival. We celebrate and inspire creativity and writing in all its forms through inquiry, debate, performance and publishing. Our annual WoWFest brings together local audiences with the best local, national and international writers, artists and social commentators.