DURHAM’S enduring status as a place of sanctuary is the subject of an interactive art installation that has been unveiled.

Durham County Council’s community arts team invited artists from across the region to apply for the Gala Open Exhibition Commission 2020.

It is the second time the council has run the biannual prize, which provides local and emerging artists with an opportunity to explore new ideas and exhibit their work at the Gala Gallery in Durham City.

This year, artists were invited to come up with ideas inspired by Durham’s Year of Pilgrimage, which will see events and activities take place throughout 2020, including the launch of the new Northern Saints trails in the spring.

The commission was awarded to North-East artists Alice Highet and Chris Plant for their collaborative vision celebrating Durham’s standing as a place of sanctuary.

Wonder:wander takes visitors on a multi-sensory, audio-visual pilgrimage, with an immersive installation that gives people space to step outside the fast pace of everyday life, slow down and find their own sanctuary.

The work will be exhibited at the Gala Gallery in Millennium Place until Saturday March 28. Alice and Chris also received £3,000 to cover materials, installation costs and community engagement activities.

The latter saw the artists team up with RT Projects, a mental health charity that provides creative sessions for those suffering from anxiety, depression and other disorders. A series of workshops linked to the commission was held with the RT Project’s Men’s Shed and Open Art Surgery groups.

Durham’s reputation as a place of safety and retreat dates back more than 1,000 years to the Pilgrims of Lindisfarne, who found sanctuary for St Cuthbert’s body in the city in 875 AD. This site later became Durham Cathedral, where the Sanctuary Knocker symbolises the building’s role as a safe place for those facing legal prosecution.

Durham Miners Hall, meanwhile, became a place of sanctuary during the miners’ strike in 1984 and, more recently, Syrian refugees escaping civil war have found peace and safety in the city.

In 2016, this status was made official when Durham was named a City of Sanctuary. This is part of national movement that recognises towns and cities with a commitment to helping new arrivals integrate into communities and find refuge from war and persecution.

Images and sounds recorded on paths of Pilgrims’ Way were brought together by the artists and RT Projects and projected onto sheer fabric, paper and mirrors.

Helen Ross, strategic manager of culture at Durham County Council, said: “We were blown away by Alice and Chris’ idea, which really epitomises what Durham’s Year of Pilgrimage is all about.

“Durham has been a place of sanctuary for hundreds of years and this installation celebrates that, while providing a safe and peaceful space for visitors to reflect. Chris and Alice have both produced some amazing artwork during their careers, contributing to major events such as the Olympics and Lumiere and exhibiting at venues across the region and beyond.

“We are thrilled to see their vision become a reality here in County Durham.”

Alice said: “Chris and I have been working together for about a year now, creating immersive and interactive art using moving images and sound. Combining our experiences has allowed us to push our work in innovative and unforeseen directions and apply for more ambitious projects such as Gala Open Exhibition Commission. We were both greatly inspired by the brief and were delighted our idea was chosen.”

Chris added: “We wanted to create a space where people can escape the hustle and bustle of daily life. We especially enjoyed working with RT Projects, as they share our belief in the calming and uplifting qualities of creativity.”

To find out more about the Gala Gallery, visit: www.galadurham.co.uk/gala-gallery