A skyspace by James Turell in a Texas meetinghouse.

Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting was awarded a $75,000 grant by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to help it pay for the costs to install in its meetinghouse a “Skyspace” by world-renowned contemporary American artist James Turrell and to make the artwork accessible to the public.

This Quaker community, which decided it had outgrown its current meetinghouse on 100 E. Mermaid Lane, plans to move into a new, environmentally friendly building on a nearby site by April 2013. The building will be reminiscent of traditional Friends architecture. However, a retractable roof, coved ceiling and recessed lighting will be installed in the meeting room to create the unique Skyspace design that James Turrell has donated.

Turrell combines art and science to create his Skyspaces: simple, luminous chambers with an aperture in the ceiling, which focuses visitors on the beauty of the ever-changing sky and induces silent reflection. His Skyspaces have been commissioned around the globe, including by The Museum of Modern Art’s PS. 1 Contemporary Art Center in New York City, The Yorkshire Sculpture Park, England; The Israel Museum, Jerusalem; and most recently the National Gallery of Australia. They are particularly evocative at dawn and dusk and are visited both by art enthusiasts and those seeking quiet contemplation.

“We are delighted to have been awarded this NEA grant, said meeting member Jon Landau. “Receiving the support of such a prestigious organization underscores our belief that this Skyspace by light artist and life-long Quaker James Turrell is of great significance, not just for our Meeting, but also for those who live in Chestnut Hill and the surrounding neighborhoods, the City of Philadelphia, and our region “We look forward to sharing this extraordinary work of art with people of all ages, faiths and backgrounds.”

The NEA funds will be used to partially defray construction costs as well as the development of interpretative materials and an outreach program to encourage people to visit the Skyspace, particularly those who typically lack access to art.

“We are committed to opening the Skyspace for public viewing every week at regular, published hours and in addition expect to open it for special events and pre-arranged group visits,” Landau said, adding that it has not yet been determined whether the Skyspace will be open during meetings for worship.

The total project budget is $6 million, which includes $800,000 in donated Skyspace design fees by James Turrell. Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting is currently engaged in a campaign to raise the necessary funds.

The following individuals have agreed to act as advisors to the campaign. The Meeting is extremely grateful for their support. Cynthia Affleck, Penny Bach, Jill Bonovitz, Diane Burko, Hiram Butler, Mary Lee Lowry Cope, Julie Courtney, Karen Edelstein, Robert Fleming, Claudia Gould, Peggy Greenawalt, Gail Harrity, Joan Kremer, Eileen Rosenau, Louise Strawbridge, Ann Temkin, Dennis Wint.
For more information about Chestnut Hill Friends’ new meetinghouse project and to view a short film about a Skyspace in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (UK) narrated by British actor and Quaker Judi Dench, visit http://www.chfmnewmeetinghouse.org/

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