Weavers Way Co op General Manager Glenn Bergman speaks about the new Chestnut Hill Friends Meetinghouse. (Photo by Barbara Sherf)

by Barbara Sherf

Supporters of Chestnut Hill Friends new meetinghouse learned Oct. 26 at a fundraising campaign kick-off event that the meeting had already raised $2.63 million towards the $3 million needed for the building that will be erected next to the current meetinghouse at 100 E. Mermaid Lane. The meeting had already raised $2.8 million of the $5.8 million total cost of the project.

TitledBuilding in the Light: The Campaign for Chestnut Hill Friends New Meetinghouse Project,” includes as a centerpiece aSkyspace” by world-renowned contemporary American artist James Turrell.

The meeting room will feature a Turrell Skyspace, an aperture in the ceiling with a retractable roof, coved ceiling, and recessed lighting, which focuses ones gaze on the beauty of the ever-changing sky overhead and induces silent reflection. It will be open at least twice a week at regularly scheduled, published times, with opportunities to open it more frequently upon request.

Speaking at the gathering of donors, neighbors, meeting members and local leaders, Jon Landau, campaign co-chair, said contributions to date have come from meeting members, other Quakers, art enthusiasts and supporters across the Philadelphia region. Last year the project received one of the largest grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The $2.63 million raised to date, added to the $2.8 million previously identified by Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting from other sources – including Turrell’s donated design fees – mean that the project needs to raise another $370,000 to meet the $5.8 million total projected cost of the new meetinghouse.

Groundbreaking for the new building is planned for spring of 2012, with the building opening in the summer of 2013.

We are launching the public part of this to get the community involved,” Landau said.This is a very important part of the fundraising where we invite the public to give as much as possible over the next six months. We need the larger community to help us close that gap.”

Landau thanked everyone for their support and expressed the hope that with the official opening of the campaign many more people will learn about the project through a series of events over the coming months and consider contributing to it.

We are delighted by the enthusiasm with which people and grant makers have welcomed our plans for a new meetinghouse with a Skyspace by James Turrell and a garden open to the public,” Landau said. “The generosity of all those who have already contributed to this undertaking has been inspiringit’s been a struggle, but its been a wonderful struggle.

Other speakers at the event were Glenn Bergman, general manager of Weavers Way Co-op; Rabbi George Stern, who recently stepped down as executive director of the Neighborhood Interfaith Movement, and Jordan Bastien of Chestnut Hill, who served as the former director of the Andrea Rosen Gallery in New York.

When I saw last fall’s article about it in the Local, I threw myself at this project,” Bastien said. “In my career as a contemporary art dealer, I’ve had the privilege of traveling the world and seeing a lot of amazing art. When I was preparing for a trip to Houston, every artist and collector I asked for recommendations on what to see said,the one thing you can’t miss is the Skyspace in the Quaker meetinghouse.’”

Bergman endorsed the project as a community resource.

This will be a remarkable venue for gatherings of local groups, a new garden for all to enjoy and a means of further knitting together the Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy neighborhoods,” he said.

Rabbi Stern said people of all faith backgrounds would appreciate the Turrell Skyspace as a place for quiet contemplation.

It is expected that visitors from all walks of life and of all faiths will appreciate this urban oasis just off Germantown Avenue and take the opportunity to also explore a currently little-used section of Fairmount Park that runs alongside the site,Stern said.

Built in 1931, the current meetinghouse in Chestnut Hill is no longer able to accommodate the needs of the growing Quaker community. After years of discussion and consideration, the Meeting decided to build a simple, two-story L-shaped building using environmentally friendly and sustainable building practices and materials on a wooded 1.8 acre-site on Mermaid Lane close to its current location. What is now an asphalt-covered former quarry will become a green oasis between Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy. The project has received support from many groups, including Friends of the Wissahickon.

For more information about Chestnut Hill Friends Meetinghouse project, visit http://www.chfmnewmeetinghouse.org/