Friends get a Skyspace

    The Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting has received a financial boost to help make its new meetinghouse a memorable space: a $75,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

    The new meetinghouse will include an installation by contemporary artist James Turrell. Turrell creates Skyspaces – simple rooms with an aperture in the ceiling through which viewers observe the changing sky. It’s not a skylight, there’s an actual hole in the ceiling.

    John Landau is the director of the project that won the grant. “It’s an amazing form of art. And very much a Quaker form of art,” he says. Landau calls it Quaker art because its simple and toys with the ‘inner light’ metaphor that Friends talk about. He says, “It brings the sky into the room in a way which is incredibly profound.”

    Importantly, it does so quietly. Quaker meetings are supposed to provide quiet for reflection.  It’s pretty quiet on the corner of Mermaid Lane and Germantown Avenue, too where the meetinghouse will be built. James Bradberry is the project’s architect.  “We’re standing more or less in the center of the meeting room,” he says. It’s a room he has to design with a nine foot square hole in the ceiling, and with a way to keep the elements out.  He’s unfazed.”Years ago, pre-industrialization artists and architects worked together on buildings,” he says. “The Gothic Cathedral: the stained glass craftsman and the stone mason and the artist all worked together. And it was sort of forgotten over time. There seemed to be a kind of schism between art and architecture . Art went in a space designed by an architect – this is not that.”Indeed, Bradberry and James Turrell have walked around this site many times, planning and plotting the space’s layout together. The $6 million project should be complete in 2013.

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