New showcase for the work of sculptor Alexander Calder is making its way to the Parkway

The mobile 'Ghost' by Alexander Calder hangs in the Great Stair Hall of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The mobile 'Ghost' by Alexander Calder hangs in the Great Stair Hall of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

An idea to build a museum on the Ben Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia dedicated to the work of Alexander Calder and the Calder family has been bandied about for 20 years. Now the push for a building for the artist famous for his hanging mobiles has finally gotten traction and is expected to break ground next year.

But don’t call it a museum.

They are calling it a “sanctuary.”

“They” means the philanthropists who have been pushing for a building honoring Calder, and the Calder Foundation. They approached architect Jacques Herzog, of Herzog and de Meuron, to design something closer to a chapel than a museum.

“The great thing about Jacques Herzog is that he really seems to understand the concept of it not being a museum, but a sanctuary for beautiful works of art, but also a place for introspection,” said Alexander Rower, president of the Calder Foundation. “There are all kinds of words that are inappropriate because they sound religious, but in the end it’s a place for you to have a meditative experience, a very singular experience of just you and the work of art.”

A piece of real estate has been identified for the future Calder sanctuary, along the Parkway across from the Rodin Museum. But what the building will look like and how it will operate is still to be determined.

The project will be funded in part by the Neubauer Family Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trust, and the Lenfest Foundation. The trio has been pushing for a Calder attraction on the Parkway for decades.

The project turned a corner when they decided to go small. Rather than a sprawling institutional museum, the Calder Foundation was attracted to their idea of a more intimate visitor experience.

“There was a project that had discussions and incredible enthusiasm 20 years ago for a Calder museum, but the Calder museum was unwieldy,” said Rower. “One, they couldn’t properly fund it. And, two, it was too big a plan. When the funders came to me and said we have something human-scaled, I was super-excited. It’s too small a project to fail.”

The project still hinges on hammering out a real estate agreement with the city of Philadelphia to lease a triangular parcel of land catty-corner from the Barnes Foundation.

The Barnes will play a crucial element to the plan, according to Joseph Neubauer of the Neubauer Foundation. He is hoping it will help administer the new Calder building.

“We’re trying to minimize the overhead costs. So some services will be provided by the Barnes Foundation in an arms-length arrangement,” he said. “There’s a lot of things in place, but exactly what pieces will shown and when, and what the arrangements really are with the Barnes Foundation, that all is subject to still being worked out. “

The project is estimated to cost about $50 million, with architectural designs expected to be drafted by the end of the summer.

This disclosure, the Neubauer Family Foundation, the Lenfest Foundation and Pew Center for Arts and Heritage support WHYY.

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