For a few minutes at the end of each month, when the night grows dark and Karl wraps the city in its cool embrace, Grace Cathedral's gothic exterior will be lit with images of resilience.
Called "Projecting Grace," the installation will echo the European tradition of illuminating the after-dark facades of illustrious churches (think Westminster Abbey and the Rouen Cathedral of Notre Dame) but with a San Francisco twist: "Art at Grace Cathedral is very tied to social justice," says cultural programs director Rebecca Nestle. "Art is not only the best of what makes us human, but it's also a way for people to reflect on issues and to connect with themselves and with others. We're trying to help people find those transformative moments."
At the start of the pandemic, the design lab Amplifier issued a global open call for public art to promote wellbeing and social change. "I was immediately drawn to this idea because for me, as an artist and graphic designer, the first thing I do in times of crisis is art," said Michelle Regenbogen, founder of the San Francisco–based design firm Macchiatto, who reached out to Grace Cathedral with her idea.
With its commitment to social justice not to mention its stunning facade, the church is an ideal canvas for the project. In fact, Nestle says they'd been wanting to do a projection for some time. "When Michelle contacted us about the Amplifier project, we were really excited."
This month's projection will be the third in a series that has already honored victims of police violence and racial intolerance, and explored themes of love and inclusion. In each installation, 12 to 15 images are displayed three at a time beginning around nightfall. Much of the artwork comes courtesy of Amplifier, including Shirien Damra's portraits of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, both of which graced Grace's first illumination. The team hopes to feature more Bay Area artists going forward—17-year old Jett Fitch's "Wild Pride" was included in the July 26th projection.
Jett Fitch's "Wild Pride" (center), during a recent installation of "Projecting Grace" at Grace Cathedral.(Courtesy of Grace Cathedral)
"The piece ties together themes of BLM, LGBT pride, and environmentalism. I wanted to show how interconnected these movements are [and how] they support and build on each other," Fitch says. "Seeing my art piece projected onto Grace Cathedral's walls, accompanied by many other astounding artists, gave it a powerful sense of completion."
Because the installations are fleeting, the team behind "Projecting Grace" is able to be nimble and timely with the themes and imagery they choose. "Some of the issues that we want to address with these art works are really current, like John Lewis passing, the murder of George Floyd, and the pandemic," says Nestle.
"Everything is happening so fast," agrees Regenbogen. "We've been pushing as much as we can to show images of people of color and trans folks and inclusion. It feels very inclusive to me and very San Francisco."
Grace Cathedral isn't promoting 'Projecting Grace" on its website and, while its ephemerality fosters a sense of community among those lucky enough to be present when the lights go up, there's a practical reason for that: Covid-19. "One day when it's safer to gather, we're excited about having an audience there and having a more extensive projection, making it more of a festival event with live performances," Nestle says.
In the meantime, "Projecting Grace" will briefly light up Nob Hill around nightfall the last weekend of each month through at least the end of 2020. Upcoming themes for September and October are expected to revolve around inclusivity and voting.
// 1100 California St (Nob Hill), gracecathedral.org
Three of the artworks recently included in "Projecting Grace."(Courtesy of Grace Cathedral)