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New art installation will fill Grace Cathedral with heavenly light, music

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Amazing Grace

A rendering showing a cone of bright light projecting from the ceiling of a vaulted room, with two small human silhouettes illuminated on the floor. Courtesy Illuminate

Grace Cathedral—the episcopal church atop Nob Hill, famed for its labyrinths, Gothic grandeur, soaring ceilings, and gargoyles—is already one San Francisco’s most emotionally moving buildings. But starting in October, public art group Illuminate SF will juice its appeal with a new light-and-sound art installation by Berkeley artist George Zisiadis.

The work, titled Grace Light, goes on display October 21 and will be free to the public. An announcement about the new piece describes Zisiadis’s design in glowing terms: “Visitors look upward through a slight atmospheric haze and are enveloped in a 100-foot-tall shifting curtain of light. Visitors will lie down within the labyrinth or to stand just outside the light curtains and experience a 15-minute journey of synchronized light and sound.”

The artist hopes to “create a space for contemplation, self-discovery, and healing.”

Note that this is not a static piece; the cathedral plans two showings per night at 6:45 p.m. and 7:45 p.m., each lasting about 15 minutes and requiring ticketed entry.

Grace Light will actually be installed on October 7, but Wendy Norris or Norris Communications tells Curbed SF that Grace Cathedral’s busy schedule means the first showing won’t happen for two weeks after that.

Tickets are available through November 25, but Norris says the cathedral will schedule viewings into 2020.

To create the intended effect, Zisiadis employs a “30k-lumen projector.” A lumen is a unit of measure for the brightness of lights, with 30,000 lumens equivalent to about 187 100-watt light bulbs, or about 15 times the power of a standard indoor projector.

Illuminate SF is the same arts group behind the Bay Lights installation on the Bay Bridge, so this seems a natural development at another San Francisco landmark.

SF composer Gabriel Gold created the audio portion of Grace Light. Gold describes his work as “site-specific to acoustically resonant and ‘sacred spaces,’” which “[merges] the worlds of classical and modern composition with traditions of sacred music.”

When it was first built in 1849, Grace Cathedral started out as “Grace Church,” the first of several houses of worship to bear the “Grace” name in the neighborhood.

After the 1906 earthquake destroyed the previous cathedral, the current building, designed by George Bodley, took decades to complete.

In 1911, the San Francisco Call dubbed the new Grace Cathedral “the most imposing church in the west” and compared it to the Parthenon in Athens, although the story acknowledged that at the time construction had barely begun.