Awardee: Bill Green

Primary Artistic Medium: Multidisciplinary

Idea

Sidewalk Astronomy is an outreach activity that involves setting up a telescope on an urban street corner and inviting people who pass by to take a look. This idea, famously practiced by John Dobson, amateur astronomer and Hindu monk, is a unique way to perform science education.

The Philly Moon Men are teaming up with visual artist Eddy Rhenals to offer hands-on astronomy courses with a strong art component. Each student is provided with a high-power telescope and a sketchbook. After PhillyMoonMen teach participants how to use their telescope, our artist will lead a shading study of the moon to render it’s shadows and craters. By performing astronomy, neighbors experience familiar surroundings from a new perspective, and strengthen their relationship with their public spaces. Furthering their connection with the night sky, visual art will help us sketch explore the cosmos with the same techniques Galileo used.

We meet or exceed all CDC guidelines for social distancing. Everyone gets their own equipment to use; all supplies are sanitized before and after. Class size is limited to six to allow individual attention and promote safe practices.

Philly Moon Men use telescopes to achieve three outcomes:

Grassroots Science Outreach. All you need is a telescope and a clear sky. Urban sidewalk astronomy engages an audience that doesn’t have the ability or interest to visit a museum. Most participants in our program have never looked through a telescope before. We refuse a view to no one, inviting their perspective and life experience. We’ve built relationships with South Street’s homeless population, and watched how an up-close view of the moon can transform someone’s mindset and rejuvenate them. Urban populations seldom have opportunities to escape light pollution and to experience a dark night sky. The ArtIsEssential grant is an opportunity for us to expand our reach beyond South Street to disadvantaged schools and neighborhoods in the Point Breeze community.

Safe Public Spaces. The urbanist and journalist Jane Jacobs coined the term “eyes on the street”. Beyond just bright lighting and security cameras, public safety is tied to place-making. A small group of astronomers can “seed” a park with people, making more feel welcome and inviting them to join.

Creating Darker Skies locally. Dr. George Brainard of Thomas Jefferson University discovered how blue light at night interferes with the human melatonin cycle, increasing reproductive cancer rates. Reversing light pollution requires education and collective activism. Telescopes raise awareness about light pollution by reminding people that the Universe is still up (out) there. We will make use of state-of-the-art LED lighting to explain the connection between lighting and human health.

Space-inspired public art already dots the city – take for example the mural Parts Per Million at South Philadelphia High School. Conducting astronomy at these locations can amplify our connection to both the natural and the built environment. By means of our artistic and scientific investigations of our local skies, we will discover simple ways that people can create darker skies in their own backyard.

ArtisEssential will provide funding for:

  • Artist Fees-$450
  • Printed Media-$300
  • Area lighting-$150
  • Sanitation-$100