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Rothko Chapel interior. Photograph by Paul Hester

Artist Projects

Rothko Chapel's 50th Anniversary

Tuesday, Feb 23, 2021

This year, the Rothko Chapel celebrates 50 years as a landmark of modern sacred art, as a celebrated site for transformative and inspirational experiences, and as an organization working at the vanguard of human rights, social, racial, economic and environmental justice.

John and Dominique de Menil first revealed Rothko Chapel to the public over three days, February 26-28, 1971. Since its dedication, the Rothko Chapel has served as a spiritual space, a forum for world leaders, and a place for solitude and gathering. Founded on a platform of radical inclusiveness far ahead of its time, the Chapel has long operated at the vanguard of social justice, hosting colloquia for scholars and religious leaders from around the globe to engage in discussions on issues affecting human rights, and to work towards a culture of mutual understanding.

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Rothko Chapel Plaza and the Suzanne Deal Booth Welcome House beyond © Elizabeth Felicella

In her book, An Act of Faith, Susan J. Barnes states that when it opened, "the Rothko Chapel . . . became the world's first broadly ecumenical center, a holy place open to all religions and belonging to none. It became a center for international cultural, religious, and philosophical exchanges, for colloquia and performances. And it became a place of private prayer for individuals of all faiths."

Now, on that same weekend 50 years later, the Rothko Chapel will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a series of events that honor the Chapel’s legacy, spanning the breadth of offerings that the Chapel is known for—from performances and interfaith experiences to discussions and conversations on the critical issues of the day—reinvigorating the Chapel’s renown for inspiration and contemplation.

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Suzanne Deal Booth Welcome House from new courtyard on new North Campus © Elizabeth Felicella

This anniversary celebration will also mark the recent completion of phase one of the Opening Spaces master plan that will allow the Chapel to better fulfill its dual mission: to offer a space for ecumenical and interfaith celebration and contemplation, as well as to foster community engagement on critical social issues. This project included the comprehensive restoration of the Chapel, which more closely aligns the building with the original vision of Mark Rothko and John and Dominique de Menil. The skylight, lighting design and entryway were reconfigured in concert with the original concept for the space, allowing for heightened illumination and an unimpeded interaction with the 14 Rothko panels. In undertaking the Opening Spaces campaign, the Rothko Chapel leadership has made an investment in the future and has preserved the legacy of the sacred space for future generations.

“For half a century now, the Rothko Chapel has filled a unique and iconic place in Houston and the world – as both a place of solace and reflection and as an organization working actively toward human rights and justice,” says Michael Piana, chairman of the Chapel’s Board of Directors. “With the Opening Spaces project, it is our intention to preserve the Chapel and make it an ever more dynamic presence for future generations.”

It is profound to come to this celebratory moment at a time when the work of the Rothko Chapel is more urgent than ever.

David Leslie, Executive Director of the Rothko Chapel

50th Anniversary Events

Rothko Chapel & the Journey of Its Restoration

Friday, February 26
6 PM CDT / 7 PM EST

Following an eighteen-month restoration, the Chapel has reopened to the public with transformed lighting that brings the space into alignment with the founders’ original vision for the first time. This conversation explores the original design of the Rothko Chapel, the importance of light within the building, the Chapel’s growing campus, and the creative process of the Opening Spaces Design Team.

Panelists include: Adam Yarinsky, Principal, Architecture Research Office; George S. Sexton III, Principal, George Sexton Associates; and Thomas L. Woltz, Principal, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects; moderated by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro, Melva Bucksbaum Associate Director for Conservation and Research, Whitney Museum of Art.

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Book Release: Rothko Chapel: An Oasis for Reflection

Saturday, February 27
6 PM CDT / 7 PM EST

Published by Rizzoli Electa, this beautiful new large-format volume provides photographic testimony along with the insights of scholars who give an intimate look into this sacred space, where visitors seek solace and inspiration. Commemorating the first monograph on Rothko Chapel in more than 20 years, the book’s contributors speak about the Rothko Chapel’s history and how the restoration project came to fruition.

Contributors and panelists include: Stephen Fox, architectural historian and Fellow of the Anchorage Foundation of Texas; Paul Hester, architectural photographer, Hester + Hardaway; and Pamela Smart, Associate Professor, Binghamton University; moderated by Ashley Clemmer, Director of Programs and Community Engagement, Rothko Chapel.

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50th Anniversary Interfaith Service & Community Celebration

Sunday, February 28
2–4 PM CDT / 3–5 PM EST

To lift up the last 50 years of the Rothko Chapel’s work and mission, and renew and strengthen its commitment to serve as a welcoming interfaith sanctuary for all and a place to rally around the significant human rights issues of the day, the Chapel will hold an interfaith service and human rights celebration including Sufi Whirling, prayers, reflections, and music.

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This anniversary weekend is the continuation of a series of programs that celebrate the Chapel’s legacy and honor its work. The schedule will continue to evolve but the main events include:

Rothko in Jazz with Maris Briežkalns Quintet

Thursday, March 11
6 PM CDT / 7 PM EST

In partnership with the World Affairs Council of Greater Houston and the Honorary Consulate of Latvia for the State of Texas

In honor of Mark Rothko’s Latvian heritage, Latvian jazz ensemble the Māris Briežkalns Quintet, one of the leading acoustic mainstream bands on the Latvian jazz scene, commissioned ten Latvian composers to each create an original jazz composition, arranged and performed by the Quintet. Each composition is created to illustrate the moods and atmosphere evoked by an iconic Rothko painting selected by the composer.

Performers include Maris Briežkalns – drums, band leader; Viktors Ritovs – piano, keys; Raimonds Macats – harmonica, cello, keys; Kristaps Lubovs – saxophone; and Andris Grunte - double bass.

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2021 Rothko Chapel Symposium

Dates to be announced

In honor of the Rothko Chapel’s 50-year commitment to furthering social justice, the Rothko Chapel will present a two part Symposium exploring the current state of civil and human rights in the United States and how individuals, grassroots initiatives, and policy makers can work together to create a more equitable future for all.

Part I will be presented in Spring 2021, featuring a series of virtual programs with keynote speakers discussing historical context for the critical civil and human rights issues of today, while also looking back at the Chapel's 50 year history of human rights programming. Part II is anticipated to take place in Fall 2021 as a multi-day, in-person experience engaging seasoned and emerging social justice leaders to explore intersecting civil and human rights topics, focusing on contemplation and action.

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About Rothko Chapel

The Rothko Chapel is a contemplative space that successfully interconnects art, spirituality and compassionate action through a broad array of public programs and community initiatives. It is open to the public every day of the year at no charge. Founded by Houston philanthropists Dominique and John de Menil, the Chapel was dedicated in 1971 as an interfaith, nonsectarian sanctuary, and invites visitors from around the world to experience the power and sanctity of Mark Rothko’s monumental paintings. The Rothko Chapel is an independent non-profit organization whose mission is to create opportunities for spiritual growth and dialogue that illuminate our shared humanity and inspire action leading to a world in which all are treated with dignity and respect.

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Artist Projects — Rothko Chapel's 50th Anniversary, Feb 23, 2021