by Sam Redd, Communications Intern
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Athens, Georgia had been listed by Rolling Stone alongside Graceland, the Ryman Auditorium, and Sun Studios as one of the South’s musical treasures. The band now internationally known as R.E.M. played their very first concert inside the building on April 5, 1980. Even so, the main part of the church was demolished ten years later to make room for condominiums, despite its significance to the American music culture. The only remaining part of the building is the steeple, but it still stands as a reminder of St. Mary’s musical significance.
Not far from the steeple is a a non-profit health and music resource center called Nuçi’s Space. This non-profit serves the vibrant and tight-knit music community of Athens by providing support and treatment for struggling musicians, whether they need physical or emotional help. In particular, Nuçi’s Space exists to aid artists who are suffering from depression and whose lives may be in danger. Its history is a story of hope emerging from tragedy:
When 22-year-old musician Nuçi Phillips shot and killed himself on Thanksgiving 1996, no one would have blamed his mother, Linda, if she’d crumpled into a ball and been paralyzed with grief at such a senseless tragedy. But she didn’t. She began talking, formulating, and reaching out, and three years later, Nuçi’s Space was born.
Nuci’s Space took over stewardship of the the iconic St. Mary’s steeple in 2013, saying “the steeple is a means by which to amplify our story and introduce Nuçi’s Space to a large audience of potential donors and supporters. It is our chance to not only become good stewards of the music history we cherish by saving the steeple, but also to raise the funds needed to insure the health and stability of our programs.” Their hope is to revive it as a sort of sanctuary for Nuçi’s Space clients, a meditative space.
For this reason, Nuçi’s Space has teamed up with R.E.M., The B-52’s, Widespread Panic, Neutral Milk Hotel, Drive By Truckers, and a number of other Athens-based bands to raise funds to preserve the steeple. Any additional funds raised will help make sure the organization is able to persist and keep helping musicians.
This campaign is being run through Indiegogo and lasts until December 12. A non-exhaustive list of items donated by the bands includes autographed Rickenbacker guitars from R.E.M., as well as a limited edition steeple logo poster from their art director Chris Bilheimer, autographed drum heads, set lists, and other items from Neutral Milk Hotel, new original artwork from Widespread Panic, and an SG guitar from Of Montreal, which was smashed onstage during one of their shows. Many other collectors’ items are available, along with a lot of less expensive memorabilia for anyone who wants to show some support.
Additional details and the full list of remaining rewards for the Reconstruction of the Steeple Campaign can be viewed here. Right now, they have raised more than $90,000 toward the $250,000 that will be needed to fully restore the steeple. In this season of Thanksgiving, contributing to this campaign could be a great way to show your gratitude toward all the musicians in your life. Watch this video for more details.
Photo by Jason Thrasher