Artist Wants to Turn Ugly History into Fountain of Education

by Paula Newton September 4, 2013
Photo: Dallas County

Photo: Dallas County

The Dallas County Commissioners Court tabled a vote yesterday on funding to turn a County Records building water fountain into an art installation. If county commissioners approve the funding in time (which could still happen next week), the project could be completed by late October, in time for the city’s observance of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy, reports the Dallas Morning News.

The idea for the project started ten years ago, when a seemingly purposeless (it’s a government building) metal plate fell from the wall above the water fountain, where it had been mounted for decades. It turns out the plate was covering up the etched remnants of lettering reading “White Only.” Many people, both black and white, wanted to remove the historical reminder, but eventually the County Commissioners voted 4-1 to approve a proposal by Commissioner John Wiley Price, the only black member of the court, to leave the text and erect signs nearby explaining their context in the history of the city.

A couple of years later, multimedia artist Lauren Woods approached the Council with a proposal to turn the fountain into an educational art installation. When a thirsty passerby stopped for a drink, a 45-second montage of scenes from the civil rights struggle would be projected onto the wall above before dispensing water. When the commissioners balked at the idea of waiting 45 seconds for a sip of fountain water, Commissioner Price replied, “Some of us waited 45 years.” (Later project descriptions have it reduced the wait to 15 seconds.)

The commissioners also did not totally reject the idea of the project since Woods offered to pay for it herself. Since that time, Woods has been planning and fundraising (as well as making other art). In 2008, she was a featured artist in CAMH’s exhibition Cinema Remixed & Reloaded; in 2009, she was artist-in-residence at Dallas’ CentralTrak; in 2011, she had a residency and major exhibition at Austin’s Women & Their Work; and, in 2012, received an Idea Fund grant for the project. But Woods has still raised only two-thirds of the $46,720 budget. Commissioner Price has offered $15,000 out of his district’s road bridge budget to help cover the remaining cost. If all goes well and votes follow, the project could still be installed in time for the JFK anniversary.


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Martha Gluck September 5, 2013 - 22:29

Vote for this installation. Memories can help build a better future.


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