Much-contested Removal of Public Artwork Now Up for Public Debate

by Lucia Simek March 18, 2014
Frances Bagley and Tom Orr, "White Rock Lake Water Theater," 2001

Frances Bagley and Tom Orr, “White Rock Lake Wildlife Water Theater,” 2001 Photo: Hilary Schleier

Dallas’ Office of Cultural Affairs has announced that it will hold two public meetings in order to discuss the proposed removal of the White Rock Lake Wildlife Water Theater, a public artwork by Frances Bagley and Tom Orr that was installed in lake as a bird watching “theater” in 2001. In January, the city determined that the piece had deteriorated past the point of salvaging and so should be decommissioned. But after a tremendous show of support for the piece and the artists’, the City of Dallas tabled the decision in order to pursue other options for the artwork, including a full $250,000 restoration of the piece.  That price is a steep hill for the city to climb, as removal of the piece would cost only $25,000. However, since maintenance of the White Rock Lake Wildlife Water Theater was cut in 2009, blame for the detoriation of the work falls on the city, supporters of the Bagley and Orr will likely argue.

The Office of Cultural Affairs’ two public meetings to guage the community’s perspective on the artwork will both take place at the Bath House Cultural Center; the first is at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 22, and the second at 7 p.m. Monday, March 24.

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Philip Van Keuren March 19, 2014 - 08:57

Dear Ms. Kallos,

One thing that I think many of our neighbors might agree on is that the natural beauty
(or what is left of it) should be protected and valued above any need to “beautify” with
works of art what is already intrinsically beautiful. I have lived most of my life in Dallas
and I can without any reluctance state that Dallas was once a much more beautiful
place with an natural radiance to the landscape. In the name of progress almost all
that “radiance” has dimmed or has vanished all together.

It is my feeling that the time has come to reclaim what we can. I do not argue
with the intentions of the artists that created the work in question. They have been my
my close friends and the work they do, and the life they lead, has my respect and
admiration. As someone that has spend a good number of hours by the lake since my birth
in 1948 and can say with without any reservation that I believe that the natural beauty
of the lake and the environment is priceless and should be preserved as a sign of respect
for those that had the foresight to create such a place for future generations. It was our future
they were mindful of. This place is now in our hands and what we chose to do with that
stewardship will be what our children and their children will inherit.

I believe the individuals responsible for the artwork at the lake had good intentions. I for one yearn
for the natural view that is now gone. What matters now is what we have learned from all this.

We have decorated the lake. Perhaps now is the time to celebrate and preserve the lake
undecorated. It is no less a grand and noble vision than that put forward by the Frances and Tom.
Yet I believe the time has come to rethink such well meaning endeavors especially when they
impact what is left of the ever diminishing natural world our parks provide.

New York City parks now pursue only short term installations in public land. That is worth a
conversation. I do not think the city should pursue any public art project without an established
endowment for the care and repair of the work

My take on things.


Philip Van Keuren


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