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Cultural Affairs Commission Votes To Remove White Rock Water Theater
by Jerome Weeks 19 Feb 2015

The commission’s recommendation now goes to the Arts, Culture and Libraries of the Dallas City Council — which is likely to recommend the full council “de-accession” the art work

CTA TBD

A week and a half ago, the White Rock Wildlife Water Theater was given a very bad bill of health Actually, it was a city-commissioned engineering report that said the steel support system for the artwork’s 60 metal poles in the water off the Bath House Cultural Center was pretty well shot.Neighborhood groups had complained that the Water Theater had become such a rusting eyesore that most people didn’t even recognize it was an artwork. It was hurting the lake’s beauty. Meanwhile, the Water Theater was put on a national list of “endangered” public artworks.

The engineering report also concluded that repairing it would probably cost as much as the original price tag when Dallas husband-and-wife artists Tom Orr and Frances Bagley built it fifteen years ago. Because of the vote by the Cultural Affairs Commission, the environmental installation, designed to attract wildlife to the Bath House area, is now likely to be destroyed.

In official terms, it will be “de-accessioned,” which means getting rid of a previously purchased artwork, often referring to a museum’s selling older works from its “permanent collection” in order to buy new ones, a practice generally frowned upon if not condemned professionally. For one thing, you’re basically telling the older patrons their money was wasted, you’ve damaged the artist’s reputation and, because many museums are city-supported non-profits, an established part of the city’s heritage is getting chucked. Finally, why would any artist now want to receive a commission from said museum or city — if he or she knew their work might be put on the market or simply destroyed?

In this case, the city of Dallas commissioned the Water Theater, neglected to maintain it (because of cutbacks to the Office of Cultural Affairs’ budget over the years) and will now destroy it. Not a good precedent to set, as both Bagley and the Nasher Sculpture Center’s chief curator Jed Morse pointed out to the commission before the vote.

The Dallas City Council’s Arts, Culture and Libraries committee is now likely to advise the full council to follow this recommendation — and to pay for a new work, elsewhere on the lake.


Below is the proposed resolution that George Martin of the Friends of the Water Theater presented to the ACL committee:

DATE: July 14, 2014

TO: Honorable Members of the Arts, Culture & Libraries Committee:
Philip T. Kingston (Chair), Monica R. Alonzo (Vice Chair),
Vonciel Jones Hill, Jerry R. Allen, Carolyn R. Davis, Jennifer Staubach Gates

SUBJECT: White Rock Lake Wildlife Water Theater / Public Art Program

THE FRIENDS OF THE WATER THEATER PROPOSE RESOLUTION URGING THE IMMEDIATE REMOVAL FROM CONSIDERATION THE DEACCESSION OF THE “WHITE ROCK LAKE WILDLIFE WATER THEATER”

WHEREAS the City of Dallas contracted the commission of the “White Rock Lake Wildlife Water Theater” (the “Water Theater”) from artists Frances Bagley and Tom Orr (“the Artists”) with the provision that the artwork be installed at the Bath House Cultural Center and made a PERMANENT part of the Public Art Collection.

WHEREAS Section 8 of the Artist Services Contract regarding Maintenance/Conservation, approved under Resolution No. 98-3126, specifies, after the termination of the Contract, repairs, restoration, and conservation shall be the responsibility of the City.

WHEREAS the maintenance contract with the Artists for the Water Theater terminated in 2008, and, since then, the City has not provided any maintenance for the artwork.

WHEREAS since 2009 the Office of Cultural Affairs has required that any new commissions to the Public Art Collection must demonstrate that little or no maintenance will be required or else be disqualified from consideration.

WHEREAS it is scientifically impossible that any form of visual art not require at least some form of maintenance.

WHEREAS, under the General Policies of the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs adopted Cultural Policy and Program, the City has the responsibility for conserving its public art collection.

WHEREAS it is the adopted Cultural Policy that maintenance of public artworks is the responsibility of the City, not the artist, and that the City is committed to keeping the artworks in well-maintained condition, and WHEREAS this responsibility is not waived due to budgetary constraints.

WHEREAS the Water Theater is installed in the waters of the reservoirs and grounds of White Rock Lake which, under City Code Sec. 32-34, are the responsibility of the Parks and Recreation Department. And WHEREAS, it is the responsibility of the department occupying and/or responsible for the property on or in which the artwork(s) is/are located to ensure that the artwork(s) is/are property maintained, and that when repair or conservation becomes necessary, such treatments are implemented according to the recommendations of the Cultural Affairs Commission, based on the advice of a conservator or technician as recommended by the Office of Cultural Affairs and the Public Art Committee in accordance to the Cultural Policy.

WHEREAS the Cultural Affairs Commission has failed to provide an annual survey of the complete Public Art Collection which includes a report on the condition of the Water Theater both above the water and under the water and prioritized recommendations for restoration, repair, and maintenance of the artwork as required under the Public Art Ordinance Sec. 2-105(a)(4) but instead placed the onus on the Artists.

WHEREAS the Public Art Committee has not named an independent qualified panel to review the Water Theater both above the water and under the water before designating it for consideration for deaccessioning as is required under the Deaccessioning Procedures of the Cultural Policy.

WHEREAS the Public Art Committee, Cultural Affairs Commission, and Office of Cultural Affairs have been advised by institutional and academic experts in the field of arts that the Water Theater, in its current state, is not aesthetically displeasing, is repairable, and is significant enough in importance to the Public Art Collection that it should be preserved.

WHEREAS neither the Public Art Ordinance nor the Cultural Policy authorizes or encourages the deaccession or destruction of public artworks that either become aesthetically displeasing according to current public opinion or that cannot be repaired because of the lack of maintenance funds.

WHEREAS recognizing, honoring, preserving and celebrating the City’s rich cultural heritage is a Guiding Principle of the Cultural Policy, and, in adopting this Policy and its Guiding Principles, the City demonstrated a commitment to providing the funds and other resources sufficient to ensure the accomplishment of this mission and ensuring excellence by providing capital and operating resources for the Arts that are equal to or better than those provided by other leading cities in the Nation.

WHEREAS the City, in its Cultural Policy, acknowledges that arts reflect the character of a city and its inhabitants, that experiencing arts and culture is nourishing and life affirming, and that the disposal of artworks may have serious implications for the Artists and the citizens of Dallas.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT, in keeping with the Public Art Ordinance and Office of Cultural Affairs Cultural Policy and Program, the White Rock Lake Wildlife Water Theater should immediately be removed from consideration for deaccession until a complete review of its condition by a qualified panel demonstrates that the artwork is unable to be repaired or modified.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the City should not discourage future potential public artists from submitting proposals that require reasonable maintenance, but instead should consider the overall importance of the addition of the proposed artwork to the Public Art Collection and commit appropriate maintenance funding to preserve the artwork.

presenting to the ACL committee:

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  • Correction: I was the one who drafted the proposed resolution, not George Martin. And White Rock Lake is NOT one of the locations for the proposed new commissioned piece. Also, although dated 07/14/14, I sat on it, waiting and watching the proceedings until it was presented to the ACL 12/26/14. The resolution and two follow-ups were wholly ignored by the ACL including a courteous acknowledgement of any of the communications. Lastly, the resolution makes reference to the City asking the artists to do the condition report, but later the City found its own money to pay for the engineering report.

  • Correction: I was the one who drafted the proposed resolution, not George Martin. And White Rock Lake is NOT one of the locations for the proposed new commissioned piece. Also, although dated 07/14/14, I sat on it, waiting and watching the proceedings until it was presented to the ACL 12/26/14. The resolution and two follow-ups were wholly ignored by the ACL including a courteous acknowledgement of any of the communications. Lastly, the resolution makes reference to the City asking the artists to do the condition report, but later the City found its own money to pay for the engineering report.

  • JeromeWeeks

    My mistake — when George Martin sent me a copy of his comments to the commission and the proposed resolution, I assumed both were by him.

    • I sent you my comments to the Commission too. There was no George Martin present. Besides Nasher Sculpture Center’ Jed Morse and the artist, only the For the Love of the Lake Board President Rich Enthoven spoke. Commissioner Sylvia Hougland expressed satisfaction that the proposed new commission made the destruction of the Water Theater a “win-win” solution and promptly voted for the removal. Mayor-appointed Commissioner Giovanni Valderas stood and offered a tearful apology, “I’m sorry that we [the City of Dallas] were not better stewards of your art,” before joining Leland Burk in voting against the deaccession.

      • JeromeWeeks

        That IS really strange — I mean why I persist on seeing “George” instead of Douglas. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been juggling all this from my cellphone … sorry again. I will now go change the settings to ‘dim-sighted elderly person.’

  • JeromeWeeks

    My mistake — when George Martin sent me a copy of his comments to the commission and the proposed resolution, I assumed both were by him.

    • I sent you my comments to the Commission too. There was no George Martin present. Besides Nasher Sculpture Center’ Jed Morse and the artist, only the For the Love of the Lake Board President Rich Enthoven spoke. Commissioner Sylvia Hougland expressed satisfaction that the proposed new commission made the destruction of the Water Theater a “win-win” solution and promptly voted for the removal. Mayor-appointed Commissioner Giovanni Valderas stood and offered a tearful apology, “I’m sorry that we [the City of Dallas] were not better stewards of your art,” before joining Leland Burk in voting against the deaccession.

      • JeromeWeeks

        That IS really strange — I mean why I persist on seeing “George” instead of Douglas. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been juggling all this from my cellphone … sorry again. I will now go change the settings to ‘dim-sighted elderly person.’

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