The White Rock Lake Wildlife Water Theater first graced the shoreline behind the Bath House Cultural Center in 2001, and has been enjoyed by the lake’s visitors with its solar lighting and wildlife attraction. However, the structure has deteriorated during the course of its 13 years, and now there is discussion about its future.
Artists Tom Orr and Frances Bagley created the piece for the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs (OCA). The team has other works on display in and around the city, including one at the Dallas Public Library’s Hampton-Illinois Branch and a recent installation at Dallas Love Field.
Kay Kallos, OCA’s public art program manager, presided over the meeting. She said that restoration would be very problematic, with an estimated $200 to $250,000 price tag.
Maria Muñoz-Blanco is director of the Office of Cultural Affairs (OCA). She explained that, for a number of years, The Friends of the Bath House, OCA, artists, City of Dallas Water Deptartment and interested parties have researched options for the piece, and that there is a specific process to deaccess art.
Not only are repairs and replacement pieces needed, but the structure requires ongoing maintenance. Part of that work would be underwater and costly, and the city doesn’t have a budget to cover this public art.
Of the eight people in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting, several were members of the Peninsula Neighborhood Association, including its president, David Shinn. Another association member attending was Rich Enthoven, who is president of For the Love of the Lake (FTLOTL), and he spoke on the organization’s behalf.
Enthoven told White Rock Lake Weekly, “FTLOTL feels strongly that any structures at the lake should be maintained to the highest standards, and if they can’t be, they should be removed. In its present condition, the Water Theater is dilapidated and unattractive. I never saw it when it was new, but I think it’s now beyond reasonable repair.”
He explained that through the years, the Water Theater has been severely damaged by the elements — flooding, damaging winds, rising tide, runoff, exposure and the water itself. Detritus has accumulated; the wiring is dilapidated; the piece wasn’t secured well to the bottom so the lake’s wave action tends to loosen the mooring.
“There’s nothing left to save. But to repair and maintain it would require lots of underwater work, which is ill advised; funds are not available,” he added.
Enthoven said: “When public art is on display, deaccession allows that you may remove and store it or put it on a private tour, but the public would no longer have access to it. In this case, because of the nature of this piece, it would have to be eliminated after it’s removed. It would no longer be part of a City collection.”
The Friends of the Bath House board of directors has taken the official stance that the board cannot pay for the repairs and future maintenance required, although it has paid in the past to restore other artworks.
According to Enthoven: “For the Love of the Lake’s official position is that the art should either be repaired or removed.
“Since repair appears all but impossible (cost, missing pieces, underwater concrete is eroding, decay, changes in design, future maintenance problems, etc.) then the only reasonable option appears to be removal. Removal would help continue the For the Love of the Lake mission, which is ‘To Preserve and Enhance White Rock Lake as an Urban Oasis.’”
The Public Art Committee reached the decision to recommend deaccession of the piece to OCA. If OCA accepts the recommendation at a January 16 meeting, the art will be removed and most likely disposed of when funds become available for the removal. Funds could come from a public entity or private sources.
Enthoven added: “We expect art to last forever. It’s sad to realize that like any material object, it can’t last forever. We have to make decisions like deaccession because they are not permanent.”