For decades, a seemingly innocuous metal plate that was screwed into a marble wall hung above a public drinking fountain in the Dallas County Records Building.
One day in 2003, it fell off.
A public outcry ensued as people learned what that metal plate was meant to cover up: traces of a Jim Crow "White Only" sign that was removed during desegregation.
The metal plate inadvertently preserved a memory that it was meant to help erase...
A Dallas Drinking Fountain Project is a novel public artwork in three parts for Dallas County.
The highlight of this ambitious work Drinking Fountain #1, an interventionist and interactive new media monument.
A transformed, yet still functional, public drinking fountain at the Dallas County Records Building triggers a projection of digitally-altered newsreel footage of 1960s civil rights protests under the remains of the rediscovered Jim Crow sign. Visitors to the building, as they attempt to drink, unknowingly initiate this reflection on activism that addresses the social dynamics of race, racism, class and institutionalized violence as well as the capacity of the human spirit to resist and bring about social justice. Upon activation, the water flow suspends for the duration the video, allowing one to drink only after it ends. The sculpture is accessible to the public during normal operating hours of the building.
A Dallas Drinking Fountain Project utilizes the residue from the “White Only” sign to activate a public conversation in Dallas/Fort Worth on the historic Civil Rights Movement. The project wants to shine a bright light on efforts in DFW and by doing so join the larger U.S. movement that is currently examining contemporary public interactions that reveal the residue of racial segregation. The re-revealing of the Jim Crow sign becomes a poignant metaphor as racism and denial of civil rights continue to exist at the structural level in present society.
Reactivating civic space to provide unique platforms for dialogical exchange is the next phase to launch in fall 2015. A series of six “Brown bag” lunches on-site at the Records Building assert that critical dialogue between neighbors is just as important and part of our civic duty as what traditionally takes place in this building-- filing paperwork, paying taxes. These gatherings connect county employees, El Centro Community College students (across the street), neighboring downtown businesses/institutions, tourists and the greater public for a “lunch hour” topical discussion facilitated by artists, activists and humanities scholars. After Lunch #2, interested participants are invited to serve on a committee that will act together to determine the topic of the subsequent lunch, a process to be replicated until the close of the series.
Off-site, gatherings corresponding with strategic historical dates, serve to further unpack Dallas’ relationship to racial (in)justice. Collaborating with Linda Pollack and her My Daily Constitution project, ADDF will engage the People with our Constitutions. Social venues and churches transform into “Constitution Cafes”—participatory spaces to converse about our democracy. A series of six cafes such as, “The Constitutional Limits of Police Use of Force” or “Constitutional Rights of Students and Young People” are created in collaboration with partners, specific to local concerns, kicking off at the South Dallas Cultural Center. Volunteers recite—freestyle--parts of the constitution of focus to live music. Discussion follows, led by community leaders and a constitution scholar on contemporary legal/civic issues. In this way, the constitutions are acknowledged as a living part of day-to-day life and made more accessible. Youth-centric workshops and tours focus on civic identity development. Other interventions occurring in newspapers, on billboards, and public video projections collaborate with Mothers Against Police Brutality and Make Art with Purpose to help foster a more educated public on contemporary concepts of the anti-racist struggle.
To extend the idea of civic engagement and meditation on collective memory present at the physical site of the monument, an online platform goes live in 2016 serving as a bridge from a local to an international audience for broader discussion, archiving other sites of similar discovery and contested public memory.
Created by artist lauren woods, A Dallas Drinking Fountain Project (ADDF) is approved through the Dallas Commissioners Court. Institutional partners include The South Dallas Cultural Center, Make Art with Purpose, Mothers Against Police Brutality, Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas Faces Race, Dallas Institute for Humanities and Culture, and the Dallas Historical Commission.
509 Main Street
Dallas, TX 75202