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 White Only sign that was removed during desegregation. The metal plate inadvertently preserved a memory that it was meant to help erase. The Dallas County Commissioners Court made a controversial decision to deem these traces discovered in the Records Building, official historical markers, thereby allowing them to remain in public.
The emergence of this charged artifact in an active civic space, where citizens carry out county business daily, afforded a unique opportunity to galvanize a diverse community to proactively engage with historical civil rights issues as well as those still infringed upon today. Two years later, in response, lauren woods went before the court with a proposal to preserve the artifact and build a novel civic monument for Dallas and American civil rights history. The resulting project, A Dallas Drinking Fountain Project, thus emerged. The highlight of the project, Drinking Fountain #1, an interventionist and interactive new media monument publically unveiled November 2013.
The Monument: A transformed, yet still functional, public drinking fountain at the Dallas County Records Building triggers a projection of video such as digitally-altered newsreel footage of 1960s civil rights protests under the remains of the rediscovered Jim Crow sign. Visitors to the building unknowingly initiate the meditation on history, heroism, civic duty and social change as they attempt to sip water from the seemingly normal drinking fountain. Upon activation, the water flow is suspended for the duration of a 45-second video, allowing one to drink only after it ends. The sculpture is accessible to the public during normal operating hours of the building.
Public Programs: “Brown bag” lunches on-site at the Records Building, aim to reactivate the civic space by providing a platform for dialogical exchange by targeting the diverse downtown community surrounding Drinking Fountain #1. Municipal employees, college students, tourists, private sector workers, and the greater public are invited to gather for a “lunch hour” topical “program” and lively discussion led by a humanities scholar. Off-site at arts/humanities and community centers programs correspond with strategic dates in national and international history to examine multi-national/ethnic movements and struggles for human rights and their modern implications as well as discussions surrounding public art, monuments, and social practice. A youth-centric workshop that looks at the intersection of contemporary art, politics, and education will be developed and made available to an existing network of local schools and creative community institutions. The workshop puts forth objectives that serve to envision how a work of art can facilitate young people’s education, participation in their community, and make possible their input into the forces that affect their everyday lives as young citizens.
Interactive Website: To extend the idea of civic engagement and meditation on collective memory present at the physical site, a new website will be launched. This virtual space will serve as a bridge from a local to an international audience who wish to join the discussion, archiving other sites of similar discovery and contested public memory.