City evicts White Rock Lake Museum from Bath House to open more space for art exhibits

The Bath House Cultural Center. Photo by Danny Fulgencio

It was a labor of pure lake love, and about $200,000 in donations, that built the White Rock Lake Museum in 2004. But this month, without any discussion with the people who built it, the City of Dallas handed the museum an eviction notice giving the group 60 days to vacate the Bath House Cultural Center.

“It took a community to build this museum; it’s going to take a community to save it,” says Kurt Kretsinger, president of the museum board.

Why exactly the museum was given an eviction notice remains murky. Marty Van Kleeck, who manages the center, referred questions to David Fisher at the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs, which oversees the building. After agreeing to an interview, Fisher didn’t answer his phone when the Advocate called. But in an email to Kretsinger, which included the eviction notice, Fisher wrote:

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“Text-based, static, interpretive exhibits are just not efficient uses of space anymore. After more than a decade, we feel the museum has lived its useful life. In addition, the number one resource we hear that is needed by the cultural community is more gallery space for emerging artists. Hence, we are requesting that you remove the museum panels so that we can replace them with an emerging artist space. This helps the Bath House and Office of Cultural Affairs further their missions of supporting the arts and artists in Dallas.”

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Kretsinger says history is just as important to a community’s culture as art, which is why the museum was built in the first place. Back in 2003, the 10-by-30-foot space that became the museum was used for storage when a group of neighbors got the idea to celebrate the lake’s rich history, from the German POWS who built many lake structures to the “Miss Dallas” contests of the 1950s to present day. The yearlong process was entirely community driven, from the sweat-labor needed to repurpose the building to more than $100,000 of in-kind donations from neighborhood groups, builders, designers and architects, in addition to $100,000 in cash donations — all with the city’s blessing.

“[Parks Department representative] Willis Winters told us, ‘If you’re going to clean this up and make a museum, you have to make it professional,’” Kretsinger says, adding that the display was designed by the company that handled much of the Sixth Floor Museum space downtown.

“This museum was a gift to the city from the Dallas community made with hundreds of volunteer hours and donations.”

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Last spring, the Bath House removed the large television used by the museum for audio-visual displays, saying it was too bulky for the space. With approval from the Bath House, the museum and For The Love of the Lake volunteer group purchased a new flat screen television as a replacement.

“We went to install it in February, and Marty [Van Kleeck] blocks us saying we don’t have a lease,” Kretsinger says. “That’s how I found out we had an issue.”

The lack of communication is of particular concern to the museum board, which plans to discuss the issue during the White Rock Lake Task Force meeting tomorrow, Feb. 14, at 4 p.m. at Big Thicket (430 E. Lawther). That meeting is open to the public.

Note: Advocate Media president Rick Wamre is a member of the White Rock Lake Museum board of directors, along with Michael Jung, Kurt Kretsinger and Jeannie Terilli.

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