Heated debate and conspiracy theories as task force talks White Rock Lake Museum’s eviction notice

To allow for more discussion, the White Rock Lake Task Force will ask the City of Cultural Affairs to rescind the 60-day eviction notice it sent the White Rock Lake Museum in an effort to make additional space for artists at the Bath House Cultural Center. Most all on the task force agreed that the city made a mistake by not speaking directly with any museum board member before firing off a legal notice.

“Staff did not handle this properly,” said Jesse Smith, cultural affairs commissioner for District 9, who recommended the museum’s eviction.

But how and why that decision was made, and why the museum board was left out of it, was the topic of heated discussion during Tuesday’s packed task force meeting.

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Smith said it was November when Jennifer Scripps, director of the Office of Cultural Affairs, approached him with concerns that the museum did not have a signed contract for the city space.

“The museum was behind on its maintenance and hadn’t maintained insurance,” Smith said.

Museum board members Kurt Kretsinger and Michael Jung countered that the museum was never expected to provide insurance or regular building maintenance, although they tried to offer resources over the years. “We have $6,000 in an account leftover,” Kretsinger said. “You can’t pay an invoice if you never get one.”

Smith says his role as commissioner is to “make recommendations as to programming and how cultural spaces should be used.” In November, he reached out to Bath House Cultural Center manager Marty Van Kleeck, who let him know they’d prefer to use the museum space to display art. Smith also talked with David Fisher, assistant director of the Office of Cultural Affairs, who oversees that Bath House and felt the museum had gotten “stale.” Neither Fisher nor Van Kleeck attended Tuesday’s meeting, but their roles in the controversy would be intensely debated.

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After the museum was blocked from installing a new flat screen TV in January, Kretsinger reached out to Fisher for assistance. Fisher responded a week later with an email evicting the museum.

“After careful consideration and many discussions with OCA leadership, Cultural Affairs Commissioner Jesse Smith, Councilmember [Mark] Clayton and the Friends of the Bath House, we have decided to close the White Rock Lake Museum,” Fisher wrote on Feb. 3.

However, Teresa Bond, president of the Friends of the Bath House Cultural Center, said they were first told about the eviction on Feb. 4, a day after Fisher’s eviction notice was sent.

Smith could not answer why the museum board and other bodies were left out of the decision-making process, saying only that he couldn’t find the museum board’s contact online.

“I apologize for not asking the deep questions as to who was involved in the museum,” Smith said, adding that only when he saw Fisher’s email did he learn the museum board included longtime lake advocates Jung and Becky Rader, president of the task force, both people he works with often. “I am embarrassed about that. Had I known they were on the board, I would have reached out.”

Jung was willing to write off Smith’s role to a degree, saying “One of my favorite sayings is: Never ascribe to conspiracy what can be explained by incompetence.”(Editors note: Mr. Jung later clarified he meant the situation, not Mr. Smith). He was less sympathetic to Van Kleeck and Fisher.

“They knew who we were, they said not one word,” he said, questioning whether the board was intentionally left out of such discussion. “You aren’t paranoid when they really are trying to get you.”

Fellow task member Felix Saucedo clapped back, sticking up for Van Kleeck by saying it was not her job to break the news. “There was no conspiracy, it was incompetence at the higher levels.”

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The future of White Rock Lake Museum remains murky. The museum board said they were open to conversations about upgrading and enhancing the displays, but wanted the city to guarantee them time to figure it out by removing the eviction notice.

Fisher and Smith both suggested that it could be relocated, something others in the room disagreed with.

“[The museum] is the only thing that has to do with the lake in that building,” said task member Chip Northrup, adding that the Bath House’s theater and art gallery “could be in a windowless building somewhere else, they don’t need to be in a building on the lake.”

Some questioned why the Bath House needs more space for art, when it already has three gallery rooms dedicated to art. Historian Dr. Steve Butler, whose book on White Rock Lake helped inspire the museum, said history is a critical part of culture.

“It’s a cultural center, it is not the Bath House art center,” he said. “I don’t think we should tear [the museum] down, it would be like tearing out a piece of our hearts.”

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  • erica from dallas

    I was at the meeting… What I understood was the Cultural Center never mentioned there was a problem with the museum until they gave notice. Apparently the museum group took an old room that wasn’t being used, spent one hundred thousand dollars and lots of volunteers to lovingly create the museum. I like to offer a picture of my husband and his brother sitting on a pier fishing by the spillway about 60 years ago. I bet other neighbors have some other great White Rock history they would love to share to keep it fresh. I think the history of WRL is fascinating.

  • Nathan

    I think it would be better to have more gallery space for the artists. However, if the WRL museum has deemed beneficial to the bhcc, that’s good too.
    Since the wrl museum requires such a small space for its display, there are many options for potential locations within and around the lake if the bhcc is not a fit. (DWU pump house, Filter room, Arboretum, locations at Flag pole hill). I think PKR could step up and be a big help actually.

  • Ally Isonknuj

    As a longtime resident of Dallas, I am excited to read that the space will be used for artists.

    But, come on. I am so disappointed to read the palpable bias in this piece. Even worse was the response from Rick who chose to laugh at a reader’s comment instead of acknowledging this bias.

    We are living in tough times and it’s more important to be precise in media coverage. I guess I’ll quote the actual aphorism (Hanlon’s razor), though directed at the Advocate this time: “Never attribute to MALICE that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

  • Thanks again for the comments, Brenda, but I think we’ve about run out of new things to say and disagree about here.

  • Brenda Cooper

    Rick –

    Oh my goodness – where do we begin laughing at your argument. You are in minority and your past involvement a decade ago clouds judgement.

    Talk about transparent – your question about Bath House attendance deflects the fact that the “museum” has litttle cultural value as the content has been static for a decade. I would estimate under a baker’s dozen visits the Bath House for the “museum” on an annual basis.

    As for the Bath House – the artists that have displayed their work have gained noterity from various open houses. Neighborhood kids have learned about the performing arts from summer camps while senior citizens have have been enriched with entertainment from groups like 1:30 productions. What has your pet peoject museum given back in the last decade?

    Your support of an outdated museum is so transparent based on your envolvement in this paper and the board you should be ashamed of using a local paper for you sham story.

    The grounds and building are a public resource. Your “museum” is nothing more than a pet project. Remember our past is important but engaging, growing, and evolving to make a better future is far more important.

    Stop blaming (and inflamjng) others to support such a sad cause.

    From a proud supporter of the Bath House CULTURAL (not history) Center.

  • I had to laugh at your comments, Brenda, because the writers here are dedicated to writing what happens at meetings as opposed to letting me dictate their coverage. The only thing we try to do here is be fair and transparent, and I think we’ve done that here. I’ve indicated in both of our articles/comments that I’m on the museum board, so it’s not as if I’ve been hiding my involvement. I take issue with your description of the article as one-sided, though; several of the people involved in this decision from the city’s side of the table didn’t attend the public meeting, and they’ve also been unavailable to comment to us for publication prior to writing our stories despite reaching out to them, in some cases several times. We can’t report their side of the story if they won’t respond to us or show up at a public meeting; instead, we used the emails and letters that have been circulation, as well as comments from those who attended. As for the attendance at the museum over the years, that is a great question; another great question that you didn’t ask but maybe we should all be asking has to do with the attendance for all events at the Bath House over the years … is the city utilizing this public resource to its highest and best use overall? We at the Advocate haven’t seen any attendance records for anything that happens there, but we can certainly try to find some; since you appear to be involved with the Bath House, if you have those numbers, please send them along to us. Who knows? Maybe none of the three Bath House components (art, theater or the museum) should be there; maybe something else entirely would be more valuable to Dallas residents. Since the building and grounds are a public resource owned by all of us, ultimately that’s what we should be working towards. Thanks for your comments, Brenda.

  • Brenda Cooper

    It’s easy to blame the City for the lack of action and involvement by the board. Who doesn’t want to blame government employees for their personal problems? Yet it does seem odd the president of this paper is personally involved with this issue and such a one-sided article turns up in the neighborhood paper. Maybe we should take the Trump approach and blame the dishonest media / author concluding she’s been influenced by her bossto report on his personal crusade?

    So the claim is the community will miss the museum. In that case the board should release attendance figures for the past year and provide agendas and minutes for their meetings. I can’t imagine much time or energy has been spent on this space for years!

    History is not being lost. A boring bunch of signs that haven’t been changed in a decade will be replaced with something more current. The “museum” has become nothing more than an overflow room for people to stand in during large events at the Bath House.

    To the board: you should really blame yourselves for doing so little over the years to keep this space up instead of passing blame to city employees. It makes no sense to turn this space back over to a board that will ignore the space for another decade. The board needs to stop passing the buck and admit they (or should I say the president of this paper) failed at keeping the museum relivent. It’s time to move on!

  • Jane Bryant

    Well Michael – if anyone knows about incompetence, it would be you, wouldn’t it? That’s just from my personal experience. Perhaps if you and the other Board members were more engaged and had not rested on your laurels regarding the content of the Museum and been more about progressive about the Museum’s content and more inclusive with the community, it would not have come to the City resorting to sending an eviction notice. Maybe it is just time for a new Board?

  • Lara, we did include that disclaimer on the initial story, which was linked to in the first paragraph of this story. Not including it here was an oversight that I’m glad you rectified.

  • Lara Smith

    While you’re making editor’s notes, you might also want to include that the Advocate’s president is on the board of the museum, which would be valuable information for any reader.

  • My apologies Mr. Jung – I had based it off of the fact that he was on the receiving end of those comments. I will clarify with an editors note. Thank you for keeping this clear.

  • Diane Feray Godwin

    The last quote is exactly what I thought while reading the article. An absolute shame that this city treasures nothing historical. Preservationists have to fight tooth and nail to save every little bit of what is left.

  • Michael Jung

    Some serious clarification is in order. My jocular comment about incompetence was NOT directed toward Cultural Affairs Commissioner Jesse Smith. As Mr. Smith explained, he was unaware until very recently that there was an active organization supporting and sponsoring the White Rock Lake Museum, or that that the eviction notice had not been discussed with that organization. The staff members responsible for the eviction were, however, well aware of both of those things.