Birds at White Rock Lake Water Theater  behind the Bath House Cultural Center. Photo by Hilary Schleier

Birds at White Rock Lake Water Theater behind the Bath House Cultural Center. Photo by Hilary Schleier

Public art has become a hot topic over the past year, spurred in part by the debate surrounding the White Rock Lake Water Theater. The decision about whether to remove the deteriorating piece was tabled yet again last month while the city conducts an engineering study.

For the first time since 2009, this year’s city budget restored funding —$190,000— for public art maintenance. We now have a collections manager in charge of reviewing the condition of public art and prioritizing conservation needs.

“I think public art is front-of-mind right now,” said East Dallas Councilman Philip Kingston during today’s Arts, Culture and Libraries Committee briefing. “We have to make sure we have a sustainability plan in place.”

The Cultural Affairs Commission will take up the Water Theater again Feb. 19, following a diver inspection of the piece’s metal base plates and concrete foundation (much of the artwork is underwater, which is why repairs would be costly).

The newly restored maintenance budget has tackled two other pieces. In partnership with the parks department, the five large sculptures at Freedman’s Memorial Cemetery were renovated last month along with other repairs to the site. This month, the Pegasus atop the Magnolia Hotel will receive new neon. Installed in 2000, the Pegasus is actually a replica of the 1934 original. Kingston suggested the next step should be figuring out a way to make the Pegasus spin.

Other recent highlights to the public art collection include the ongoing Love Field airport project, which features several neighborhood artists. Six other citywide projects will launch in 2015 involving emerging artists.

And it’s not just the city taking more of an interest in public art. Kay Kallos, Public Art Program manager, told councilmembers she receives two to three calls a week from neighbors or neighborhood groups interested in sponsoring public art, or simply asking, “When is public art coming to my neighborhood?”

During the committee briefing, Lake Highlands Councilman Jerry Allen emphasized the importance of the public art program, and that a portion of extra funds, if found in the budget, should go toward it.

“Public art to me is just so important. It’s that two-second experience that lingers in your head. You might not know it, but it calms you down. Everyone enjoys public art. It’s a big check mark for this city.”