Anyone traipsing by the Harrow sculpture over the last year would hardly notice it has stalled out. For 27 years, the twisted steel cone had rotated around a pit of downtown Dallas sand at the creeping pace of one revolution per 24 hours, a constant testament to time, but a very subtle one.
And then it stopped. Not for the first time. The Belo Foundation commissioned the artwork and built the shaded sliver of green space, not far from where the Omni now sits, in 1992. The sculpture cost $75,000. It was made by a local artist named Linnea Glatt, who sought to draw Dallasites into contemplation. Rotating around the 30-foot-diameter pit, the cone’s edges draw lines in the sand that symbolized, for Glatt, “the cyclical nature of life and the balancing of life’s events.” Through the years, when it stopped, Belo paid Glatt and her husband a few thousand dollars for on-site repairs, which total something like $45,000 in maintenance over two and a half decades.
Now, however, the city faces a much larger challenge. Fixing the sculpture this time would require a sort of off-site surgery, removing the heart of Lubben Plaza, cutting it open, tearing out its mechanical guts, replacing, rewiring, reinstalling. After gathering bids, the estimated cost has come in at $90,000 to $120,000. Finding that money in Dallas proves an enormous task.
“Most likely, the inevitable conclusion is that it will have to be decommissioned,” says Amy Meadows, who is president and CEO of what was then the Belo Foundation but is now Parks for Downtown Dallas, a switch not immaterial to this story.
Before Meadows’ organization changed names in 2015, it aimed a large portion of its endowment at public artwork. After, it focused on boosting urban greenspace, pouring millions into parks, like the recently completed Pacific Plaza, that make downtown a more attractive area to work and play. Meadows says the $90,000 to $120,000 would take a significant chunk from the budget the organization has allotted to pay for new parks downtown. The organization is offering $10,000 toward the repair, a small slice of the total, but more than they’ve spent on individual maintenance projects in the past.
If you are thinking the city, which has the sculpture on loan from Parks for Downtown Dallas, could help close the gap, think again. To maintain more than 300 pieces of public art, Dallas has a budget of just $100,000, a number that may lead you right into a larger conversation about arts funding in Dallas. The city will soon decide whether to renew its contract with convention and visitors bureau VisitDallas. Part of that discussion will be whether more of VisitDallas’ budget, much of which comes from the city’s Hotel and Occupancy Tax, should go toward the arts. In the fall, Dallas amended its contract with Dallas such that 3.5 percent of HOT money goes toward the arts, up from 2.6 percent. But the arts community has asked for between 13 and 15 percent, which would bring it in line with some other big cities in Texas. Some of that money would go toward maintenance.
Working with limited funds, these days the Parks Department is more proactive about having organizations that donate public pieces sign on to pay for maintenance. Today, for instance, the Parks Department is discussing the new Adelfa Callejo sculpture to go up in Main Street Garden. Per the city of Dallas’ Cultural Policy, it will include a $10,000 donation for upkeep.
Private donors have filled other gaps. The Robert Irwin Sculpture downtown has long been a graffiti magnet. In addition to a successful preservation three years ago, a private donor gave Parks for Downtown Dallas $300,000 to start an endowment for ongoing maintenance.
“If other donors who care about public art would step forward, this could be a real plus for the city,” says Meadows.
Whereas the graffiti requires immediate attention, the Harrow’s sedentary state hasn’t rendered it an eyesore, and some have suggested it could stay at rest for a while. “Even if it took a year or two years to come up with the funds,” says Park Board member Jesse Moreno, “I think it’s still a cool art piece to look at when it’s not in rotation.” But Glatt has made clear that without motion it is not her piece, and Parks For Downtown Dallas intends to honor the artist’s wishes. Meadows told Glatt that she would seek out funding. She has, without luck. So it’s safe to say that a donor would need to come forth, or momentum pickup, soon. (Meadows, I’m sure, would be happy to hear from you.)
One downtown Dallasite has started to be proactive, applying recent pressure on several downtown stakeholders and neighbors of the sculpture, but one in particular. Veronica Simmons, who lives downtown, has long used Lubben Plaza as a place for some quiet reflection. She sent out letters this week to see if she could coax out commitments.
“This seems like a project that would be a good fit for funding through the Visit Dallas BIG Things Happen Here marketing campaign,” she says in an email.
Given the larger funding conversations, there’s some synergy in her suggestion.
Whatever the case, Simmons just hopes time hasn’t stopped on the Harrow.