Artistic Success, Financial Fiasco

Bob Wade’s Bicentennial Map of the United States may have disappeared from sight, but it is definitely not out of mind. At least the 400’ X 100’ outdoor “art park” at Inwood Road and LBJ hasn’t been forgotten by the Farmers Branch Fire Department.

In December the artist drew a citation for “accumulation of unsightly litter” from the department. Deputy Fire Chief Tummenello said he had been warning Wade since the map’s October closing that the site needed to be cleaned up, but since little action had been taken, he issued the citation.

The map – complete with rivers, lakes, mountains, and highways – was Wade’s largest outdoor artwork and perhaps his most frustrating. With coverage in local, regional, and national media, it drew an estimated 10,000 people during the three-day July 4 weekend, but financial problems and nagging worries were partners in the project from the beginning.

Originally planned to open in early 1976 and continue operation until December, the map actually opened in June and closed in October when funds finally ran out. The map’s production reportedly cost Wade more than $3,000 of his own money, as well as a $7,500 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and a reported $100,000 in donated materials and labor.

Farmers Branch designated Wade’s map as one of its official Bicentennial projects and donated some materials and services to the project. Then, early in the spring, the rains came.

John Burk of the Farmers Branch Parks and Recreation Department says, “Different men in our department donated their time to help him do things out there, but it all went for naught. The rains would come and ruin a lot of the work they had done. I think the city kind of lost enthusiasm for the project.”

One former associate says, “He [Wade] started the project assuming that once it was under way people would join the bandwagon and get on board.” But the bandwagon effect didn’t take hold. Contributions from corporations or community groups were limited; pleas for volunteer labor met with little response.

Wade finally turned to the idea of selling advertising space on the map itself. A number of corporations liked the idea and placed signs or corporate logos on the map. Though some paid up to $1,500 for a six-month contract (June-December), the response was hardly enough to defray mounting costs. One associate said, “We even had a box for donations at the map site, but we had to take it down. People thought we were trying to make a profit on the map.”

Ironically, Wade was accused of being “too commercial” with the Bicentennial Map while at the same time others have said that he didn’t have enough business savvy to make the venture a success. Though a financial failure that put the artist in debt, Wade’s map is still regarded by some as an artistic success.

Regardless, the Farmers Branch Fire Department says it needs to be cleaned up.


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