Artist Projects

A Dallas Drinking Fountain Project: A public artwork in three parts

lauren woods

For decades, a seemingly innocuous metal plate that was screwed into a marble wall hung above a public drinking fountain in the Dallas County Records Building. One day in 2003, it fell off. A public outcry ensued as people learned what that metal plate was meant to cover up: traces of a “White Only” sign that was removed during desegregation. The metal plate inadvertently preserved a memory that it was meant to help erase. A Dallas Drinking Fountain Project is a novel public artwork in three parts for Dallas County launching in November 2013. The highlight of this ambitious work is the unveiling of Drinking Fountain #1, an interactive interventionist new media monument.

A transformed, yet still functional, public drinking fountain at the Dallas County Records Building triggers a projection of digitally-altered newsreel footage of 1960s civil rights protests under the remains of the rediscovered Jim Crow sign. Visitors to the building unknowingly initiate this meditation on history, heroism, civic duty and social change as they attempt to sip water from the seemingly normal drinking fountain. Upon activation, the water flow is suspended for the duration of a 15-second video, allowing one to drink only after it ends. The sculpture is accessible to the public during normal operating hours of the building.

With the unveiling of the monument, in conjunction with John F. Kennedy’s Assassination 50th Anniversary in Dallas in November 2013, a series of free public programs will run beginning in 2014 in collaboration with local partners.  “Brown bag” lunches on-site at the Records Building, targeted towards visitors and employees, aim to reactivate the civic space by providing a platform for dialogical exchange. Public programs off-site, at arts, humanities and community centers, will correspond with strategic dates in national and international history to examine multi-national/ethnic movements and struggles for human rights and their modern implications. A youth-centric workshop that looks at the intersection of contemporary art, politics and education will be developed and made available to an existing network of local schools and creative community institutions. 

Finally, to extend the idea of civic engagement and meditation on collective memory present at the physical site, an online platform will be developed. This virtual space serves as a bridge from a local to an international audience who wish to join the discussion, archiving other sites of similar discovery and contested public memory.


Project Updates

  • 2013: Production begins on the sculpture

  • 2009: Beta website for Fountains is online at