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Artists Explain Themselves Before City Makes Its Call On Ross Ave. Underpass Proposals

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After the comments began streaming in on yesterday's preview of the public art proposals for the Ross Avenue Underpass, there was no way we'd miss a chance to hear direct from the artists about, well, what exactly they were thinking.

Two general thoughts on the artists' live proposals: For one, all of the proposals looked better in the artists' PowerPoints and models than they did in the single images we ran yesterday. And all the artists talked about working with the neighborhood to give their designs a more local feel. Still, none of the proposals felt too Dallas-specific -- in part, maybe, because the artists were stuck searching for a unifying theme among buildings like the Winspear Opera House, the Wyly Theater and One Arts Plaza.

Kay Kallos, the city's public art program manager, kicked off last night's forum by mentioning what she'd told Robert earlier in the afternoon: Hosting a public forum on the proposals like this is a big deal, she said, thanking the CityDesign Studio for making it happen.

Kallos also stressed that these were early proposals that'd see a lot of votes before anything is built -- a selection committee will meet to come up with a recommendation today, and the City Council, TxDOT, the city's Public Art Committee and Cultural Affairs Commission will all have a say. "There are no fewer than 75 people who are a part of this process," Kallos said.

With that, she turned the floor over to San Antonio sculptor Bill FitzGibbons, an experienced public art designer who installs rainbows on the side of buildings.

Each artist had 15 minutes to talk and 10 minutes to answer questions -- and FitzGibbons spent much of his time showing slides of his past work -- the Day Star Archway at San Antonio's airport, and a series of LED light installations, shimmering projections of the color spectrum, even silver and gold.

FitzGibbons showed rainbow light installations he's done at Reykjavik's city hall and even on the side of the Alamo -- a major coup getting that approved, FitzGibbons said, because the Daughters of the Republic of Texas "are right-wing of Atilla the Hun."

Notably, he shared his work on a public art project called "Light Channels" in San Antonio, in which he lit a freeway underpass with rainbow LED lights -- a "transformational installation," he said, that's driven up business on both side of the underpass, from the Ruth's Chris Steak House clear to the Best Western. "It's become a demonstration in and of itself," he said. (Interestingly, it's also been copied in McAllen, though, controversially, not by FitzGibbons himself.)

He proposed working with the community around Ross Avenue to develop a Dallas-specific 30-minute light program that'd repeat on a cycle. If the city manages to free up some more money, he said, he could even afford to light the other side of the underpass.

Seattle artist Koryn Rolstad came next, to cover her proposal for a graffiti-inspired light sculpture using "influences from existing Arts District architecture." On a satellite map, she showed what that means -- circles, half-circles and slanted lines.

Her project would combine tall LED-lit steel sticks in the ground and LED-lit aluminum shapes along the underpass, repeating those same shapes at various scales and angles. The tips of the tall steel "light stix" would slowly change colors, she proposed, but the specifics could be worked out with the community while the design's completed. "We start showing you the options and then we have that conversation," she told the crowd.

Someone asked if the height of the steel poles would be a problem, rising above the height of the freeway deck. Koller stepped in to say they'd just have to check with TXDOT about that. "This is the beginning," she said. "We will have to ask that question."

Finally, Arizona artists Joe O'Connell and Blessing Hancock came in with a pair of proposals, the first of which is a series of around 30 plastic tanks lit from the inside. Made from high-density polyethylene, each tank would sit on four stout legs, to evoke the theme of "forms up on legs" the artists said they picked up on during a visit to Dallas a month ago -- from the Traveling Man to the Pioneer Plaza Cattle Drive by the convention center, to the Wyly Theatre which, Hancock said, "looks like it's walking through downtown."

O'Connell suggested they could even add mustaches or tails to some of the shapes to make them "weirdly suggestive of being forms you could have a response to."

"We feel like they are protecting you as you walk through the space," Hancock said.

And if the city doesn't go for the public-art KidRobot installation, the two suggested an alternate proposal, to hang lit balls of bike gears and other recycled materials that integrate elements of neighborhoods on both sides of the underpass. "Integrating formal and informal" elements, O'Connell suggested, it'd be "sort of a joke, transforming the space into a ballroom."

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