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Dallas County Is Turning Its "White Only" Water Fountain Into a Multimedia Art Installation

Dallas County had long since forgotten what the metal plate above the water fountain in the Records Building was meant to conceal when, in 2003, it fell off. Even then, you had to be looking for it to notice the faded remnants of the "White Only" sign on the marble wall, or you did until commissioners marked the spot with a commemorative plaque over the objections of some black leaders.

The sign is still visible today, a way "to remind us of this unpleasant portion of our history," as it's phrased on the plaque. And now, since there can never be too much reminding, the county plans to turn the water fountain itself into a multimedia art installation documenting the fight for equality.

The plan isn't actually new. Artist Lauren Woods first pitched it to commissioners way back in 2005, envisioning a functioning water fountain that, when a thirsty passerby stopped for a drink, would project a 45-second montage of scenes from the civil rights struggle onto the wall above.

"People being sprayed and, you know, pushed to the ground with these water hoses," as she described at the time to NBC 5. "It's recontextualized and digitized and kind of played with, and I kind of retell the story of that era."

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Her original concept for the fountain would have it playing the entire clip before dispensing water. Commissioners nixed the idea, though John Wiley Price declared that 45 seconds isn't that long to wait for a sip of water. "Some of us waited 45 years."

Things have been simmering for the past eight years as Woods says she has been in "administrative mode," fundraising and working out logistics. She's now prepared to move forward.

County commissioners will be updated on the project on Tuesday. The original plan was for Woods to bear all costs but, given that she's raised only two-thirds of the $46,720 budget, Price has suggested that the county chip in $15,000 "[s]o the project can be completed in time for the November acknowledgment of President Kennedy." It's currently scheduled to be unveiled on November 22, the day Kennedy was killed.

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