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Joint boards back moving artwork outside Barton Springs South Gates

Tuesday, May 15, 2012 by Kimberly Reeves

A joint committee of the Environmental and Parks boards agreed Wednesday night to recommend moving a large piece of commissioned granite artwork outside the gates of Barton Springs Pool when improvements are made.


The gathering inside the South Gates of Barton Springs Pool, around a makeshift podium, was possibly the least well-dressed crowd of participants at a commission meeting in recent memory. The group, including the Friends of Barton Springs Pool, was united in its support of moving the artwork.


Artist Hawkeye Glenn, somewhat chagrined, stood shoeless and silent to one side of the group as one speaker after another spoke passionately of leaving the south lawn of the Barton Springs Pool area as pristine as possible. The majority, when asked for a raise of hands, supported the art piece’s move.


“The whole process for this art project has been quite convoluted, difficult for Hawkeye and difficult for everyone,” said Gary Beyer of the Friends. “We first heard about it when he talked about his material and different sites. We didn’t hear about it again until it showed up here on the south lawn.”


Beyer and others attempted to be diplomatic while showing disdain. One woman said even Michelangelo’s David would be out of place on the South Lawn. Another offered Glenn a hug before launching into her remarks about her wedding at the pool. And Roy Waley of the Austin Sierra Club said his informal poll of pool swimmers uncovered resentment of such a proposal.


“Absolutely none of them, not a single one of them, said they wanted that inside the fence,” Waley said. “The last thing we want is to have our arts community suffer because they misplaced a piece of art.”


And Save Our Springs Alliance’s Bill Bunch, who also got in a couple of pitches on water quality and opposing State Highway 45 SW over the aquifer, noted that the original pool master plan called for an untouched south lawn.


“One critical piece that seems to be forgotten is that the master plan called that we keep the lawn undeveloped and open, and goes so far as saying we should resist all temptation to improve it,” Bunch told the group of about three-dozen people, noting the message was clear. “Yet we keep seeming to have this same fight over and over.”


The original plans for the Barton Springs capital improvement project show the granite monument, which is shaped like a bench with seats, at the end of a crushed granite path under a large tree on the south lawn. The idea was to create a place of rest and leisure and an accessible pathway.


Robert Johnson, who said the trees and the spring demanded someone speak for them, said that art was not the best use of money. He, like a number in the group, suggested the $36,000 spent on art be used to renovate the ill-equipped bathroom on the south lawn, one that had not seen changes since the 1970s. Such latitude, however, would not be allowed under the capital improvement project budget, which specifically sets aside money for artwork.


A new option on Glenn’s piece, presented to the joint committee for the first time, moved the granite piece outside the new fence line, which was being moved to protect existing oak trees. That won unanimous support of the committee as well as the audience. Staff does not expect any significant changes to the piece of art, given it had a budget of no more than $36,000.


The audience at the meeting, however, seemed more divided on the inclusion of the crushed granite path, which was perceived as removing the natural state of the lawn. Environmental Board member Mary Ann Neely, for her part, told the group she was moved to see a man in a wheelchair cry when he was finally able to get full access to the view and use of the pool.


Environmental Chair Mary Gay Maxwell curtailed discussion of the path, telling the audience that it was not a topic on the two-item agenda, was not posted for discussion and would need to be put on a future agenda before a vote.


The second item on the agenda on Wednesday night was a presentation on the South Gate entrance by architect Brian Larson of Larson Burns and Smith. The Historic Landmark Commission voted down a first proposal, one that created a south gate entrance that mimicked the historic details of the park.


“They thought it would be confusing as to what is historic and what isn’t,” Larson said as he introduced a new proposal with scaled back size and details. “They didn’t consider this enough of a variation.”


Both proposals now head to the parks board’s land & facilities committee before going on to full Parks Board and the Urban Forestry Board, which will consider tree impact.

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