Public Arts: Overlooked and Underused
During quarantine, my daily escape was taking a socially distant stroll through the downtown neighborhoods. One midsummer morning while in the West End, I noticed a bronze statue of Rosa Parks. True to form and the legacy of its namesake, the bronze sculpture was sitting alone, minding its business. Was this new? How long had it been there? Why would anyone place this statue in the most painfully obvious of places?
Later I found out that the sculpture is actually the second of its casting, the first located in front of Troy University in Alabama. It was in Montgomery, Alabama, where Parks stood up by sitting down and ignited a revolution. You have heard her story: a woman who rejected the racist and social inequities of the South by refusing to be treated as an inferior.
The sculpture’s effectiveness lies first and foremost in its context. The original casting sits roped off in a museum. The humble, endearing spirit of Parks and her actions seem lost in the formality and rigidity of the setting. But placed in Dallas in the middle of a busy downtown plaza, the sculpture takes on a life of its own. It becomes less about an object for DART riders to navigate around as they rush from bus to train and more about capturing a small personal moment of escape for Rosa. It is about addressing a history that is not incorrect but sensationalized to the point of sometimes being just as exhausting as Rosa was that Dec. 1 on a bus in Alabama. Parks was constantly trying to escape the notion that her actions were revolutionary; she was tired, and sculptor Eric Blome set her free from that legacy.
Now aware of the sculpture, I typically glance over as I pass, and while Mrs. Parks is always alone, she never appears lonely as she glances off with a small smile. This woman who caused a commotion that helped spark a civil rights movement now blends effortlessly into the crowd. The hustle and bustle of DART riders and the look of contentment on Rosa-'Parks’ face creates just enough of an invitation for a stranger to pause next to her and escape into thought while awaiting the next ride.
Ashlie Bird, AIA is an architect at WDG Architecture Dallas.
Photo by Liane Swanson