The Arts and Economic Development: A Hot Mess at a Museum in Dallas

At the intersection of economic development and the arts sits a dispute about property rights and moral rights.  The Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas, houses a world-renown collection of art in a building that was designed by famed architect Renzo Piano especially for that purpose, in that location.  D Magazine describes the patented roof system as

“a barrel-vaulted roof-cum-ceiling made of 3-inch-thick, 1,200 pound glass panels, and, suspended above the glass, a sunscreen of millions of tiny aluminum oculi aimed due north.  The sunscreen was designed using the precise longitude and latitude of the Nasher, and it accounts for every hour of the Earth’s 365-day trip around the sun. Standing in the gallery, a visitor looking up and to the south sees what appears to be a solid structure through the glass ceiling. Turning 180 degrees and looking north, though, he sees open sky. The system allows into the museum soft, full-spectrum light that is not only safe for artwork but creates ideal, transcendent viewing conditions.”

The Nasher was designed to be a focal point for economic development in the area, and it has been wildly successful; the Dallas Arts District now houses a variety of cultural venues including the Dallas Museum of Art, the Myerson Symphony, the Trammel Crow Museum, and the AT&T Performing Arts Center.  In fact, it has been so successful that in order to take advantage of the economic development in the Arts District, a developer has been building Museum Tower, a 42-story residential high-rise development, on an adjacent piece of land.

The glass façade of Museum Tower, however, reflects light up to 250% the strength of the sun onto the Nasher from the north at an intensity that can kill plants and trees, damage artworks, and blind visitors.  The gardens at the Nasher, including live oaks, are threatened.  A Picasso had to be removed to avoid damage.  James Turrell claimed that his piece installed at the Nasher, “Tending, (Blue)”, had been destroyed by the Tower, because it blocked the sky that was to be visible through the aperture at the top of his skyspace.  The Nasher had to close the Turrell exhibit entirely.  There would many property and moral rights issues to spot here, if only this were a law school exam.

The parties are currently in a protracted mediation process.  More can be found on the dispute here, here, and here.