Its backers wanted to make sure it was gushing before Westport kicked off its Saturday Night Live parties, where the streets are blocked off and celebrants pay a $1 cover to party free of underage interlopers.
La Danse D'Entropie Liquide is a 10,000-gallon creation situated in the parking lot just north of Buzzard Beach and Have a Nice Day.
"We're totally stoked," says Brandon Wilcox, president of the Westport Patrons Association. The group is made up of longtime regulars who met in area nightclubs and developed close friendships. They began raising money for the fountain in August 2001 -- during a particularly contentious summer in which Westport business owners first floated the idea of privatizing the streets so they could impose a cover charge for people over 21 who wanted to cross police barricades. By Labor Day of that year, Major Jan Zimmerman of the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department announced that police would strictly enforce the city's curfew ordinance on weekend nights.
Last summer was quieter, but the fledgling Westport Patrons Association kept up its fountain fund-raising efforts in an attempt to demonstrate that bargoers have civic pride, too. "We've said all along that Westport is the entertainment destination for all of Kansas City," Wilcox says. "This fountain is definitely a major validation of that. It's going to be a great summer."
Wilcox and other members of the group's design selection committee knew they wanted a fountain unlike any other in the city. Ultimately, they tapped celebrated French sculptor Marcel Cerveau de Bulle, who recently completed a year as artist-in-residence at the Kansas City Art Institute.
The artist and his class of fourth-year sculpture students spent six months hanging out in Westport to gather inspiration for their creation.
"Before, whenever we went to Westport, we would only go to the Broadway [Café] or the Tivoli [Cinema]," says Courtney Baumschmidt. "We thought the people who hung out at Have a Nice Day and America's Pub were vacuous frat boys and inane skanks who couldn't possibly appreciate anything we had to say. But Marcel deconstructed all of that for us, and we began to see how a girl in a tube top and hot pants, in and of herself, signifies conformity and individuality all at once, as well as the simple beauty of the human form and, most important, free expression -- which was what we were all about, too. After a few beers, we began to feel that we are all of the same essence: liquid. You know, entropie."
The fountain features a shallow pool hosting five life-sized figures -- three male, two female -- engaged in liquid revelry. In the center, a comely couple stands upright, their two heads cocked back, their mouths open to receive a constant flow of liquid from mugs raised and tilted in the air. Behind them and to the left, another male figure stands with his hands clasped around his groin, from which a thin stream flows. To the right of the central figures, a female form kneels with abundant liquid pouring from her open mouth. A male figure leans over her, holding her long hair out of the stream.
De Bulle explains the meaning of the sculpture by asking, "What are we?" He goes on: "We are liquid. Water. And in Westport, we gather and we take liquid. And when we take enough liquid, we ... " He pauses to find the right word. "We give liquid."
De Bulle's original design called for the fountain to be filled with un biere délicate, but members of the Westport Patrons Association balked at the cost of maintaining a constant flow of beer. "We can pick up a few rounds every now and then," he says. "But a whole fountain full of brew? That would have been great, but it's too much even for us." (Wilcox declined to reveal the total cost of the fountain, saying that would be "impolite.")
Daunted but not dashed, de Bulle proposed adding yellow food coloring and hooking up a dozen aerators to give the water a foamy head. "Even Piero Manzoni compromised sometimes," de Bulle says, referring to the Italian artist whose 1961 canned-excrement masterpiece "Merde d'Artiste" still generates buzz. Wilcox's group hasn't ruled out de Bulle's alternative suggestion, but for now the fountain spews standard Kansas City water.
"If you didn't know the original plan to use beer, you'd never know the difference," says Patrons Association member Kati Weber. "I just think of it as like Smirnoff Ice."
Wilcox says members of his group initially worried that Westport business owners would try to block their plan. "They're building a ton of condos and everything around here. It seems like they want a whole different crowd to move in -- especially since they're charging a thousand bucks for a one-bedroom apartment. But then we realized we were just being paranoid."
As it turns out, a fountain falls well within Westport's revitalization plans, which have reportedly included a proposal for a parklike "town square" setting in what's currently the concrete lot between McCoys and the Hurricane. Although some Westport business owners had also been planning to cover the lot north of Buzzard Beach and Have a Nice Day Café -- where the fountain now sits -- with more shops, condos and a parking garage, closed-door meetings between the business owners and the Patrons Association have produced a new plan everyone could live with. If the parking garage really happens, one business owner says, they'll design it around the fountain.
"At first we were skeptical," says the business owner, who asked that his name not be used for this article. "But then we all had to admit that none of us would be here if it weren't for the same kids who were championing this fountain project. They're the ones who have built Westport's reputation, and, honestly, they deserve their day in the sun."
City officials were also initially reluctant to approve the project. At a public meeting in December, one member of the Municipal Arts Authority pointed to a blueprint of the fountain and asked, "Is that guy peeing?"
But the suave de Bulle impressed the crowd of Kansas City decision makers. "They could tell he was for real," Wilcox says. After de Bulle described his vision in a thick accent, the authority unanimously agreed to green-light the project.
"He was quite something," Authority Chairman Claude Hayrod said after the vote. "La ville de vaches devient la ville de wows!"