Ann Arbor Public Art Commission (Oct. 13, 2009): In a move that came as a surprise to some commissioners, the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission was asked at its Tuesday meeting to schedule a special session this Friday to vote on the Herbert Dreiseitl art project. The project is a three-piece installation planned for the new municipal center, which includes a large waterscape sculpture in the building’s outdoor plaza.
However, the city still doesn’t have a final budget or final designs from the German artist – those will likely be provided by Thursday afternoon, according to Katherine Talcott, the city’s public art administrator. It’s also possible that the Friday meeting will be postponed, if information isn’t provided in time. The meeting, which is open to the public, is tentatively set for noon at the City Center’s 7th floor conference room, 220 E. Huron St. [Editor's note: At around 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 15, the city clerk's office contacted The Chronicle with the news that the Friday meeting would be rescheduled. UPDATE, Oct. 16, 2 p.m.: A special meeting of the municipal center task force has been scheduled for Monday, Oct. 19 from 1-2:30 p.m. at the City Center's 7th floor conference room, 220 E. Huron St. Also on Monday, a special meeting of the Public Art Commission is set for 5:30 p.m. at the same location.]
Why Hold a Special Meeting?
The Dreiseitl project has been in the works for over a year, and is AAPAC’s largest undertaking with an estimated price tag of more than $800,000, funded through the city’s Percent for Art program. That amount includes a $72,000 check for initial design work that the artist received last week when he was in town for additional talks with city staff, architects and others associated with the municipal center project. [Previous Chronicle coverage of Dreiseitl's designs: "A River of Blue Light"]
On Tuesday, Margaret Parker, AAPAC’s chair, told the commission that the task force charged with guiding public art projects at the municipal center met last week. The task force had intended to make a recommendation to AAPAC about Dreiseitl’s work, she said, but because the budget hadn’t been finalized, the task force couldn’t vote. Certain construction elements – such as pouring concrete in the courts building – are ready to proceed, Parker said, but will have to be held back until a decision is made about the Dreiseitl installation. Continued delays could mean that change-of-work orders will be required, she added, and that costs money.
Parker said that Dreiseitl hadn’t yet chosen all of the subcontractors he’d need. But the task force and AAPAC need to know if he can come in under a $750,000 cap for the three installations – the water sculpture on the outdoor plaza, and two smaller pieces inside the courts building. She said it might be the case that he can only do two installations – or even just one – for that amount, describing discussions with Dreiseitl as “ongoing.”
This is the current budget that AAPAC has received for the project, totaling $720,000:
- Water basin: precast concrete = $57,000
- Water elements: rotating, stainless steel = $21,000
- Outdoor sculpture: element base = $57,000
- Indoor sculptures (2) = $75,000
- Sculpture: configuration, spotlight, lighting, water supply, lighting control, programming = $225,000
- Water technology, basin, drain, filter, water treatment, control = $120,000
- Contingencies = $40,000
- Artistic design and supervision = $55,000
- Design development, construction documentation, services during construction = $70,000
- Change orders = to be discussed
The project will be paid for out of the city’s Percent for Art program, which also pays for Talcott’s part-time salary. However, Talcott has been working additional hours to handle the Dreiseitl project – those extra hours are being paid for out of the city’s water and sewer fund, she told commissioners on Tuesday.
In commenting on Dreiseitl’s preliminary budget, commissioner Cheryl Zuellig pointed out that “change orders” amount – still to be determined – had the potential to be large.
Depending on whether a final budget is ready, the task force also plans to meet on Friday, immediately prior to AAPAC’s meeting. The task force will make a recommendation to AAPAC. Then AAPAC must vote on the Dreiseitl project as well. Sue McCormick, the city’s director of public services, has asked that the task force and AAPAC make their recommendations by Monday, Oct. 19. Talcott said McCormick wants to take the recommendation to city council for a vote at their Nov. 16 meeting, and it would take a month to prepare for that.
Zuellig asked whether AAPAC would get a design presentation at Friday’s meeting. Parker told commissioners that Dreiseitl had made design changes, which she could only describe, but not show – because they did not have the new designs in hand. Instead of using a steel background for the wall installations in the courts building, he now plans to use glass. And rather than embedding the small blue lights into the glass surface, he plans to hang them from the ceiling, like raindrops. An image of the Huron River watershed will be etched into the glass.
For the second wall installation, the drawing of plant life will be done in silver paint incised into white plaster. Some lights will hang down from the ceiling, while others will be embedded into the roots in the drawing.
Commissioners pushed to get information as soon as possible before Friday’s meeting. “This is a very short period of time and very short notice for us,” Zuellig said. She suggested that the staff prepare two motions in advance – one approving Dreiseitl’s work, the other rejecting it – so that they would have both options ready at the meeting.
“This is a really big deal, and we want to have done our due diligence,” said Marsha Chamberlin.
Working with the DDA
At last month’s AAPAC meeting, commissioner Connie Brown was absent but had submitted a report on possible Downtown Development Authority projects that the commission could collaborate on. Brown is a liaison between AAPAC and the DDA, which also sets aside funds for public art from its construction projects.
On Tuesday, Brown began by saying she hoped to get feedback from commissioners about whether they were interested in pursuing any of these projects, or if they had other ideas for collaborating with the DDA. One of the projects she’d originally listed – the underground parking structure on Fifth Avenue, which broke ground last week – is no longer really an option, since the project is well underway, she said.
Other projects are:
- Division Street and Fifth Avenue sidewalk, curb and street improvements: This might include planters, stamping designs into the concrete or embedding art into curbs and sidewalks in other ways. Work is being done on Division Street now; AAPAC would need to make a decision about getting involved by the end of December. Work on Fifth Avenue is slated for next year.
- Hanover Park: Located at the corner of Division and Packard, this park contains a metal sculpture of stacked books –”Arbor Sapientiae” by Ronald Bauer – that will likely be relocated. The DDA has built a concrete ring in the park that could act as the base for a sculpture, or for plantings.
- Ongoing curb and street repair: Like the Division and Fifth work, projects could include planters, stamping designs into the concrete or embedding tile or other material into curbs.
Cheryl Zuellig said that although it might be too late to incorporate art into the underground part of the parking structure, the city had issued a request for proposals and would be choosing a development to go on top of the structure – that might be an opportunity for AAPAC to get involved, she said.
Zuellig also questioned what the procedure would be for AAPAC’s involvement in any of the projects that Brown listed. Many of them were already in progress, like the Division Street improvements and Hanover Park. If AAPAC was going to be integrated, it really needed to be part of the design team, she said.
Brown responded by saying that AAPAC could set up a process with the DDA and figure out how early to get involved, but it didn’t make sense to do that until AAPAC decided that this kind of partnership was worth pursuing. After that general decision had been made, she said, they could choose a point-person on AAPAC to work out the details and bring back a more specific proposal for the projects they wanted to pursue.
One possibility would be to start with a simple project – like embellishing curbcuts – and use that as a trial before committing to additional collaboration, Brown said.
Margaret Parker said that typically, months of discussion lead up to decisions about what projects to select. She felt like the design had already been pinpointed, without the discussion. “What I see is, ‘Here’s a flowerpot!’” she said.
Brown noted that the DDA had been working on these projects for a long time, but that AAPAC had only recently gotten involved – that’s why it seemed like the process was well underway. If that’s not acceptable, the commission can decide not to participate in any of these current projects, Brown said, but rather to get involved when new DDA projects begin.
Parker asked if commissioners could tell the DDA that they’d like to do one “knock-out” piece of art on the development that goes atop the Fifth Avenue parking structure. If so, they’d need to start talking to developers soon, she added.
Jim Curtis pointed out that the development on top of the parking structure is going to be a very complex project, and probably won’t be built for many years. AAPAC shouldn’t just focus on those large, long-term projects, but should also look for short- and intermediate-term projects to showcase public art, he said. The DDA is being very generous in offering to work with AAPAC, he said. “Yes, it is a pot, I agree – it’s not the whole program. But a pot is better than nothing.”
The commission eventually reached consensus on pursuing a joint AAPAC-DDA project in Hanover Park, and in exploring opportunities for partnering on the Fifth Avenue and Division streetscapes. Commissioners also agreed to let the DDA know that they’d be interested in working on a public art installation for the top of the Fifth Avenue underground parking structure.
Status Update: FestiFools, Project S.N.A.P., Horse Sculpture
Cheryl Zuellig gave a report from the planning committee, and the commission took action on three projects.
The organizers of FestiFools, an annual parade of large puppets down Main Street that emphasizes community involvement in the creation of public art, had asked AAPAC for a five-year commitment of $25,000 each year, for a total of $125,000. Zuellig reported that the planning committee had several comments: 1) As performance art, FestiFools is not permanent, and reaches only a limited audience over a limited period, compared to permanent installations; 2) AAPAC hasn’t determined what its role might be in supporting performance art, so it’s not a high priority at this point; 3) the project type wasn’t identified in AAPAC’s 2010 annual plan; 4) FestiFools gets funding from other sources, and will continue the project even without the support of AAPAC; and 5) the amount requested is higher than what’s allotted for unspecified projects in the annual plan.
The committee did not recommend that the FestiFools proposal be moved to the peer review stage. However, Zuellig said, performance art is an important part of the community’s experience, so the committee proposed awarding a one-time, $5,000 amount to FestiFools for the 2010 fiscal year. The committee recommended certain conditions apply, including that the money be used for puppet-making materials, not administrative overhead, and that AAPAC is mentioned in any promotional materials for the project. The award is also contingent on city council approval.
Jim Curtis suggested adding a condition that the puppets be displayed for some period after the parade, in a public venue. Several commissioners praised the project, saying it drew people to the downtown area.
Outcome: The commission voted unanimously to approve the $5,000 one-time funding.
The youth group Project S.N.A.P. (Share, Nurture, Act, Preserve) is interested in creating a community mosaic project, with support from AAPAC. Zuellig said the committee felt there weren’t sufficient details to move ahead with this project, and suggested that AAPAC table the proposal and ask organizers to provide additional information, including a proposed size, type of materials, design and budget. Another suggestion is for the project to align itself with a local community group that might be interested in creating a mosaic mural.
Outcome: The commission voted unanimously to table the proposal, and to ask Project S.N.A.P. for a more fully developed proposal.
Bronze Horse Sculpture
Local artist Garo Kazan has offered to donate his large bronze sculpture of a horse to the city. Zuellig said that accepting such a donation was consistent with AAPAC’s mission and its annual plan, and that the piece would be permanent, suitable for locating in an outside venue, and of a size that would be easily visible to pedestrians. One consideration, she said, is that AAPAC would have to earmark funding for its installation, in addition to choosing a location. The planning committee recommended moving the project to a peer review stage. If the proposal is approved during peer review, AAPAC would have to do a structural assessment of the work before it goes to city council for final approval, Zuellig said.
Jim Curtis said that if there was a suitable location near a city parking structure or surface lot, the DDA might be interested in partnering on the cost. He reported that Jan Onder had suggested an area along Ashley as a possible location, where in the past there had been a blacksmiths, carriage factory and livery. Onder added to Curtis’ remarks by specifying the berm next to the surface lot at Ashley and Huron, facing Huron as a possible location.
Outcome: The commission voted unanimously to move the project to peer review.
Commissioners present: Connie Brown, Marsha Chamberlin, Jim Curtis, Cathy Gendron, Margaret Parker, Jan Onder, Cheryl Zuellig. Others: Katherine Talcott, Jean Borger
Absent: Jim Kern, Elaine Sims
Next regular meeting: Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 4:30 p.m., 7th floor conference room of the City Center Building, 220 E. Huron St. [confirm date]