Ann Arbor Public Art Commission meeting (Jan. 12, 2010): A portion of AAPAC’s first meeting of the year was spent looking back at 2009 – and their success in December defeating a challenge to the Percent for Art program.
But while reporting on city council’s vote against cutting public art funding to a half-percent, AAPAC chair Margaret Parker wasn’t feeling complacent: “I think we can expect a similar [challenge] to happen in the future.”
The commission discussed several other projects, including the status of the Herbert Dreiseitl sculpture recently approved by city council. He has not yet responded to queries asking him to modify two additional pieces of art – it’s unclear if those pieces, originally planned for the interior of the new municipal center, will move forward.
Percent for Art, Dreiseitl Project
AAPAC chair Margaret Parker began the meeting by reviewing the outcome of the Dec. 21, 2009 Ann Arbor city council meeting. At that meeting, councilmembers voted on a resolution that would have cut the Percent for Art program to a half-percent for three years, then reverted back to a full percent. Parker said she and eight others spoke in favor of keeping the full percent, and one person from the public spoke against it. The resolution failed on a 7 to 2 vote, with only councilmembers Stephen Kunselman and Sandi Smith supporting it. Commissioner Elaine Sims, who also spoke at the council meeting, said councilmembers indicated that the public commentary made a difference in their votes.
Also considered at the Dec. 21 city council meeting was a resolution approving a $111,400 contract with Quinn Evans, the municipal center’s architect, for design documentation and procurement of bids to fabricate and install an outdoor sculpture proposed by Herbert Dreiseitl. Only Kunselman voted against this, Parker reported. [See Chronicle coverage: "Council: Art Key to Ann Arbor’s Identity"]
The total project budget is $737,820 for this outdoor sculpture, which will be designed to incorporate stormwater runoff. Katherine Talcott, the city’s public art administrator, said she’s working with Bill Wheeler, project manager for the municipal center, and Abigail Elias from the city attorney’s office to hammer out the Quinn Evans contract.
Originally, AAPAC had commissioned and paid for Dreiseitl to design three pieces, though only the one main outdoor work has been approved. There’s still some question about the status of the two Dreiseitl wall installations inside the new building. Talcott reported that the German artist has been in Singapore for several months, and hasn’t responded to queries from the city asking for revised designs and cost estimates.
The AAPAC task force on public art at the municipal center site will meet on Friday, Jan. 15 to discuss other art installations at the site, Parker said. There are spots for possible public art pieces in the north courtyard area off of Ann Street, as well as on a large outside wall on the building, facing east. And if Dreiseitl’s pieces aren’t used for the two inside locations, the task force will need to figure out what will go there. “We do have to get going on it,” Parker said.
West Park, Fuller Road Station, Bronze Horse Statue
Commissioners discussed several projects in various stages of development: public art for West Park and the Fuller Road Station, and a bronze horse sculpture that an artist wants to donate to the city.
In reporting on work by AAPAC’s projects committee, Connie Brown said she had talked with Amy Kuras, a city park planner, who is working on renovations to West Park. The project’s timeline had been accelerated and would likely begin in April 2010, to be completed throughout the summer. Kuras wanted to know whether AAPAC could work within that timeline to include a public art component, which would be funded through the Percent for Art program. [At city council's Nov. 16, 2009 meeting, an agenda item to authorize those West Park capital improvements prompted a lengthy discussion among councilmembers about how the Percent for Art program works.]
Brown recommended that AAPAC issue a request for qualifications (RFQ) for artwork that would be part of poured concrete seat walls, to be dug into the hillside across from the West Park bandshell. If they decide to do this project, they’d have to move quickly, she said, with the artist, design, contract and budget in place by May. City staff need to determine how much money would be available – funds would come either from the parks or stormwater budgets, said Katherine Talcott, the city’s public art administrator.
Some commissioners expressed concerns about the process, the short timeline and the type of materials that might be used. “To me it seems like another thing thrown to us with a tight timeline,” Elaine Sims said, asking how it fit into AAPAC’s budget and annual plan.
Margaret Parker pointed out that it had taken a year to do the request for proposals (RFP) for the artwork in the Fourth & Washington parking structure. City departments need to give AAPAC more advance notice for this kind of project, she said.
Noting that there were maintenance issues associated with outdoor concrete work, Sims suggested the project could be more of an aesthetic, with the funds spent on beautiful materials for the seating, rather than on an art installation. Several other commissioners agreed with the decorative approach.
Talcott said she was meeting with Sue McCormick, the city’s public services area administrator (to whom Talcott reports), and would clarify the process for moving forward, including whether the RFQ needs to get council approval.
Talcott then reported on another city project in which AAPAC might play a role: the Fuller Road Station. The project manager, David Dykman, had contacted her and they planned to meet formally soon. It was good that someone from another city project is reaching out, she said. The station is being developed by the city and the University of Michigan, and is envisioned in two phases. Initially, it will entail a large parking structure, with the hopes of eventually building a new Amtrak station on the site, which is located near the UM medical complex. [See Chronicle coverage: "Council OKs Recycling, Transit, Shelter"]
Talcott also reported that she was setting up a review panel to evaluate the proposed donation of a large bronze horse sculpture by local artist Garo Kazan. She hasn’t yet received confirmations from people who’ve been invited to be on the panel.
Funding Rules: What AAPAC Can and Can’t Do
The commission discussed several topics that related to constraints on how Percent for Art funds can be spent.
The city attorney’s office had clarified, Margaret Parker said, that AAPAC could not use funding for temporary art projects, such as FestiFools, an annual parade of towering puppets that takes place every April on Main Street. FestiFools’ organizers had originally asked AAPAC for a five-year commitment of $25,000 each year. At AAPAC’s Oct. 13, 2009 meeting, commissioners rejected that proposal but voted to approve one-time funding of $5,000.
Parker asked that Jean Borger draft a letter to notify FestiFools of the decision. Several commissioners wanted to make sure to communicate that they supported the project in spirit, despite the funding constraints.
Katherine Talcott suggested that if AAPAC wanted to fund temporary projects like FestiFools, they should consider raising money from private donors. Later in the meeting, Parker asked whether the commission wanted to form a fundraising committee for that purpose. They ultimately decided to table the idea until their strategic planning retreat.
Parker also reported that AAPAC can’t award grants using Percent for Art funds – the commission had previously discussed this as a possibility.
The issue of city rules came up again during a report from the public relations committee, which had been working on AAPAC’s website. The committee – Cathy Gendron and Marsha Chamberlin – had been hoping to redesign the AAPAC website, which is separate from its page on the city’s website. However, city officials have told them that no Percent for Art funds can be used on website design, so they’re focusing their energy on how to revamp the city web page. “It won’t be elegant – or anything like we envisioned,” Gendron said.
However, there are some elements that they can incorporate into the site, Gendron said. She showed commissioners examples of public art websites in other cities that they might emulate. Cleveland’s public art website has an artist registry, for example. Gendron said the Ann Arbor area Arts Alliance is developing something similar, and AAPAC might be able to combine efforts with them. Another example is a Google map with markers showing the locations of public art – this might be possible on the city site, Gendron said.
AAPAC could also consider starting a blog or a Facebook page, she said, showing a Chicago public art blog as an example. This would be a way for people who aren’t city employees (including commissioners) to post things online, she said, because only city employees can load items onto the city’s website.
The commission discussed the need for a strategic planning retreat, which would focus on a one- to three-year timeframe. Margaret Parker wanted to bring in someone from the city’s planning staff to talk about how AAPAC can be better integrated into the city’s planning process. They need to know about projects years in advance, she said, citing the rebuilding of the East Stadium bridges as an example of something they should be included in. Parker mentioned Connie Pulcipher as a city planner who might be available for the retreat.
Marsha Chamberlin asked whether they needed a professional facilitator instead. The issue of how soon AAPAC hears about projects isn’t strategic, she said – it’s a matter of communication. Other commissioners weighed in, saying that perhaps a city planner could participate in a retreat that would be facilitated by a professional. Fran Alexander of Alexander Resources Consulting and Dannemiller Tyson Associates were both mentioned as options.
Parker said they’d need to do an RFP for the facilitator, and Katherine Talcott cautioned that they couldn’t spend more than $1,000. No date was set for the retreat, but the goal is to shoot for a full day in mid-February, depending on schedules and the availability of a facilitator.
In reporting on the work of the public relations committee, Marsha Chamberlin and Cathy Gendron said they hadn’t moved forward on planning a public forum, as called for in AAPAC’s annual plan. Gendron noted that the last forum, held in May 2009, had been sparsely attended. About 30 people showed up for the event at the Ann Arbor Art Center. It wasn’t clear what the point would be, Chamberlin said – would it be to educate people about public art in general, or about the role of AAPAC, or to seek feedback? She also wondered how they could make it engaging so that people would want to attend.
Jeff Meyers, who attended Tuesday’s meeting though he hasn’t yet been officially appointed to AAPAC, suggested that the event could connect with the whole arts and creative community, letting them know how the funding process works and how they can get involved. Ultimately, he said, people want to know what the Percent for Art program means for their bottom line, both creatively and financially.
Margaret Parker said she felt like last year’s attendance of 30 people was a lot. She identified several things they could do at a public forum: review current AAPAC projects, educate people about public art, explain AAPAC’s process, and solicit feedback and suggestions.
Chamberlin proposed that she and Gendron meet again to put together a detailed plan and come up with a proposed date. Others suggested holding it in conjunction with other upcoming arts-related events, such as the Ann Arbor Film Festival in March or FestiFools in April.
Election of Officers
The final item of business was the election of officers. Margaret Parker, has served as chair since the commission was formed, and before that for several years led the group’s previous incarnation, the Commission for Art in Public Places. She announced that 2010 would be her last year as AAPAC chair.
She asked for volunteers to be vice chair, with the assumption that the vice chair this year would assume the chair’s position in 2011. Jim Curtis said he couldn’t do it, because he’ll be involved in launching the Main Street Business Improvement Zone, a new downtown tax assessment district. [See Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor Main Street BIZ Clears Hurdle."] Several people suggested Connie Brown, who demurred, citing her workload as head of AAPAC’s projects committee. All other commissioners declined as well.
“That will not do,” Parker said. “I’m not going to do it all by myself anymore.” The issue was unresolved, with Parker joking that she’d bring it up at each meeting until someone stepped up.
Elaine Sims said part of the problem is that AAPAC needs more than nine commissioners. Brown noted that at this point, they don’t even have nine – Jeff Meyers has not yet been appointed, and another seat remains unfilled. Meyers is expected to be nominated and appointed at the city council’s next meeting, on Jan. 18.
Commissioners present: Connie Brown, Marsha Chamberlin, Jim Curtis, Cathy Gendron, Margaret Parker, Elaine Sims. Others: Katherine Talcott, Jean Borger, Jeff Meyers
Absent: Cheryl Zuellig
Next regular meeting: Tuesday, Feb. 9 at 4:30 p.m., 7th floor conference room of the City Center Building, 220 E. Huron St. [confirm date]