Art Commission Votes Again on Mural Sites

Previous meeting did not conform to Open Meetings Act

Ann Arbor public art commission special meeting (April 13, 2011): Because a March 11 special meeting did not conform with noticing requirements under the state’s Open Meetings Act, AAPAC held another special meeting on Wednesday to vote again on the selection of two sites for a new mural program.

Drawing of location for a proposed mural along Huron Parkway

A sketch by Cathy Gendron of the location for a proposed mural along Huron Parkway, on Ann Arbor's east side. The mural site is indicated with a thin rectangle near the letters "G.C.", which mark the Huron Hills Golf Course.

At the March 11 meeting, which was covered by The Chronicle, AAPAC member Jeff Meyers had presented recommendations from a public mural task force he chairs. The two sites – a building at Allmendinger Park, and a retaining wall along Huron Parkway – will be the first for a pilot mural project spearheaded by Meyers.

At the previous special meeting, commissioners had held a lengthy discussion before voting to approve the sites. The meeting on Wednesday was far shorter, with Meyers giving a brief summary of the selection process. Two of the five members who attended Wednesday had not been present at the March 11 session, however, and they had some questions about the sites.

Meyers also reported that since March, city staff have advised him to make a presentation at the next meeting of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission, since the sites are near or within city parks. Two public meetings – one for each site – will also be scheduled, to get input from residents.

Mural Site Selection Redux

Meyers briefly described the task force’s site selection process – he also had previously emailed notes from the March meeting to the commissioners who hadn’t been present then. [See Chronicle coverage: "Public Art Group Picks Two Mural Sites"]

Cathy Gendron asked for clarification on where the Huron Parkway mural would be located, saying it was in her neighborhood. Meyers described the site as the northern-most retaining wall, on the western side of the road. Margaret Parker – who did attend the March meeting and who voted for the site – still expressed uncertainty about the location, prompting Gendron to sketch out a map showing the retaining wall in relation to Huron Parkway and the city-owned Huron Hills Golf Course.

Parker asked what the dimensions of that mural would be. Meyers replied that he didn’t have that information on hand, but that the task force was also reluctant to mandate the exact dimensions of a mural. Rather, they want to leave it to the discretion of the artist they select. Parker said she had concerns about the size – if it’s too large, she said, the funds provided to the artist might not cover the cost of materials.

Wiltrud Simbuerger, the commission’s newest member, wondered why the task force decided not to pick the water tower at County Farm Park as a mural site. There were several reasons, Meyers said. It was unclear whether the $10,000 budget would cover the costs for the artist and materials at that site. In addition, the city intends to paint it within the next two years, and there might be an opportunity in the future to synchronize a mural project with that repainting, he said.

Gendron asked whether the task force or the artist determines how the $10,000 will be used. The money is given to the artist, Meyers said, who’ll determine how it’s allocated. Up to $5,000 in additional funding is available for city administrative costs, he said. That still keeps each mural’s entire budget under the $20,000 threshold, he added – anything above that would require city council approval.

Outcome: Commissioners voted unanimously to select a portion of the retaining wall along Huron Parkway as one of two sites for the pilot mural project.

Meyers then described the proposed mural site at Allmendinger Park, located on Pauline between Hutchins and Edgewood. It would include all 14 concrete pillars that encircle the building there, where restrooms for the park are located. The site was chosen because it’s in a high-use park, with an active playground, sports fields and picnic areas. The task force liked the location because it’s in a residential neighborhood, rather than downtown or along a highway. It’s on a street – Pauline Boulevard – that gets a lot of bike, pedestrian and motorized traffic.

The pillars could be viewed as a single canvas, or as 14 individual murals, Meyers said. He noted that some city staff had initially expressed reservations about the site, because of problems with vandalism and graffiti. But rather than getting defaced, murals tend to deter graffiti, he said, pointing to murals in the downtown area that go untouched.

Meyers told commissioners that although city staff had been lukewarm about the site, they seemed to be warming up to it. They would need to do community outreach, he said, but he hoped the neighbors would embrace it.

Gendron said she liked this site a lot – better than the Huron Parkway retaining wall. She wondered if the artist decided not to use all 14 pillars for the mural, would it make those “naked” pillars more of a target for graffiti? Meyers noted that the commission had talked about this issue before they approved the pilot project. If vandalism is a problem, then they’d have to decide whether to invest in restoring the mural, or retiring it.

Gendron observed that 14 pillars are a lot to cover – she could imagine a scenario in which every other one would be painted. Parker said they could recommend that all the pillars be covered, but Meyers cautioned against limiting the artist by making suggestions about how to approach the project.

Outcome: Commissioner voted unanimously to approve the Allmendinger Park building’s 14 pillars as the second site for the pilot mural project.

Next Steps

Meyers described the steps they’ll need to take now that AAPAC has officially selected the two mural sites. On the recommendation of city staff, he’ll make a presentation at the next meeting of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission. [That meeting, originally scheduled for April 19, has been pushed back until April 26. It begins at 4 p.m. at the county administration building, 220 N. Main St.] In addition, the city will schedule two public meetings, one for each site, to get public feedback from residents.

Meyers said they’ll need to consult with Sue McCormick, the city’s public services area administrator, about where to draw the appropriate funds for the mural project. [To conform with the Percent for Art ordinance, funding sources for each mural would either be linked directly to its physical location, or be linked thematically with the funding source. For example, a mural located in a park could be funded from the parks millage Percent for Art funds. If a mural is funded through the street millage, it would need to have a transportation theme.] When the funding sources are determined, he said, AAPAC will vote on whether to approve that allocation.

In addition, two new task force members will be selected, representing stakeholders for each of the mural sites. They’ll be soliciting input from community groups to help in the selection, Meyers said – groups like the Allmendinger Neighborhood Association. Parker suggested that the new members might be selected from people who show up to the public meetings about the murals.

AAPAC’s projects committee will oversee the request for qualifications (RFQ) process, Meyers said, as it did when selecting an artist for the public art project at West Park.

Special Meetings

The Michigan Open Meetings Act requires that notices of special meetings be posted at a public body’s principal offices at least 18 hours in advance of the meeting. Based on the Attorney General Opinion 5724, such notices need to be accessible to the public for the entire 18-hour period before the meeting – even if the building where the offices are located is locked for a portion of that time.

The attorney general’s opinion suggests that one way to meet that requirement is to post the notice at an entrance to the building so that it is visible from the outside. That’s what the city of Ann Arbor did when it posted the notice for the city council’s recent special meeting on April 11.

Commissioners present: Marsha Chamberlin, Cathy Gendron, Jeff Meyers, Margaret Parker, Wiltrud Simbuerger.

Absent: Connie Brown, Elaine Sims, Malverne Winborne, Cheryl Zuellig.

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, April 27 at 4:30 p.m., 7th floor conference room of the City Center building, 220 E. Huron St. [confirm date] The commission has also scheduled an annual planning meeting for Thursday, March 31 starting at 5:30 p.m., also in the 7th floor conference room of the City Center building.


  1. By LiberalNIMBY
    April 18, 2011 at 8:30 pm | permalink

    I truly appreciate the time and creative energy folks are dedicating to bringing more art to the city. But “more” public art doesn’t necessarily mean an overall increase in the quality of public art.

    Sadly, I think that a mural rarely enhances an area and most often detracts from it. In my experience, they are typically placed in areas where 1) people need to be distracted from the unattractive surroundings, 2) it’s designed to annoy drug dealers, and/or 3) there’s a need to stave off graffiti vandals (and even this is temporary). In addition, if these murals do not come with adequate budgets to ensure ongoing repair and maintenance, they tend to quickly look worse than the original “blank slate.” (If we’re talking about simple graffiti prevention, major cities have found that a zero tolerance graffiti policy—where graffiti gets painted over within 24 hours—is both the most effective and cheapest option over the long term.)

    I guess I have a problem with the fact that there’s a “mural program” to begin with. (Once a task force is given a budget, why, they’re going to spend it!) Was there a strong public sentiment that Ann Arbor needs more murals versus other art media? Can you think of any neighborhood in any city you’ve visited that you remember being really enhanced by the presence of an outdoor mural?

    Sculptures? Yes. Tile work? Yes. Fountains? Yes. Trees? Yes. Murals? No. My vote would be that we save up this mural money for things of lasting value. This mural project smacks of just a way to “get more art, period” at a cost that sneaks under the $20,000 council approval threshold but doesn’t account for the hidden costs of ongoing maintenance.

  2. By Tom
    April 19, 2011 at 12:30 pm | permalink

    Murals can add greatly, but they need to be done in a manner that clearly prevents the completed work from being little more than a “bill-board” or commercial-looking thing. The Sistine Chapel is mural work. The murals in post offices and courthouses nation-wide that were done during the Great Depression are certainly not “bill-board” or “commercial advertising-like” in their content and quality of workmanship. Murals can be long-lasting too. What it takes is an artist who is thoroughly knowledgeable of the medium and substrates that the mural is placed on and is also capable of quality work.

  3. By Cindy Overmyer
    April 26, 2011 at 4:13 pm | permalink

    I’m all for murals, but wish & hope that they will be much more visually interesting than the ones I’ve seen so far around town. With so many visual inspirations around, like the Huron River, people downtown, Ann Arbor views, I hope these new murals are not like the one on the back of the Grizzly Peak restaurant bldg., which looks quite graffiti-ish and out of place (and already has graffiti problems). No skull & crossbones imagery please, no matter how “hip”, “edgy” or “trendy” it may be!