Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (Oct. 26, 2011): Commissioners were briefed on two possible public art projects at their monthly meeting: a partnership with the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the potential for incorporating public art into a rain garden on property the city is buying at First & Kingsley.
But most of their 2.5-hour meeting was spent prepping for a Nov. 14 working session with Ann Arbor city council, focusing on the city’s Percent for Art program.
The council working session was prompted in large part by a resolution proposed by councilmember Sabra Briere, which she brought forward at the council’s Sept. 19 meeting. The resolution would revise the city’s public art ordinance explicitly to exclude sidewalk and street repair from projects that could be tapped to fund public art. It would also require that any money allocated for public art under the program be spent within three years, or be returned to its fund of origin. The council ultimately postponed action on the resolution until its Nov. 21 meeting, with a working session scheduled in the interim to focus on the Percent for Art ordinance.
The timing of the proposed ordinance change is related to two proposals on the Nov. 8 ballot: (1) renewal of a 2.0 mill tax to fund street repair; and (2) imposing a 0.125 mill tax to fund the repair of sidewalks – which is currently the responsibility of adjacent property owners.
At AAPAC’s Wednesday meeting, Connie Pulcipher of the city’s systems planning unit led commissioners in a discussion to organize their thoughts before the council work session. She asked them to identify the program’s biggest challenges, from the community’s perspective, as well as the primary causes and possible solutions to those challenges.
Commissioners cited a range of issues, including: (1) a lack of public awareness about the program, its constraints, funding sources, and AAPAC’s role; (2) the perception that not enough art is coming out of the program, and that the process is too slow; (3) the complaint that local artists aren’t given preference; and (4) the sense that in this difficult economy, city funds shouldn’t be spent on public art.
In addition to offering ways to address these challenges, commissioners also discussed their own workload. They noted that AAPAC is still relatively new and is one of the few city commissions that hasn’t enjoyed consistent staff support over the years. Although a new part-time public art administrator was hired this summer, the program had no dedicated staff person for about a year.
Wednesday’s meeting began with two presentations. Larry Baranski of the DIA talked about how Ann Arbor might participate in the museum’s Inside|Out project, which involves installing framed reproductions from the DIA’s collection at outdoor locations on building facades or in parks. Also, Patrick Judd of Conservation Design Forum and Jerry Hancock, Ann Arbor’s stormwater and floodplain programs coordinator, floated ideas for possible public art in a rain garden that’s being designed for property at the corner of Kingsley and First, located in a floodplain. Commissioners were generally receptive to both ideas, but plan to discuss them in more depth at their monthly meeting in November.
Detroit Institute of Arts
At AAPAC’s September meeting, Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, had briefed commissioners on a meeting that he and Tony Derezinski had with representatives from the Detroit Institute of Arts. The DIA is interested in partnering with the city on the Inside|Out project.
On Wednesday, Larry Baranski, DIA director of public programs, attended AAPAC’s meeting to provide more details about the proposed partnership. He noted that this kind of project was first done in 2007 by the National Gallery in London, and that the DIA was the first U.S. museum to do something similar. It’s a way to engage people with art who might never go to a museum, he said – they can encounter art in a neutral environment, in their community.
In 2010 the DIA installed 40 works within 60 miles of Detroit, including two pieces in Ann Arbor: One on the exterior of Zingerman’s Deli on Detroit Street, and another reproduction on the Borders building on East Liberty. They learned a lot from that initial effort, he said, and were inundated with positive press coverage. It was so popular that some people were actually angry when the installations were removed, he said.
The DIA is planning an expanded program in 2012, funded by the Knight Foundation. Each community will have between five to eight installations grouped within a one-mile radius. Communities will participate during one of two periods: from April through June, or July through September. DIA would provide the framed reproductions, printed materials to distribute, and informational labels for the artwork – including a QR code that links to a website with an animated feature on the program. [The distinctive DIA ad campaign, including the Inside|Out animation, was developed by Perich Advertising + Design of Ann Arbor.]
The DIA pays for everything, including the cost of installation and liability insurance, Baranski said. The frames are mounted to the building walls by customized brackets. The DIA will also replace any work that’s stolen or damaged by vandalism, or will remove it if requested.
In the past, the DIA has primarily worked with downtown development authorities (DDAs), which in turn identify local business owners who are willing to have the reproductions installed on their buildings – not many communities have a public art commission, Baranski noted. The Ann Arbor DDA facilitated the DIA’s 2010 Inside|Out installations, and Baranski has already talked with DDA executive director Susan Pollay about the 2012 project. But because Ann Arbor also has a public art commission, the DIA wanted them to be involved too.
Each community will get reproductions in an assortment of sizes, he said – the largest is eight feet wide. The works are chosen with the public’s sensibility in mind – there’s very little nudity or religious references, Baranski said. The DIA also offers programming related to the installations, including bike tours, geocaching scavenger hunts, a speakers bureau, and participation in community festivals and other events.
Baranski outlined the steps that are required, if the city is interested in participating. The city would need to designate a “community curator” to act as a point person with the DIA, helping secure necessary permits and installation agreements. A participation agreement would be drawn up, and the city would select which three-month period it wants for the installations and how many pieces would be hung. The main job for the DDA and public art commission would be to select locations for the installations, Baranski said. Installation agreements would be needed for each site.
For any freestanding locations – like installations along bike paths – the DIA would contact MISS DIG to ensure that no utilities are in the way. A contractor would be hired by DIA to install and remove the reproductions, and a DIA staff member would be on site for that work. Baranski concluded by saying that the DIA has a great track record with this program, and that everyone seems to like it.
DIA: Commissioner Discussion
Marsha Chamberlin, AAPAC’s chair, asked whether the DIA had a working agreement with the DDA for this project. Not yet, Baranski said, but executive director Susan Pollay had indicated interest in it. Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, asked whether there could be two agreements – one with the city, the other with the DDA. That’s workable, Baranski said. Perhaps Ann Arbor’s allotment of reproductions could be divided into public installations, which would be handled by the city, and installations at private businesses, which would be handled by the DDA.
Margaret Parker asked if they could see the reproductions before choosing the sites. Yes, Baranski said, that’s possible.
In response to a query from Elaine Sims, Baranski said the installations hold up pretty well, despite being outdoors. They are totally immersible, he said – printed on alumacore with UV coating, like standard outdoor signs. And the frames “have enough varnish to float a Chris-Craft,” he joked.
Sims wondered what happens to the reproductions when they’re removed. Baranski said the DIA needs to be careful that these installations didn’t become ubiquitous – that’s why they are taken down after a limited period. They need to retain an element of surprise, he said.
Chamberlin clarified with Baranski that the main thing the DIA needs from commissioners is to select public buildings or spaces where the reproductions could be installed. There would also be a reception at the DIA in early 2012 for representatives from all participating communities.
Chamberlin wrapped up the discussion by saying that AAPAC would consider it at their November meeting and get back to Baranski. She indicated that it seemed like something they’d want to do, calling it a terrific idea to democratize art.
Rain Garden Art at Kingsley
Patrick Judd of Conservation Design Forum and Jerry Hancock, Ann Arbor’s stormwater and floodplain programs coordinator, attended Wednesday’s meeting to talk about possible public art in a rain garden that’s being designed for property at the corner of Kingsley and First.
The city is negotiating to buy 215 and 219 W. Kingsley – land that’s located in a floodplain. A boarded-up house is located on the corner lot; the adjacent lot is vacant. The city received a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to demolish the house and stabilize the site.
The city has awarded Conservation Design Forum (CDF) the contract for the project, which will include building a rain garden on the site. CDF was also involved in the new municipal center project and the Dreiseitl sculpture.
The FEMA grant can’t be used to build the rain garden, Hancock said, so that part will be funded by the city. The project cost is about $280,000 – the city will pay for 25% of that, or about $70,000. The city’s portion will come from the city’s stormwater fund, and the Percent for Art will be captured from that amount.
Aaron Seagraves noted that additional funding could be used from the existing Percent for Art funds that have accrued from other stormwater projects. [As of Sept. 1, there was a balance of $27,235 in the Percent for Art program's stormwater funds. A percent of the budget for each city capital project – up to $250,000 per project – goes toward public art. Money earmarked for the Percent for Art program must be used for public art that somehow relates to the original funding source.]
Judd explained that Kingsley – a one-way street heading west off of Main, then curving south as it turns into First – is a busy one, used by motorists as an alternative to avoid Main Street. The site could be very visual, serving as a secondary gateway into the city. He was throwing out the possibility of incorporating public art, he said. Otherwise, he’d just build a decent-looking rain garden.
The basement won’t be completely filled in after the house is demolished – the hole will be incorporated into the site design. When Elaine Sims expressed concern about the safety of that, Judd assured her that there would be safety precautions taken. Hancock added that it’s a fairly shallow Michigan basement – the house was built in the 1920s, and the basement is only about five feet deep. Some of the soil from the site will be used to partially fill it, so it would be two feet deep at the most, he said.
Marsha Chamberlin asked whether the site would be big enough to be a gathering place, or whether it was conceived of more as a pocket park. There will likely be benches and a path, Judd replied, so it’s more of a pocket park – a place that people can come and enjoy.
Chamberlin asked if there’s general agreement that a pocket park there is a good idea. That depends on who you ask, Hancock said. The city’s parks staff isn’t interested in adding another park, because of the additional maintenance it would require. Hancock said he’s building other rain gardens in the city now, and that the city’s natural area preservation (NAP) staff have agreed to take on maintenance of those. But funding for maintenance would come from the stormwater fund, he said, to pay for NAP staff time.
[Responding to a follow-up query from The Chronicle, Hancock said the rain gardens are part of an impervious area disconnection and infiltration project that involves several groups, including the city, the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner, and the consultant InSight Design. The sites are located at: (1) 2000 S. Industrial Hwy.; (2) Burns Park (around the tennis courts, next to the Senior Center); (3) Fire Station #3 (next to Veterans Memorial Park); and (4) Vets Park Arena (the rain garden is on the east side of the arena, with underground infiltration on the west side).]
Cheryl Zuellig asked whether this rain garden on Kingsley would be temporary – that is, does the city eventually envision using the site for something else? Hancock said that in order to accept the FEMA grant, certain deed restrictions must be placed on the property. The motivation on FEMA’s part is to restore land in floodplains to its natural function, thereby reducing FEMA’s insurance obligations in the event of a flood. The deed restrictions require that the land be “vegetated” and that no building is constructed on the site.
Is there any issue with a piece of art causing an obstruction? Zuellig asked. Things like open-walled structures or benches are permitted, Hancock said. But it couldn’t be something that blocked the flow of water. Zuellig joked that they should build a boat anchored to the site, which would float if the area flooded.
Responding to a question about the project’s timeline, Hancock said the property owner is reviewing the purchase agreement now. The purchase process will likely take a few more months, he said. Demolition, surveying and design work will be necessary, so the installation of the rain garden and accompanying art wouldn’t likely take place until the spring of 2012.
Judd suggested that the artist selection could follow a parallel track. Margaret Parker proposed soliciting an artist with landscaping experience, who could be involved in the rain garden’s design from its early stages.
Zuellig asked whether Judd had any ideas for public art at the rain garden. He hadn’t given it serious thought, Judd replied. It might be interesting to incorporate some artifact that represents why there shouldn’t be buildings in a floodplain, he said, or something that could be used to measure water levels.
Parker said that if AAPAC selected an artist based on qualifications – not on a specifically proposed project – then that person could work with CDF from the beginning, and meet with the community to get input on the project. That might “mitigate storms of some kind,” she joked – likely an allusion to the controversy surrounding the Dreiseitl sculpture at city hall.
Parker also noted that this would be the first public art installation in the Allen Creek greenway. Hancock observed that the greenway doesn’t really exist at this point, and it’s not clear where it would run. There might be property across the street from the rain garden site, next to the railroad tracks, that could be part of the greenway, he said.
Elaine Sims asked whether any other building had been located on the property, prior to the current house. Hancock indicated that city records didn’t show any other structure had been on that site. Even so, Sims said, the construction crew should look for artifacts during demolition – that might inform the project, she said. Chamberlin noted that a property on Felch Street used to be the city dump, so it wouldn’t be surprising to find that something had previously been located on the Kingsley site too. [Chamberlin is president of the Ann Arbor Art Center, which previously owned the site at 220 Felch.]
AAPAC plans to discuss this project in more depth at its Nov. 23 meeting.
Prep for City Council
A city council working session on Nov. 14 will include a presentation and discussion of the city’s Percent for Art program. Public art commissioners spent much of their Oct. 26 meeting preparing for that session. The discussion was facilitated by Connie Pulcipher of the city’s systems planning unit, who has worked with AAPAC in the past on strategy sessions and retreats.
The council working session was prompted in large part by a resolution proposed by councilmember Sabra Briere, which she brought forward at the council’s Sept. 19 meeting. The resolution would revise the city’s public art ordinance to explicitly exclude sidewalk and street repair from projects that could be tapped to fund public art. It would also require that any money allocated for public art under the program be spent within three years, or be returned to its fund of origin. The council ultimately postponed action on the resolution until its Nov. 21 meeting, with a working session scheduled in the interim to focus on the Percent for Art ordinance.
The timing of the proposed ordinance change is related to two proposals on the Nov. 8 ballot: (1) renewal of a 2.0 mill tax to fund street repair; and (2) imposing a 0.125 mill tax to fund the repair of sidewalks – which is currently the responsibility of adjacent property owners.
Marsha Chamberlin told her fellow commissioners that the discussion they’d have now would inform the presentation given to city council on Nov. 14.
Cheryl Zuellig asked Tony Derezinski – AAPAC’s newest member, who also serves on city council – what the council was expecting from the working session. Derezinski responded by talking about some of the broader expectations among councilmembers: They expect the Percent for Art program to result in more public art. Councilmembers need to understand the constraints that AAPAC is operating under, he said, and what’s in the works. The working session “gives us an opportunity to really show our stuff,” he said.
Pulcipher told commissioners that she was there to help organize their thoughts so that they could go into the working session in a proactive way. They could tell councilmembers the program’s history and current projects, but also communicate that they understand the concerns of the community, and can provide alternatives to some of the primary challenges they face. By the end of the meeting, she hoped they’d have a cohesive list of ideas to bring to council.
Before the council working session, a smaller group – including Pulcipher, Derezinski, Chamberlin, and public art administrator Aaron Seagraves – will meet with Sue McCormick, the city’s public services area administrator, who oversees the Percent for Art program. Before the Nov. 14 working session they might need to consult with the city attorney’s office too, Pulicpher said, and gather additional information, depending on the outcome of this initial discussion.
Pulcipher organized the discussion by asking commissioners first to identify challenges as seen from the community’s perspective. They then looked at primary causes for those challenges, as well as possible solutions.
For purposes of this report, a summary of AAPAC’s discussion is organized thematically.
Prep for City Council: Challenges – Why Isn’t There More Art?
The amount of time that it takes to do public art projects was cited as a challenge by several commissioners, in that the public perceives it as taking too long. People have commented that there should be more public art by now generated from the Percent for Art program, commissioners noted, and that the process moves too slowly.
Streamlining the number of steps it takes to do a project would help, Wiltrud Simbuerger said. Elaine Sims cautioned against simplifying the process – because they’re working with public funds, certain steps have to occur. She noted that it simply takes a long time to complete a project, and likened it to the length of time it takes for a development to be built, from the time it’s proposed to the time when it’s approved by the city and the work can begin.
Margaret Parker suggested that as AAPAC establishes programs – like the current mural program that’s being developed – they’re putting systems in place that initially take longer, but that will move more quickly after they’ve been established. Sims agreed: ”There’s a start-up process to all this.”
Simbuerger said it would help if the city could revise the Percent for Art ordinance to make it possible to fund temporary projects, which could generally be done more quickly. Marsha Chamberlin suggested making the community aware that the city accepted extant works – people don’t think of the city as a place to donate artwork. Purchasing existing artwork is another way to increase the city’s public art holdings more quickly, she said.
Cheryl Zuellig said AAPAC’s planning committee, which she chairs, is developing a strategy for procurement.
Part of the reason there hasn’t been more public art from the Percent for Art program is that AAPAC has spent much of the past three years putting a new system in place, Chamberlin said – developing policies, procedures and guidelines, for example. Sims added that another time-consuming element is working with the city’s legal staff. That’s part of the untold story, she said.
Parker added that the city staff has also struggled with knowing how to handle the Percent for Art program. When seeking information, commissioners have often been bounced around to different city staffers, who aren’t sure of the answers, she said.
Sims said a typical public art project takes about three years – that’s true for any program, not just Ann Arbor’s, she said. Parker noted that getting public input adds even more time to the process.
Prep for City Council: Challenges – Funding
Several issues were cited related to funding. One challenge that commissioners hear frequently in the community is the argument that given current economic conditions, now isn’t the right time to fund public art. An argument against that, Tony Derezinski said, is that these are the times when you show what the community really values – it’s an artistic community, but those values are being tested, he said.
Wiltrud Simbuerger said she always assumed that people in Ann Arbor supported public art, but that’s not necessarily the case, she noted. People might like art in general, and Ann Arbor has an active private sector arts community, she said, but a case needs to be made for spending money on public art.
There’s also confusion about where the Percent for Art funding comes from, Margaret Parker said. There’s a complexity to the system and to how the percent for art is calculated. That’s reflected in comments that people make about money for art that could be used to pay firefighters, she said, adding that it doesn’t work like that.
Malverne Winborne, who participated in Wednesday’s meeting on speaker phone, felt they shouldn’t be arguing over whether to have a public art program. AAPAC needs to take the position that it’s a no brainer – the city will support public art. It’s part of the city’s culture and shouldn’t be debatable, he said. Arguing about it is a distraction and not worth it, in his view. They shouldn’t allow the public to define AAPAC’s role in that way, he said.
Marsha Chamberlin raised the issue of councilmember Sabra Briere’s proposed resolution, saying AAPAC should approach the resolution positively. To respond to the proposed elimination of street millage funds, she said, one idea is to show the council some imaginative ways that street millage money could be used for public art.
Regarding the requirement that any money allocated for public art be spent within three years, or be returned to its fund of origin, Chamberlin suggested requesting the option of a two-year extension to the three-year limit. That would give them more flexibility, she said.
Parker opposed the three-year spending limit, saying it would “incredibly complicate things.” It’s too soon to propose that limit, she said, since AAPAC is relatively new and they haven’t had adequate staff support so far.
It wasn’t clear to commissioners when the clock would start on that three-year period proposed in Briere’s resolution. Connie Pulcipher suggested that they get more details on that.
Prep for City Council: Challenges – Artist Selection
One criticism levied against the Percent for Art program is that local artists aren’t given preference. The first major project funded by the program was awarded to the German Herbert Dreiseitl, for a large water sculpture in front of city hall.
Marsha Chamberlin reported that someone recently drew a parallel between the city’s public art program and the University Musical Society. Should UMS only bring Michigan artists to perform? Of course not – they bring the highest quality, most imaginative performers to the city, and the Percent for Art program should do the same for public art. “We don’t want to be xenophobic about art,” Chamberlin said.
Part of the solution, Margaret Parker suggested, would be to provide the public with a list of local artists whose work is already owned by the city. “It’s a long list,” she said.
Elaine Sims pointed out that it’s not even clear what an “Ann Arbor artist” means – people come from all over to live here, she said. It’s a polyglot, global world.
Malverne Winborne recalled that he had previously suggested that being a local artist should be a factor as part of the artist selection process. He’d been overruled, he said, but he still felt local artists should be given some consideration. All other things being equal, being a local artist should be a tiebreaker.
Parker commented that local artists are considered for all projects, even if they aren’t ultimately selected.
Cheryl Zuellig said the Percent for Art ordinance allows non-local artists to be selected. She also noted that during his speech at the Dreiseitl dedication, mayor John Hieftje had indicated that it’s illegal to give preference to local artists. AAPAC needs clarification from legal staff about what he meant by that, she said.
By way of background, The Chronicle had previously queried Hieftje about the source of his remarks on the illegality of giving preference to local artists. He subsequently emailed this response, which he said was modified from communications with the city attorney’s staff:
The concern is a possible violation of the Privileges & Immunities Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Attorneys have no doubt that the ability to travel to another state to do business (to create a work of art and be compensated for it) would be considered by a court as a privilege subject to constitutional protection against discrimination, i.e., a prohibition against out of state artists. (Earning a living is uniformly held to be a privilege.)
An in-state (or local) preference might be justified if there is an identified evil that the restriction is narrowly tailored to address. Not referring to the devil or such, but using language from one of the leading US Supreme Court decisions on the issue) that a local preference is intended to remedy. We can’t just have a preference for Michigan (or local) artists because we feel like it.
To respond to the question about proof, any kind of preference will require proper proof – and can lead to fraudulent claims by someone that they qualify. There may need to be investigations to confirm that an artist or team of artists qualifies, which will require additional staff time, etc.
There might also be an Equal Protection challenge, based on residence as opposed to a “suspect” class (e.g., race, gender, national origin). The test to uphold discrimination or discriminatory impact against a non-suspect class is less stringent than for discrimination against a suspect class, but it still would have to be justified in the same manner as for the Privileges & Immunities Clause.
Although the City would not violate the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution if it limited art projects funded solely with City money – or with City and other money in which use of only Michigan artists was explicitly authorized – to only Michigan artists. But that is a different analysis than, and does not trump, the Privileges & Immunities Clause or Equal Protection Clause analysis.
Prep for City Council: Challenges – Permanent vs. Temporary
Marsha Chamberlin noted that AAPAC is challenged because the Percent for Art ordinance restricts the kinds of projects that can be done. It’s limited to projects that are permanent – which means the visual arts. That eliminates the ability to support performance arts, for example. Tony Derezinski said that people often refer to ArtPrize, an annual artist competition in Grand Rapids that draws hundreds of thousands of people to that community. Some wonder why Ann Arbor can’t do something like that event, he said: “There’s some Grand Rapids envy there, I think.”
Chamberlin noted that the meaning of permanent relates to its ability to be capitalized – it needs to last a minimum of five years, she said. [At AAPAC's July 2010 meeting, McCormick told commissioners that the city runs a depreciation schedule on each piece of art.]
By way of background, the word “permanent” is not used specifically to refer to public art in the Percent for Art ordinance, which defines public art in this way:
Public art means works of art created, purchased, produced or otherwise acquired for display in public spaces or facilities. Public art may include artistic design features incorporated into the architecture, layout, design or structural elements of the space or facility. Public art may be any creation, production, conception or design with an aesthetic purpose, including freestanding objets d’art, sculptures, murals, mosaics, ornamentation, paint or decoration schemes, use of particular structural materials for aesthetic effect, or spatial arrangement of structures. [.pdf of Percent for Art ordinance]
Margaret Parker said that part of AAPAC’s mission is to educate the public. AAPAC needs to find a way of funding the promotion of what they do. Within that framework, perhaps they could then fund temporary work, she said. [Parker had elaborated on this proposal in more detail at AAPAC's September 2011 meeting.]
Cheryl Zuellig expressed concern about making changes to allow for more temporary art, without having the staff resources to handle it. Without some change in the role of staff, she said, then AAPAC was just making more work for itself.
Prep for City Council: Challenges – Size of Commission, Staff Support
The topic of AAPAC’s workload emerged at several points during the discussion. Elaine Sims pointed to the size of the nine-member commission as a challenge, as well as the lack of staff support they’ve had. Although Aaron Seagraves was hired this summer as a part-time administrator, that position had been vacant since the previous administrator, Katherine Talcott, stepped down in mid-2010. Talcott had been hired in early 2009 as the city’s first public art administrator. The Percent for Art program was formed in 2007.
Tony Derezinski observed that most other city commissions – like the planning commission or housing commission – are truly advisory, and that the work is staff-driven. That hasn’t been the case with AAPAC, he said. Sims noted that commissioners are busy volunteers, and it’s like having another job.
Marsha Chamberlin said they couldn’t really ask for more staff, but it should be noted that they’ve only had some staff support for about half of AAPAC’s existence. Connie Pulcipher said that Seagraves has a 20-hour appointment, but she wondered if there was an understanding that beyond that, he could be paid for doing specific project management.
That’s tricky, Margaret Parker said. When does the extra time kick in, and what work counts as part of his base of 20 hours? For example, AAPAC is starting to talk about the rain garden project at Kingsley, which will be paid for with stormwater funds. At what point would Seagraves be paid out of the stormwater funds to handle that project? “It gets incredibly complex,” she said.
Pulcipher observed that AAPAC needs a better understanding of how staff time can be allotted. Cheryl Zuellig added that a simplification of how staff time is allotted would also be very helpful. AAPAC has spent a lot of time talking about this issue, she said.
Zuellig said an alternative to adding more staff time is to adjust the community’s expectations, to better align with the city’s actual public art resources. The reality is that they might not be able to add more staff time, and that’s OK, she said.
Malverne Winborne said he struggles with the role of the commission, and said he feels like a worker bee. He doesn’t object to working, but he said he does have another job. AAPAC has a lot of responsibility, he said, but very little authority. Their decisions can be quickly overturned, he noted. “To me, that is a problem.” If nothing else, the public needs to know that AAPAC is simply making recommendations, he said.
Derezinski described AAPAC’s role as one of governance – or at least it should be. Staff should be the people doing the actual work, with AAPAC acting as advisors, he said. Zuellig noted that if they had taken that view, nothing would have gotten done.
Sims said the public thinks AAPAC is responsible for putting public art in the community, but commissioners don’t have that power. The public perceives AAPAC as staff, not advisors, she said. Winborne noted that at some point, reality and perception need to align. There are some issues that are out of AAPAC’s control, he said.
Zuellig said she’d like to get to the point where AAPAC was like the planning commission, with sufficient staff support. Derezinski, who also serves on the planning commission, said planning commissioners don’t champion projects, and that there’s a general deference to staff. That’s because staff has much more knowledge and expertise, he added. For the most part, he said, the planning commission follows staff recommendations.
AAPAC needs to provide the vision for the “what,” Sims suggested, while staff needs to be responsible for the “how.” Right now, AAPAC is doing both the “what” and the “how,” she said.
Chamberlin agreed, and noted that AAPAC commissioners had to handle the logistics for the recent Dreiseitl dedication, down to the details of buying cookies for the reception. Zuellig observed that city staff hasn’t taken ownership of the Percent for Art program. But it’s really the city’s program, she noted, and AAPAC is helping govern it. The roles need to be better defined.
Prep for City Council: Challenges – Community Awareness
One challenge facing the Percent for Art program is that the community isn’t aware of what public art projects are underway, Tony Derezinski said. Although the water sculpture by Herbert Dreiseitl was a high-profile project, other things in the pipeline aren’t well known, he said. People also aren’t aware of the various partnerships and collaborations that AAPAC is pursuing – Derezinski pointed to the Inside|Out program with the Detroit Institute of Arts as an example.
It’s important to get the public involved as much as possible, Cheryl Zuellig said – not lecturing them, but getting people involved in task forces and in other ways. The more that happens, the more people will understand the value of the Percent for Art program, she said.
Margaret Parker pushed for more regular public input. After AAPAC develops its annual plan, for example, commissioners or staff should make presentations about it in every one of the city’s wards, as well as to civic groups like Rotary or Kiwanis. AAPAC hasn’t gone directly to the people to communicate what they’re doing, she said. Elaine Sims noted that Parker’s suggestion creates more work for commissioners – something they had already identified as another challenge.
Malverne Winborne thought that making those presentations would just bog them down. The public has entrusted AAPAC with responsibility for public art, he said. And the mechanism for getting the word out is already in place, he added – people can attend AAPAC’s monthly meetings.
Zuellig noted that AAPAC has a calendar of events, and observed that the commission has had difficulty in getting people to attend meetings. Public forums regarding potential murals weren’t well attended, for example.
At the least, Parker said, AAPAC’s chair or someone else from the commission needs to attend the city council meeting when AAPAC’s annual public art plan is submitted, to give a presentation and highlight their work. Zuellig said that’s a good point – they need to improve communication with the city council in general.
Prep for City Council: Challenges – Next Steps
Connie Pulcipher wrapped up the meeting by asking each commissioner to prioritize their top three challenges from among those they’d discussed. Pulcipher, Marsha Chamberlin, Tony Derezinski and Aaron Seagraves plan to meet with Sue McCormick to further develop the presentation, which Seagraves will likely make. If more input is needed from the rest of the commission, they could schedule another meeting between now and Nov. 14, Pulcipher said. Chamberlin said she plans to attend the council working session, and encouraged other commissioners to come as well.
Commissioners will be telling the council their story, Pulcipher said, but it’s also important to let councilmembers know that AAPAC understands the challenges facing the Percent for Art program and is proactive in dealing with them.
Commissioners present: Marsha Chamberlin, Tony Derezinski, Margaret Parker, Wiltrud Simbuerger, Elaine Sims, Malverne Winborne (via phone), Cheryl Zuellig. Also Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator.
Absent: Connie Rizzolo-Brown, Cathy Gendron.
Next regular meeting: Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011 at 4:30 p.m. at city hall, 301 E. Huron St. [confirm date]
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