Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (Jan. 25, 2012): Two new commissioners – Bob Miller and John Kotarski – attended the art commission’s first meeting of 2012, and joined other AAPAC members in approving two public art projects.
The group unanimously recommended selecting Ed Carpenter of Portland, Oregon for a $150,000 art project in the lobby of the city’s Justice Center, located at the corner of East Huron and Fifth Avenue. A task force had recommended the selection of Carpenter’s proposal from three finalists. It’s a sculpture called “Radius”.
Carpenter plans to create a hanging sculpture of dichroic glass, aluminum, stainless steel and lighting, including LED spot and flood lighting. Among the reasons for recommending Radius, the task force cited the sculpture’s metaphor: That the activities in the Justice Center have a “rippling” effect throughout the community, which echos the water sculpture by Herbert Dreiseitl that’s located in the plaza outside the building.
The Justice Center, a new building next to city hall, houses the 15th District Court and the Ann Arbor police department. The commission’s recommendation will be forwarded to the city council for approval.
In other action, the art commission voted to select Ann Arbor muralist Mary Thiefels for a mural project to be located on pillars at a building in Allmendinger Park. A task force had recommended her selection from among four finalists. Her proposal entails asking neighborhood residents for artifacts to create mosaics at the top and bottom of the pillars. The task force recommended that they continue to work with Thiefels on designing the remainder of the mural in the middle sections of the pillars.
Commissioners liked the concept of “found object” mosaics, but questioned whether the $10,000 budget was sufficient. They ultimately voted to approve selecting Thiefels for the project, contingent on her submission of a revised proposal and budget, with additional input from the task force. This project is the first one in a pilot mural program started last year by former commissioner Jeff Meyers.
AAPAC also discussed possible artwork for four sites connected to the East Stadium bridges, which are being reconstructed. The two commissioners who serve on a task force for that project – Wiltrud Simbuerger and Bob Miller – indicated that the budget recommendation will likely be at least $250,000 for artwork there. The task force is currently developing a request for proposals to be issued in the coming weeks.
In the context of developing their annual art plan for fiscal 2013, which by ordinance must be delivered to the city council by April 1, commissioners decided to hold a retreat next month. In addition to shaping the annual plan, the aim of the retreat is to develop a master plan that would provide a broader conceptual framework to guide AAPAC’s decisions. Input from an online survey of the public will also be used – the survey remains open until Feb. 20, and has garnered more than 400 responses so far.
Marsha Chamberlin, the commission’s chair, began the Jan. 25 meeting by welcoming two new commissioners: Bob Miller and John Kotarski. Kotarski had been appointed by the city council at its Jan. 9, 2012 meeting to replace outgoing commissioner Margaret Parker. He has been a media consultant who previously worked for the Mount Clemens Schools. His three-year term expires Jan. 9, 2015.
At the city council’s Jan. 23, 2012 meeting, Bob Miller was appointed to replace Cheryl Zuellig, and Chamberlin was reappointed for a second term. The terms for Miller and Chamberlin run through December 2015. Chamberlin is president of the Ann Arbor Art Center. Miller has worked as a real estate agent and homebuilder, and has a fine arts degree from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Both Miller and Kotarski have attended AAPAC meetings over the past few months as observers.
Chamberlin reported that mayor John Hieftje has identified another candidate that he intends to nominate for approval by the city council, but she didn’t want to identify that person publicly until the nomination was made. The person would replace Elaine Sims, whose term expired at the end of 2011.
Justice Center Artwork
On the Jan. 25 agenda was an item to consider approval of artwork proposed for the lobby of the city’s Justice Center, located at the corner of East Huron and Fifth Avenue.
A task force had recommended the selection of Ed Carpenter’s proposal – a sculpture called “Radius” – from three finalists for the $150,000 project. Members of the task force who recommended Carpenter are Elaine Sims, Margaret Parker, Spring Tremaine, Karl Daubmann, Maureen Devine, Laura Rubin, Ray Detter, Margie Teal, Homayoon Pirooz, and Aaron Seagraves.
It will be the second major installation funded with money from Ann Arbor’s Percent for Art program, which captures 1% of each city capital project – capped at $250,000 per project – for public art. The first major installation is located in the plaza outside of the Justice Center and in front of city hall: A bronze water sculpture by the German artist Herbert Dreiseitl, that cost more than $750,000.
Carpenter’s proposal calls for creating a hanging sculpture of dichroic glass, aluminum, stainless steel and lighting, including LED spot and flood lighting. The intent of the artwork is to reflect how the work of the courts and police radiate out into the community. The Justice Center houses the 15th District Court and the Ann Arbor police department.
The task force cited several reasons for their choice. Among them:
- The artwork uses a great deal of the space in the lobby and makes the best use of the site.
- The reflective nature of the glass used in the design will incorporate direct lighting and reflective light, which will be visible from both indoors and outdoors, during the day and at night.
- The colored glass and moving reflections will add a mediating softness and color to the architecture of the lobby.
- The art’s metaphor that work within the Justice Center has a rippling effect throughout the community; the “ripple” metaphor is consistent with the Dreiseitl sculpture.
In his proposal, Carpenter wrote:
Like ripples from a stone tossed into a pond, “Radius” emanates outward through the Justice Center lobby, a reminder of the interconnectedness of the public with the agencies serving them, and suggesting a network of cause and effect in the public realm.
“Radius” is designed to involve as much of the lobby as possible, radiating from the southeast corner, visible from inside and outside, day and night. [Editor's note: The sculpture will be located in the lobby's southwest corner.] Lighting contained in its hollow center will illuminate gleaming glass and anodized aluminum details, creating elegant views of its expansive forms.
When sun strikes, dichroic glass elements will project and reflect colored light deep into the space in luminous compositions, slowly moving through the lobby in response to the arc of the sun and the passing of clouds.
Justice Center Artwork: Commission Discussion
John Kotarski noted that the task force had cited some issues they wanted the artist to address. Had the artist responded? Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, said Carpenter had submitted new renderings showing additional glass in the sculpture, which the task force had requested.
Marsha Chamberlin asked whether the budget reflects those changes. [The budget of $150,000 includes a $9,000 line item for dichroic glass elements. Other major line items are for fabricated anodized aluminum elements ($35,000), installation ($20,000), lighting/electrical ($12,000), structural site work and ceiling refinishing ($12,000) and artist's wages/overhead ($25,700).] Seagraves said the artist had indicated that extra glass could be accommodated within the original budget.
Wiltrud Simbuerger wondered how quickly the work would be completed. There would be a six-month timeline, starting from the point of approval by the city council, Seagraves said.
Chamberlin noted that after the council approves the project, it typically takes an additional two months for the city attorney’s office to draw up a contract. She speculated that the six-month period would start sometime this summer, after a contract with the artist is signed. Kotarski asked whether it really takes two months for legal staff to prepare a contract. That’s been the commission’s experience, Chamberlin replied.
Chamberlin said she liked the project, and found it intriguing. Kotarski agreed, saying he especially liked the theme of the work. It puts the police and justice system at the center of the community, “as it should be,” he said. The ever-changing color and light reflects the community’s diversity, he added. It’s elegant, and light – it won’t disrupt the area at all. He also liked the fact that people can sit under it. Visitors are part of the center, and radiate out, he said – the artist ties this all together.
Connie Brown thanked the task force members for their work.
Outcome: Commissioners unanimously recommended approval of Carpenter’s Radius sculpture for the Justice Center lobby. The recommendation will be forwarded to city council for a vote.
Mural Project at Allmendinger Park
The art commission was asked to vote on selecting Ann Arbor muralist Mary Thiefels for a mural project to be located on pillars at a building in Allmendinger Park.
A task force had recommended her selection from among four finalists. Members of the task force include Wiltrud Simbuerger, Connie Pulcipher, Aaron Seagraves, Mariah Cherem and Hannah Smotrich.
This is the first project in a mural pilot program originally proposed by former AAPAC commissioner Jeff Meyers. Following Meyers’ resignation in mid-2011, Simbuerger has taken the lead on this project. At the Jan. 25 meeting, she briefly outlined the proposals for four finalists chosen by the task force. In addition to Thiefels, other finalists were (1) Robert Delgado of Los Angeles, Calif.; (2) Bethany Kalk of Moorehead, Kentucky; and (3) Jefferson Nelson of Liberty Center, Ohio.
The task force decided to recommend Thiefels not because hers was the best artistic treatment, but because of her proposal’s involvement of the community, Simbuerger said. Thiefels’ proposal entails asking neighborhood residents for artifacts to create mosaics at the top and bottom of the pillars. In a sense, it would create a “library” of the neighborhood, Simbuerger told commissioners, and the task force really liked this concept. They also liked the fact that Thiefels has a concrete plan for how to execute the community involvement aspect of her project. [.pdf of narrative portion from Thiefels' proposal]
However, task force members had some issues about the imagery that Thiefels proposed for the middle of the columns, Simbuerger said. In her proposal, Thiefels described it this way:
My timeless design for the Allmendinger park will inspire all who encounter it year round. Each of the 12 pillars represent a month of the year, 3 pillars to a season. Seasonal activities illustrate the diversity and popularity of the park.
In the spring, lilac bushes blossom, children come out of hibernation to play hide and go seek, birds nest again in the oak and hickory trees, the playground comes alive with activity and laughter. On the summer pillars kites fly and sports abound, like basketball, volleyball, tennis, baseball, and soccer. On the fall pillars you see, colors changing, tree climbing, dog walking and frisbee tossing, sunny day picnics, and morning martial arts. Winter offers cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and snow angels.
I will paint these illustrations onto a third of each pillar space. The remaining area will be made up of tile or glass mosaic and a section of collected and found materials.
I intend to use striking and strong imagery, illustrating the activities with visual confidence. The figures, birds, and trees, could be painted in Kara Walker style silhouettes (to see visuals of Kara Walker’s work, visit: http://learn.walkerart.org/karawalker). They can be heavily modeled and detailed or played down (painted more like a wood block, stencil or silhouette). Grays and earth tones can be used instead of blacks to better harmonize with the surroundings.
Right now, those images might work if you’re close to them, but not necessarily if you’re driving by or looking at them from a house across the street, Simbuerger said. So the task force recommended that they continue to work with Thiefels on designing the remainder of the mural on the middle sections of the pillars. Thiefels is willing to do that, but her new proposal isn’t yet completed, Simbuerger said.
Mural Project at Allmendinger Park: Commission Discussion
John Kotarski began by saying he really liked the proposal, especially because it involves the neighborhood and because Thiefels is a local artist. It’s important to build a sustainable community of local artists, he said. Kotarski agreed that the task force should continue to work with her on developing the project.
Connie Brown liked the collaboration between the task force and Thiefels – that’s a good process, she said, and will result in a richer design.
Tony Derezinski also liked the concept, and noted that members of the Allmendinger family still live in this area. He reported that his wife used to work in the Allmendinger building at First and Washington. [The historic brick building contains offices now, but was originally the Allmendinger piano and organ factory.]
Commissioners discussed other projects that Thiefels had completed, including murals in Hillsdale, Dexter and downtown Ann Arbor – a mural depicting Michigan veterans, located in the alley on West Liberty between Ashley and Main. AAPAC had selected Thiefels for a 2011 Golden Paintbrush award from the city for that mural.
Marsha Chamberlin questioned whether the $10,000 budget was sufficient, considering the time and effort that would be required. Simbuerger agreed that it wasn’t much, but noted that it’s an amount low enough so that it doesn’t require the city council’s approval. Connie Brown clarified that the mural pilot program – approved by AAPAC in November 2010 – had designated a maximum $10,000 per project with the idea that multiple projects could be completed relatively quickly.
Simbuerger noted that the funding limit puts constraints on the types of materials that might be used, essentially limiting it to paint because of the cost. Bob Miller wondered whether there was any flexibility to add to the budget for materials.
Derezinski asked whether Thiefels is experienced at making bids on projects like this. Chamberlin reported that Thiefels has a company – TreeTown Murals – and has completed several projects. Chamberlin said she trusted that Thiefels could finish the project as proposed, within the amount budgeted. But it felt like AAPAC was setting up the program to encourage artists to cut corners, she added.
Chamberlin recalled that when Susan Skarsgard did the Imagine/Align project – a linear planting of daffodils at The Arb – it had been a major undertaking. Among other things, Thiefels’ project would entail cataloguing all of the contributed items to be used in the mosaic. It would be lovely to eventually have a story on the building’s wall to document the items, Chamberlin said.
Brown noted that this is a pilot program, so AAPAC could change it if they needed to.
Miller suggested that the commission ask Thiefels to submit a revised budget, one that would realistically reflect her work. At that point, the commission could discuss whether other funding might be available. After further discussion, Malverne Winborne made a friendly amendment to accept Thiefels as the artist for this project, contingent on her working with the task force to submit a revised proposal and budget.
Outcome: Commissioners voted to select Mary Thiefels for the Allmendinger mural project, contingent on asking her submission of a revised proposal and budget, with additional input from the task force. Work on the mural is expected to begin this summer.
Artwork for East Stadium Bridges
Wiltrud Simuerger gave an update on artwork for the East Stadium bridges project. The task force, which she leads, now includes Dave Huntoon, Joss Kiely, Nancy Leff, Jim Kosteva, Bob Miller and Aaron Seagraves.
The group met and talked about possible locations for artwork, Simbuerger said, within AAPAC’s framework of making it a high visibility project for a range of users – motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians. They identified four locations: (1) on the East Stadium bridge itself; (2) on a fence in Rose White Park; (3) at the terminus of White Street, north of the bridge; and (4) on the stairs and underpass at South State Street. Artwork at any of these sites could be seen differently by various users, she said, depending on their velocity.
The task force is developing a request for proposals (RFP) that will incorporate one or more of these locations. The proposal should also introduce an overarching theme, ensure the artwork’s high visibility, and address the diverse nature of the site, she said.
After the draft RFP is approved by the task force, it will be presented to AAPAC for consideration. Simbuerger said the task force is inclined to suggest a budget of $250,000 because it will be a high-visibility project: “That’s why we really recommend putting in some money.” Miller added that the amount suggested might be even higher.
Malverne Winborne clarified with Aaron Seagraves that $100,000 in funding was available directly from the bridge reconstruction budget, as the Percent for Art earmark. Other Percent for Art funds could be tapped, as long as the artwork relates directly to the original funding source. For example, artwork for the bridge could be funded with some of the $529,251 that’s available for public art from street millage projects.
Connie Brown said it’s difficult to allocate money for these kinds of public art projects without having a sense of how the projects fit into a broader plan. Marsha Chamberlin replied that the commission’s annual art plan is designed to provide that kind of guidance. [.pdf of current annual art plan, for fiscal year 2012]
The annual plan gives a list of projects and potential sites for public art, Brown said. It doesn’t provide an overall framework, one that answers the question of what the public art program hopes to accomplish more broadly for residents, she said.
John Kotarski agreed. Without a “conceptual narrative,” it’s hard to say whether a project is worth investing $100,000 or $400,000, he said. It’s challenging to evaluate sites by location, without a broader narrative or theme. Without that framework, he said, people might ask whether the Percent for Art program is just decorating the city.
Brown described it as the difference between being reactive or proactive. The commission needs an upper-level vision, she said.
Winborne noted that a budget for the East Stadium bridges artwork didn’t need to be set that night. Even after the task force makes a recommendation, a draft RFP would need to be reviewed by the city attorney’s office, he said. So the commission has time to discuss these issues further.
The discussion of the East Stadium bridges project – and the need for a broader conceptual framework to guide AAPAC’s decisions – led to talk of developing a master plan, in addition to the commission’s annual art plan.
Marsha Chamberlin pointed out that the commission’s approach has been from the bottom up, but they need to also look at it from the top down. They could look at what they’d generally like to achieve in the next three years, for example, then evaluate how specific projects would fit those goals.
Chamberlin initially suggested using part of AAPAC’s Feb. 22 meeting to talk about a master plan. But after further discussion, commissioners reached a consensus that a half-day retreat would be a better approach. Chamberlin proposed asking the mayor to expedite his nomination of the new commissioner, so that person could participate in the retreat. Connie Pulcipher of the city’s systems planning unit will be asked to facilitate. She has led AAPAC through similar exercises in the past, most recently in October 2011 to help commissioners prep for a Nov. 14 working session with city council.
No date has yet been announced for the upcoming retreat.
Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, informed commissioners that he’ll be making a presentation at a March 12 city council working session to give an update on the Percent for Art program. He noted that AAPAC needs to pass its next annual plan – for FY 2013 – in March, so that it can be presented to the city council by April 1, as required by the Percent for Art ordinance.
At AAPAC’s Dec. 13, 2011 meeting, Seagraves had led a discussion regarding the next annual plan. As a follow-up to that meeting, he’d subsequently surveyed commissioners via email about their priorities for the coming year. At the Jan. 25 meeting, he presented results of that survey, which five of the eight commissioners had completed.
Based on the survey input, Seagraves identified priorities in several categories for the city’s 2013 fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013:
- Streets: (1) the southeast corner of Main & William; (2) the intersection of Main & Huron; and (3) the median at Washtenaw & Stadium.
- Water & Sewer: (1) dams – Barton, Superior; (2) manhole covers; (3) interpretive signs regarding sewer “lead throughs” in parks.
- Programs: (1) crosswalk designs; (2) banners; (3) bus stops.
- Other: (1) roofs at the farmer’s market; (2) Douglas Park on Washtenaw Avenue; and (3) Miller’s Creek streambank.
Seagraves noted that in addition to priorities from commissioners, results from a public online survey could be used to guide the annual plan. The online survey, which launched earlier this month, will run through Feb. 20. So far, about 400 responses have been received, Seagraves said.
John Kotarski said he didn’t complete the survey because he’d had trouble figuring out what kind of responses were being sought. Connie Brown said she didn’t complete it either – she’d been frustrated that the questions didn’t fit into a broader framework.
Wiltrude Simbuerger suggested using this for the basis of discussion at the retreat, but not relying on the survey results exclusively to develop the annual art plan.
Commissioners present: Connie Rizzolo-Brown, Marsha Chamberlin, Tony Derezinski, John Kotarski, Bob Miller, Wiltrud Simbuerger, Malverne Winborne. Also Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator.
Absent: Cathy Gendron.
Next regular meeting: Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012 at 4:30 p.m. at city hall, 301 E. Huron St. [confirm date]
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