Ann Arbor public art commission retreat (Feb. 26, 2012): At a four-hour retreat on Sunday, the nine-member public art commission began developing a master plan to guide the allocation of Ann Arbor’s Percent for Art funds and the selection of future public art projects.
The Percent for Art program, overseen by AAPAC, allocates 1% for public art from all of the city government’s capital projects. The program faced potential cuts by the city council last year, though a majority of councilmembers ultimately voted against decreased funding. There’s also been criticism that the commission, which was formed in 2008, has been too slow in funding works of art. The commission itself has seen recent turnover, with three new commissioners appointed since late 2011.
It’s in this context that AAPAC decided to work on a master plan – the retreat was a step toward that goal, though it’s expected to take several more months to complete. Meanwhile, the commission is also preparing an annual plan to approve at its next meeting, on March 28, with a list of specific projects it intends to pursue in the coming fiscal year. The public art ordinance requires that the annual plan be submitted to the city council by April 1.
Sunday’s retreat covered a broad range of topics. Commissioners discussed the need to address all aspects of their mission, as spelled out in the ordinance – including education, outreach and promotion of public art. John Kotarski, one of the newest commissioners, proposed a motto to reflect that goal: “The educated resident is the best consumer of public art.”
Questions were raised about whether Percent for Art funds could be used for outreach and promotion – in the past, AAPAC has been told by city staff that funding is restricted to permanent capital projects. Kotarski advocated for including temporary projects, such as an artist-in-residence program or events like FestiFools. If the ordinance doesn’t currently allow temporary work, he suggested amending it.
When Kotarski urged the commission to seek clarity from the city attorney’s office, Tony Derezinski – a commissioner who also serves on the city council – said the city attorney’s staff is already working on legal opinions related to questions from councilmembers. He indicated that the legal staff would be willing to attend a future AAPAC meeting to answer these questions.
Also during the meeting, Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, presented preliminary results of an online survey of residents, which yielded 437 responses. [.pdf of preliminary survey report] In response to one of the questions – “Where are the public places in the city that would benefit from a public art project?” – the top three responses were parks (27 responses), “none” (25 responses) and Main Street (23 responses.)
Other items emerged at the retreat. Theresa Reid, the newest commissioner who was appointed earlier this year, reported that she and others are working to apply for a National Endowment for the Arts “Our Town” grant, to help pay for a countywide public arts planning process. Derezinski indicated that the Detroit Institute of Art’s Inside|Out project, which involves installing framed reproductions from the DIA’s collection at outdoor locations on building facades or in parks, likely won’t come to Ann Arbor until 2013. When originally proposed in October 2011, it was expected to take place this year.
Another possible project on the horizon is tied to the resurfacing of Main Street in 2013. AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin said the Main Street Area Association and Downtown Development Authority are interested in some kind of “street stamping” project. It’s a project that’s in the very early stages, she said, but might include ideas like creating patterns on the street at crosswalks, for example.
Though discrete projects were mentioned, the focus of the retreat remained on big-picture goals. Common themes included the importance of public art in creating a sense of identity for the community, and of its role in supporting the local economy.
Setting the Stage
Commissioners Connie Rizzolo Brown and John Kotarski were tasked with giving a broad overview of the purpose of public art and the history of the commission’s work in this community.
Brown noted that the recent publication by the Michigan Municipal League – “The Economics of Place: The Value of Building Communities Around People” – provides a blueprint for reinventing Michigan cities. The idea is to build healthy, sustainable communities to attract visitors, support the local economy, and create a sense of identity for residents and visitors, she said.
Those goals are part of Ann Arbor’s public art ordinance, too, Brown noted. She quoted from the ordinance:
City council has determined that the creation of public art will improve the aesthetic quality of public spaces and structures, provide cultural and recreational opportunities, contribute to the local heritage, stimulate economic activity and promote the general welfare of the community. [.pdf of public art ordinance]
The public art commission was formed to help guide that effort. Brown recapped the history of the commission, noting that it started informally as a group of volunteers who raised money for public art projects. The commission on art in public places (CAPP) was formed, which later transitioned to the Ann Arbor public art commission (AAPAC) when the city’s Percent for Art program was authorized by city council in 2007.
Because it’s an all-volunteer commission, it’s been difficult at times to handle the work, Brown said. That’s why it’s important to identify the roles of everyone involved, she said, including commissioners, city staff, and the public. That way, the work can be shared and it will be easier for everyone, she said.
The purpose, objectives and duties of AAPAC are defined in part by the public art ordinance, Brown noted. There are two main responsibilities: (1) recommending projects and allocating funds, and (2) providing education, promotion and outreach for public art.
In the first category, AAPAC’s duties include setting guidelines for selecting art and locations for art; presenting annual goals and an annual report; and determining whether projects in the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP) are eligible for public art funding. Brown noted that AAPAC doesn’t do this work alone – there are others involved, including city staff, task force members and the public. And AAPAC’s recommendations must be approved by the city council, she said.
Regarding education, promotion and outreach, the ordinance states that AAPAC can raise additional funds from other sources, foster public/private partnerships, promote awareness of public art, and advise donors of art regarding placement of artwork on non-city property. Yet AAPAC has lost some of its focus regarding these responsibilities, Brown said.
Promotion can mean a lot of things, Brown added. It can be as simple as AAPAC’s website, but can also mean embracing the concept of public art beyond just city-owned work to include private or University of Michigan art. So how does AAPAC promote a variety of arts in this region, to create a sustainable arts community here?
One example is a partnership with the Detroit Institute of Art’s Inside|Out project, which involves installing framed reproductions from the DIA’s collection at outdoor locations on building facades or in parks. [A DIA staff member talked to AAPAC about the idea in October of 2011, though it now looks like the installation won't occur until 2013.] A program like that creates awareness of public art in the community, Brown said. “It starts to define who we are.” If AAPAC can give more attention to these kinds of programs, they can increase the commission’s educational component, she said.
It’s important to define public art, Brown said, noting that the city’s public art ordinance defines it 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.
Brown wanted commissioners to think about how public art can draw people to the city. There are a lot of possibilities, she said.
Public Art Options
John Kotarski, who was appointed to the commission late last year, picked up the presentation by noting that he’d been impressed by the amount of work that’s already been done. Instead of creating a new vision, he said, commissioners should think about recovering that original vision.
Public Art Options: Seattle’s Example
When the city’s public art ordinance was being developed, people like Margaret Parker – AAPAC’s former chair, who resigned at the end of 2011 – had researched other public art programs nationwide. Seattle has one of the country’s oldest public art programs, and Parker had gone there to attend a seminar by Barbara Goldstein, editor of “Public Art by the Book.” The book is the gold standard for creating a public art program using best practices, Kotarski said, and was used in developing Ann Arbor’s ordinance.
Kotarski said he traveled to Seattle in January and had talked to members of that city’s public arts commission. Ann Arbor can learn from that program – which was established in the early 1970s and is also supported with percent-for-art funding – and avoid its mistakes, he said.
Kotarski showed several slides of public art in Seattle, including the Hammering Man sculpture at the Seattle Art Museum entrance. People initially hated it, he said, but now it’s “beloved by the entire city.” The same was true, he said, for a work by Michael Heizer called “Adjacent, Against, Upon” – a series of large, square boulders lined up in a park next to Puget Sound.
“Public art won’t always be accepted at the start,” Kotarski said. In fact, artists want to challenge conventional boundaries – that’s part of what makes art enduring, he said.
Ann Arbor’s preamble to its public art ordinance mirrors the one for Seattle, Kotarski said. The Ann Arbor preamble reads: ”City council recognizes the responsibility of government to foster the development of culture and the arts.” To him, Kotarski said, this means that public art isn’t a luxury – it’s a responsibility of the government.
Like Brown, Kotarski encouraged a broader view of what constitutes public art. Beyond city-funded projects, he said, it includes University of Michigan artwork – like Maya Lin’s “Wave Field” on north campus – and even the fairy doors that are located throughout town on privately owned buildings. “This is public art too,” he said, and should be promoted by AAPAC.
Promoting awareness of public art, in part, means helping to educate the public, Kotarski said. He advocated for modifying the motto of the now-defunct clothing chain Syms – “An educated consumer is our best customer” – to reflect Ann Arbor’s public art outreach: “The educated resident is the best consumer of public art.”
Kotarski recommended ”The Art of Placemaking: Interpreting Community Through Public Art and Urban Design,” a book by Ronald Lee Fleming. This approach describes what Ann Arbor’s public art program is doing, he said. “We’re not decorating the city.” Rather, Ann Arbor is leading the reinvention of Michigan’s cities, he said, with public art as an economic driver.
Saying that the city has somehow become locked into thinking of public art as a permanent piece of construction, Kotarski said his reading of Ann Arbor’s ordinance allows for a broader definition, and he urged commissioners to expand their view of potential projects.
Seattle’s program has several options, he noted, including both permanent and temporary installations. He described these options as five quivers in their bow, and said that having a variety of approaches is a better way to achieve the city’s overall public art goal. Those approaches include:
- Site Integrated: Bringing an artist into a project at the early stages of design, so that the artwork is an integral part of the building or structure, rather than an add-on. Kotarski showed an example of artwork that’s integral to a skatepark in Seattle, and noted that Ann Arbor has a similar opportunity with the skatepark that’s being planned here.
- Site Specific: Locating artwork on a site – like putting a sculpture in a park or in front of a building.
- Portable Artwork: Artwork, typically paintings or sculptures, that are periodically moved to different locations. Kotarski noted that Seattle moves the artwork that’s located in municipal offices every three years. He said he supported a suggestion by Ann Arbor art commissioner Bob Miller, who had floated the idea of rotating outdoor sculptures throughout the city.
- Artist-in-Residence: Embedding an artist within a city department for a period of time. In Los Angeles, an artist-in-residence with the city’s parks department built a large roller imprinted with an aerial image of the city. City workers drag the roller down the beach several times each day, stamping the image onto the sand. Another example, Kotarski said, would be to embed an artist with the street department – perhaps the artist could create stamps that workers could then use to make patterns when streets or sidewalks are paved. Or an artist could be embedded with the city’s parks department, he said, and explore an art project using some of the aluminum canoes that are being replaced as part of the Argo Dam bypass project.
- Temporary Artwork: Temporary installations or performances can be economic engines for a community, Kotarski said. He cited the example of The Gates by Christo, a 14-day installation in New York City’s Central Park that drew millions of people to the area and generated millions of dollars for businesses there. In Ann Arbor, FestiFools – to be held this year on April 1 – is an example of that, he said. Its temporary nature is part of its value. Using an Americans for the Arts economic impact calculator, Kotarski said he estimated that FestiFools brought in more than $100,000 for local merchants. The annual ArtPrize in Grand Rapids is another good example of the economic value brought by temporary exhibits, he said.
Public Art Options: Art & the Economy
Theresa Reid, the newest commissioner who was attending her first meeting that day, said she felt like there were mixed messages regarding art and money. She’s from Chicago, and for her, public art is what makes people love that city. It’s about heart, not money, and she didn’t want to lose sight of that fact. Art has the power to transform, she said, both individually and as a community.
Kotarski agreed, but said commissioners also need to be able to make the economic case for public art. They need to be able to answer the question: Why spend money on public art? Is it just because they’re snobs? he asked – no, it’s more than that.
Tony Derezinski, an art commissioner who also represents Ward 2 on the city council, said he wanted to reinforce Kotarski’s point. Three times over the years there have been attempts to cut the Percent for Art program, he said. There have been questions about why the city should keep the funding level at 1%. The argument in support of the program is that it defines Ann Arbor as a community that appreciates art, Derezinski said. That’s even more important during tough economic times – that’s when you define your values, he said. But the longer view is that public art supports the economy, he said.
Kotarski returned to the topic later in the retreat, when he presented several possible answers to the question: Why support public art?
One reason is to expand the public’s experience of art. Kotarski returned to the motto: “The educated resident is the best consumer of public art.” Not everyone will like every piece of art, but at least they should be able to criticize it from an informed perspective, he said. Instead of just saying “Dreiseitl stinks!” the conversation could center around comparing the German artist’s Ann Arbor water sculpture – located in front of city hall – to work by other artists, or to other work by Dreiseitl, Kotarski said.
World-class performers want to come to Ann Arbor because this city has a world-class audience – people who appreciate the nuances of a performance. Kotarski cited Laurie Anderson as an example. In addition to venues at large cities, her tour last year included Ann Arbor because she knew the audience here would understand her work, he said. Artists like her aren’t just interested in selling tickets. The city can become a world-class audience for public art, too, he said.
Another reason to support public art is because it helps people to understand their community better as well as their individual lives, Kotarski said. One local example he cited is a mural of local war veterans, created by Mary Thiefels and located in an alley off of West Liberty near Main Street.
The final reason Kotarski offered was to create a 21st century economy. He said Gov. Rick Snyder is using “The Economics of Place” as a manifesto to guide the recovery of Michigan’s cities. Businesspeople want to create vibrant communities, he said – they don’t really care if it’s through making ashtrays or public art. “Knowledge workers” want to live in places like Ann Arbor, and the creativity reflected in the city’s public art can be a draw for them, he concluded.
Connie Brown noted that AAPAC’s work can be an essential part of placemaking for the city. That’s done by increasing each resident’s experience with visual art, she said, by building a sustainable local arts community, and by establishing Ann Arbor as a leader in public art. Through art installation, community engagement and education, the city can build a regional network that supports the arts and arts makers, she said. And by commissioning work by leading artists, Brown added, the bar is raised for local artists, and the city becomes more attractive for mid-career artists to live and work here.
She noted that public art projects support a variety of local workers and businesses, including designers, material suppliers, fabricators, installers and maintenance workers.
Brown concluded that part of the presentation by saying that the execution of this vision is difficult. Establishing a broad master plan can help guide the commission’s work, she said, including the annual plan that must be submitted to city council each year.
Different Roles in Shaping Public Art
The commission spent a portion of the retreat brainstorming about the roles of various people who are involved with public art in the city, including commissioners, the public art administrator – a job held by Aaron Seagraves – city staff, task forces, city council and the community.
Here’s the list of roles that commissioners generated for these groups during the session:
- Commissioners: (1) advise the city council and staff regarding public art projects, (2) set the public art program’s guidelines, vision and priorities, (3) submit an annual plan to city council, (4) communicate with the community and raise awareness about public art, (5) generate additional funding, (6) make recommendations on projects and funding allocations, (7) observe and review the fabrication of artwork, (8) set up partnerships, (9) appoint task forces and act on their recommendations, and (10) review job description for art administrator, and help with interview process and selection, when necessary.
- Public art administrator: (1) provide support to AAPAC, (2) act as conduit for ideas and information, (3) handle day-to-day administration of the public art program, (4) maintain AAPAC’s website, (5) promote public art, (6) serve as the chief contact person for the public and media, (7) provide overall leadership for AAPAC, (8) implement AAPAC’s vision, (9) provide project management, (10) report to the city’s public services area administrator, and (11) develop a portal for community engagement.
- Task Forces: (1) make recommendations about projects and programs to AAPAC, and (2) set the vision for certain projects.
- Community: (1) serve on task forces and subcommittees, (2) act as a sounding board, (3) be engaged in the process, (4) participate in project and site selection, (5) become ambassadors of public art, (6) provide ideas for new projects, and (7) be a source for collaborative projects, both through partnerships and fundraising.
- City staff: (1) manage projects that are tied to city capital improvements, (2) identify funding for art projects, (3) provide technical support, (4) act as liaisons between the artists and city departments, and (5) provide input and identify opportunities for new art projects.
- City council: (1) provide oversight, (2) act as final decision-makers, (3) provide adequate funding, (4) amend public art ordinance, as needed, and (5) appoint AAPAC commissioners.
Throughout the brainstorming session, discussions emerged related to some of these suggested roles. There was some uncertainty, for example, regarding the process by which task forces are appointed. Is that handled by the art administrator or the commissioner who’s leading the task force? It’s been done multiple ways, Brown noted.
Malverne Winborne raised the question of who’s responsible for deciding whether a project is “go or no-go.” To him, he said, there’s a lack of clarity between the commission’s role and the role of staff. When Bob Miller offered that AAPAC, as an advisory group, had 49% of the responsibility for making those kinds of decisions, Winborne replied, “Who’s the 51%?” That’s the city council, he was told.
As a new commissioner, Theresa Reid asked how decisions on AAPAC get made. Is there a formal vote? Not necessarily, Brown replied. Some issues are just discussed until a consensus is achieved. Winborne recommended identifying a hierarchy to clarify the relationship between AAPAC and city council, and AAPAC and its task forces.
It’s not just about making the final decision on a project, Marsha Chamberlin said. There’s also the question about who decides which projects get initiated. Cathy Gendron noted that in the past, a lot of projects were initiated by Sue McCormick, the city’s former public services administrator. The public art administrator reported to McCormick. [McCormick resigned late last year to take a job as head of Detroit's water and sewerage department. Craig Hupy is filling that job on an interim basis while the city conducts a search for a permanent replacement.]
What’s the art administrator’s role in this process? Kotarski asked. He noted that the job description for Seagraves includes “overall leadership” of AAPAC. Several commissioners expressed surprise at that – they indicated that they thought his role was staff support for AAPAC, not leadership. Seagraves noted that since the commission meets only once a month, part of his role is to move projects forward on a daily basis. That’s one way to interpret the leadership responsibility, he ventured.
Later, during a discussion about the city staff’s role, Kotarski drew on the experience of Seattle. The Seattle art commission had shifted its orientation, he said, and talked about funding in terms of the public art funds belonging to different departments. Commissioners would approach department liaisons and asked how the departments envisioned spending the money for public art. The attitude from commissioners became, “How can we help you create art for your department’s projects?” he said. There was much less pushback from city staff, because the staff took ownership of the art projects.
Cathy Gendron ended this portion of the retreat by offering some perspective. A lot of these ideas – collaborating with partners, embedding artists early in the process – have been discussed by AAPAC in the past, she noted. “Where we keep getting stalled is who does the work?” Commissioners have been told that the city funds can’t pay for things like promotion, she said. So at some point, she said, part of their discussion needs to focus on putting a structure in place so that AAPAC can do the things they envision.
Developing a Master Plan
Connie Brown began the next portion of the retreat by proposing a framework for thinking about the elements of a master plan. She noted that there is no perfect plan or process, but there are ways that they can approach their work. She cautioned that commissioners aren’t the artists – they shouldn’t be the people coming up with the ideas for specific projects.
Rather, she proposed that they develop a plan based on three basic categories: Location, typology and process.
- Location: This refers to zones or types of areas – recreation areas, neighborhoods, or business districts, for example – where public art could be located. Or commissioners might think about location in terms of geographic features, like the Huron River. This category helps AAPAC consider where the city might place public art, to ensure a diversity of location throughout the city.
- Typology: What type of public art does a project represent? It might be a gateway that marks an entry to a specific spot or corridor. It might serve a wayfinding function – artwork that guides people through an area with signs or pathways. This category helps identify the classification of a particular project.
- Process: There can be a variety of ways that public art projects get initiated. Some are brought forward by city staff or AAPAC – like the mural program – while others might be identified by the community. Partnerships like the one planned with the Detroit Institute of Arts are another way for public art to be created. AAPAC might also partner with other city entities – working with the energy commission, for example, on an art installation using solar-powered LED lights.
The purpose of the retreat and the master plan, Brown said, is to look at the big picture. They weren’t going to identify specific projects at specific location, but instead would start the process of prioritizing and setting general goals.
The approach might be to identify percentages of the Percent for Art budget that AAPAC would like to spend on certain types of projects – gateways, for example – and certain areas where the commission would like projects to be located. Brown also noted that they need to include all aspects of their mission – not just physical projects, but also education, outreach and promotion of public art.
The master plan that AAPAC ultimately develops can be used to guide the commission’s annual plan, which in turn will guide the work of the task forces that will be charged with implementing specific projects, she said. AAPAC needs to provide guidance but not be proscriptive, Brown cautioned – the task forces and artists need flexibility to be creative.
Brown also advocated for communicating with the city council at an earlier stage, and getting feedback from councilmembers. That way everyone can move ahead confidently, she said, without wondering if a project will get pushback from the council after being developed.
Tony Derezinski offered to use his communications time at council meetings to report on AAPAC’s work. Commissioners generally supported that. Bob Miller noted that it would help make the process more clear and transparent for everyone.
Developing a Master Plan: Survey Results
Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, presented preliminary results from an online survey that AAPAC had distributed earlier this year. He plans to give a more formal report at the commission’s March 28 meeting. [.pdf of preliminary survey report]
There were 437 respondents, though not everyone answered all of the questions, he noted. For those that identified the neighborhood they lived in, the largest concentration was from the Old West Side (38 respondents), followed by Lower Burns Park (26) and Burns Park (20).
In response to the question “Where are the public places in the city that would benefit from a public art project?” the top three responses were parks (27 responses), “none” (25 responses) and Main Street (23 responses.)
“None” and parking structures/lots were the top answers (both with 26 responses) to the question “Which city infrastructure could be improved aesthetically with public art funding?” The other top response was the library (16 responses).
The survey also asked respondents to choose their top three programs that could result in artists designing multiple works using the same medium, item or theme. Percentage-wise by respondents, the top results were bus stops/shelters (59.5%), pedestrian crosswalk signs (54.4%), street furniture, like benches (54.4%), and community/participatory projects (40.9%).
That question also allowed for free responses. Here’s a sampling:
- A sculpture park in Bryant neighborhood. One of the pieces should allow for water sprinklers, so that it can enjoy a dual function.
- Campaign to stop graffiti
- Dual purpose installation. I’ve seen giant flower-shaped umbrellas with power outlets and lights along city streets; benches that enclose tree plantings
- Facade for abandoned buildings
- Garbage/recycling containers
- Flowers, plants by city entrances; a decent “Welcome to Ann Arbor” sign, “Home of the Wolverines,” something – please!
- More green spaces, places to sit down and enjoy the view
- Statues of historic figures, historic information displays
- Sculptures at interstate entrances to Ann Arbor
- Turn Main Street into a walking street, slowed to traffic to allow street performers, artists, musicians to perform and exhibit
John Kotarski asked Seagraves for his impressions of the survey results – what did it tell him? Seagraves indicated that there hadn’t been sufficient time to analyze the results, since the survey had just closed the previous week.
Kotarski wondered whether the number of “none” responses had surprised Seagraves. Not really, Seagraves replied. Malverne Winborne indicated that those results simply reflect that there are a number of people who don’t understand or support this work, but that the commission shouldn’t get too caught up in that.
Developing a Master Plan: Setting Goals
As the commission moved into its exercise of setting goals, there was some initial discussion over how detailed they needed to be, what the goals were intended to articulate, and whether the goals would be used for the master plan or the more immediate annual plan, which by ordinance must be delivered to city council by April 1.
Connie Pulcipher, a city staff member who was facilitating the discussion, noted that the intent was not to develop the master plan that day. Because this is the first time that AAPAC has formed a master plan, it’s a process that will likely take many more discussions over several months, she said.
The draft set of goals, which the commission intends to review and likely revise in the coming months, include:
- Establish relationships with city units and other city commissions.
- Develop a marketing/communications plan and budget.
- Develop a framework for decision-making.
- Use a simple narrative to ensure that the public, city council and city staff are better informed about the public art program.
- Identify a diversity of locations for public art.
- Promote temporary art.
- Develop a scoring list for project selection.
During the goal-setting discussion, several issues emerged that the commissioners discussed in more depth, including the possibility of funding temporary art, and the types of categories that might be used in selecting future public art projects.
Developing a Master Plan: Setting Goals – Temporary Art
John Kotarski noted that one of the obstacles that AAPAC faces is the interpretation of the public art ordinance. Does it include the ability to fund temporary art or an artist-in-residence? It seems important to clarify that with the city attorney’s office, he said, and to possibly work to amend the ordinance, if necessary.
In response to his question, AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin reviewed the work of the commission, noting that they’ve spent a lot of time developing policies and procedures, and that over the years a significant balance of Percent for Art funding has accumulated. [Seagraves later clarified that the Percent for Art balance of unallocated funds stands at around $1.1 million.] There is a push to get more projects competed, she said, and the ordinance doesn’t need to be changed in order to do that.
Chamberlin said that AAPAC has been told that the Percent for Art funds can’t be used for temporary art. By way of background, the meaning of “permanent” has been explained to AAPAC by city staff as relating to the ability of an item to be capitalized. At AAPAC’s July 2010 meeting, Sue McCormick – who at that time supervised the program as the city’s public services administrator – told commissioners that the city runs a depreciation schedule on each piece of art, and that artwork is considered a capital investment that needs to last a minimum of five years. At AAPAC’s December 2011 meeting, Chamberlin reported that the city’s finance staff had revised its definition of “permanent” to a minimum of two years, not five.
The challenge of permanent versus temporary artwork was also discussed at an AAPAC retreat in October of 2011. And at AAPAC’s September 2011 meeting, former commissioner Margaret Parker floated an idea to bypass the funding constraint on temporary installations by considering them as promoting public art, which is part of the commission’s charge.
At the Feb. 26 retreat, Kotarski asked whether AAPAC could spend $50,000 on building a gallery at city hall, or $20,000 on a promotional campaign, or $10,000 to create a coloring book connected to the upcoming DIA exhibit? If not, that eliminates an enormous amount of what AAPAC can do, he said. The issue needs clarity.
Tony Derezinski said these kinds of issues have been raised by city council members. He said he’s talked with the city attorney’s office, and that they are formulating opinions in response to these issues. Derezinski suggested that AAPAC schedule a session with someone from the city attorney’s office, to get some legal advice on these questions. The city attorney has indicated willingness to do that, he said.
Bob Miller suggested that the ordinance could be amended to accommodate temporary projects. Chamberlin said the issue had arisen when FestiFools, an annual street festival featuring oversized puppets, had approached AAPAC for funding. The commission had been ready to allocate funds for FestiFools, but was told that it wasn’t allowed because the event was considered temporary.
Developing a Master Plan: Setting Goals – Layers of Categories
Malverne Winborne suggested dividing the city into zones or quadrants, to help guide the selection of projects and ensure that all parts of the city are represented. [Later in the meeting, it was suggested that the quadrant boundaries (starting from downtown) could be roughly North Main to US-23 to the north, Jackson Road to the west, State Street to the south, and Washtenaw Avenue to the east.] Winborne was especially concerned about under-served areas, like the Bryant neighborhood. Located on the city’s southeast side – south of I-94 and east of Stone School Road – Bryant is one of the city’s lower-income neighborhoods.
Wiltrud Simbuerger said AAPAC should use different approaches to help determine where public art should be located, and what kind of public art is needed. In addition to geographic location, another approach might be to identify land use, such as recreational or parkland. Another way might look at process – whether it’s participatory, or temporary.
Theresa Reid suggested setting up task forces for each quadrant of the city. Perhaps those groups could be tasked with identifying two projects for their quadrant per year, she said. It’s also possible to envision the task forces working together on a larger project that might span geographic areas.
Reid, who’s also a board member of the countywide Arts Alliance, reported that she and Derezinski, among others, are involved in an effort to apply for a National Endowment for the Arts “Our Town” grant, to help pay for a countywide public arts planning process. There could be opportunities for larger-scale projects as a result.
Later in the meeting, Cathy Gendron drew dots on a map to indicate where current public art projects are located. Winborne noted that most are concentrated downtown – there’s a need to get outside that area, he said. Bob Miller responded by saying that the downtown is the city’s economic center, so perhaps that’s appropriate.
Aaron Seagraves suggested that another selection category might be the size of a project, based on its budget or impact. The mural program, with a current budget of $10,000 per mural, is an example a smaller project that could be replicated throughout the city. Larger projects, like the Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture in front of city hall – the largest public art project to date, costing more than $750,000 – would fall on the other end of the spectrum.
Winborne described these various selection categories as layers. Connie Brown summarized that in looking at selection this way, AAPAC could decide to base its decisions on land use (recreational, neighborhoods, etc.) and typology (gateways or wayfinding, for example). So they could decide to focus one year on putting public art into parks, as wayfinding projects, for example. The following year, they might focus on major corridors, and creating gateways to the city.
Gendron suggested that another layer – in the category of process – could be the outright purchase of public art. It’s something that AAPAC has previously discussed, she noted.
Gendron also advocated for density of population or activity as another layer. Derezinski agreed, saying that’s where you find the value of public art for economic development.
Winborne voiced a different perspective. He noted that if you talk to real estate agents, they’ll tell you that it’s easier to sell into communities that are perceived as cool. What if public art were put into areas that aren’t currently active, in order to draw people there? he said.
Gendron noted that if you divide the city into quadrants, then the North Main quadrant falls into an area that already has a lot of public art. Yet the North Main corridor itself, even though it’s a major entryway into the city, is essentially bereft of public art.
Reid agreed with the need to think about places of potential impact. She cited the High Line project, a public park built on an abandoned elevated rail line in Manhattan – its creator, Robert Hammond, was a recent speaker in the UM Penny Stamps series, she noted. It’s an example of taking an eyesore and creating a landmark, she said. They should think not only about where there’s density and impact now, but where there might be density and impact in the future, if spurred by public art.
Kotarski said he sees these layers as ways to help commissioners set priorities. Then, their message to the public can be simple – a direct message about where and how they plan to allocate public art dollars.
Derezinski advocated for being general about their priorities, and not attaching specific dollar amounts or even percentages to those priorities. He didn’t want to get “trapped” into criticism that they haven’t exactly followed their plan.
Aaron Seagraves suggested that further development of the master plan could be handled by a committee formed for that purpose. Marsha Chamberlin, AAPAC’s chair, indicated that a committee-of-the-whole would be preferable, in her view. “Today was very energizing,” she said.
John Kotarski agreed, saying that all commissioners should have a voice in developing the master plan.
Seagraves noted that though discussions could continue about the master plan, the annual plan needed to be done quickly. Given the April 1 deadline for turning the annual plan over to the city council, he said, AAPAC would need to finalize it at their next meeting, on March 28. He reminded commissioners that the annual plan is a list of general projects – it doesn’t need to include specific budgets.
The annual plan for the current fiscal year, for example, lists 10 projects for the period from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012: [.pdf of FY2012 annual plan]
- Complete the Justice Center/City Hall exterior art installation.
- Select and install one interior project at the Justice Center/City Hall.
- Re-install the Kamrowski murals in the Justice Center/City Hall.
- Continued development of the public art project at the Fuller Road Transit Station. Artist selection is anticipated to occur in FY 2012.
- Complete the Mural Program pilot and evaluate program for continuation.
- Evaluate opportunity for a public art project associated with a River Art Trail that includes the Gallup Canoe Livery, Argo Headrace. Coordinate with Park and Recreation.
- Evaluate opportunity for a public art project associated with the Manchester Elevated Water Tank painting project scheduled to occur in FY 2013.
- Evaluate opportunity for a public art project associated with the Stadium Bridges project.
- Continue exploration of Sun Dragon repairs/replacement pending results of the feasibility study.
- Evaluate opportunity for a pilot public art program at bus stops in collaboration with the AATA.
Commissioners listed off several projects that could be part of the next annual plan. Some are carry-overs from the current plan, including the East Stadium bridges project, the mural project, the river art trail, and the Sun Dragon repairs. Possible new projects include developing a master plan.
Next Steps: Possible New Projects
Cathy Gendron advocated the inclusion at least one project that was a priority for AAPAC, noting that many current projects were suggestions from city staff. Commissioners shouldn’t lose sight of the need to be proactive, rather than simply reactive, she said. When Bob Miller suggested that such a project could be guided by the recent survey results, Gendron cautioned that the survey wasn’t comprehensive. The results could be part of their decision-making, but shouldn’t be the only consideration, she said.
Seagraves suggested that commissioners give that type of project some thought, and they could discuss it at the March 28 meeting.
Marsha Chamberlin reported that she’d been contacted by the Main Street Area Association and the Downtown Development Authority about possibly partnering on a Main Street project. The street is scheduled to be resurfaced in 2013, she said, and there’s interest in “street stamping” as part of that resurfacing project. That might include creating patterns at crosswalks, for example. She said it’s in the early stages, and is something for AAPAC to discuss.
John Kotarski noted that this type of project would be perfect for an artist-in-residence, but they need to clarify whether the Percent for Art funds can support something like that.
Gendron mentioned that she’d had a discussion with Bill Martin, a local developer whose company – First Martin Corp. – owns several prominent properties in town. He has pledged $10,000 for some kind of art project along the North Main corridor, she said. He likes the idea of putting banners along that stretch, Gendron said, adding that she thought he could be convinced to support other ideas instead.
By the end of the retreat, commissioners had also generated a “parking lot” list of issues – that can be “parked” for now, but need to be discussed in the future. Those issues are:
- Develop a marketing plan.
- Clarify the process of appointing task forces.
- Clarify roles and responsibilities for different groups (AAPAC, art administrator, etc.) and identify gaps.
- Work with the city council to see if amendments to the public art ordinance are needed.
- Review and possibly modify AAPAC’s committee structure.
- Discuss whether AAPAC should provide a framework for doing projects.
- Formalize a city staff liaison for the capital improvements plan, so that AAPAC can give early input into capital projects.
- Identify a structure or mechanisms for accomplishing AAPAC’s goals.
Commissioners present: Connie Rizzolo Brown, Marsha Chamberlin, Tony Derezinski, Cathy Gendron, John Kotarski, Bob Miller, Theresa Reid, Wiltrud Simbuerger, Malverne Winborne. Also Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator.
Next regular meeting: Wednesday, March 28, 2012 at 4:30 p.m. at city hall, 301 E. Huron St. [confirm date]
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