Long-Term Planning for Ann Arbor Public Art

Art commissioners set annual plan; OK $400K for E. Stadium art

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (March 28, 2012): With four of the nine commissioners absent, AAPAC approved the budget for its next major project, allocating up to $400,000 for art tied to the East Stadium bridges reconstruction.

Rose White Park

Rose White Park, adjacent to East Stadium Boulevard, is one location being considered for public art in a $400,000 budget approved by public art commissioners for the East Stadium bridges project. The blue tarp on the fence in the background serves to separate the park from the bridge construction. (Photos by the writer.)

A task force had recommended that the project be well-funded, because the location would be a highly visible landmark marking an entrance into the city – it’s near Michigan Stadium and the Crisler Center, for example. No artist has been selected yet, nor has a request for proposals been issued – that’s under review by the city attorney’s staff.

The artist would have a large role in selecting locations for the artwork. Places for art might include the underpass and staircases at South State Street; the fence along Rose White Park, which is adjacent to East Stadium Boulevard; or the bridges themselves, spanning over railroad tracks and South State Street. Any final project and budget would require the city council’s approval.

The commission postponed action on a proposal related to artwork at Argo Cascades, the new Huron River bypass near Argo Pond. Neither of the two commissioners who serve on a task force for the project – Malverne Winborne and John Kotarski – attended the AAPAC meeting, and other commissioners felt more information was needed before moving forward.

Final touches were put on an annual public art plan for FY 2013, describing projects that AAPAC intends to work on between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013. [.pdf of FY 2013 annual public art plan] In addition to specific art projects like those for the East Stadium bridges and a mural at Allmendinger Park, the two-page document calls for developing a master plan for public art to guide future decision-making through 2016.

During the meeting, Aaron Seagraves – the city’s public art administrator – noted that nominations are being accepted through April 13 for the Golden Paintbrush awards, which recognize local contributions to public art. A nomination form can be downloaded from the commission’s website.

The March 28 meeting was attended by three people who were not affiliated with the commission, including Jack Urban, a Kalamazoo County commissioner and chair of the Kalamazoo public arts commission. He noted that unlike Ann Arbor, the Kalamazoo public art commission does not have a funding source. So the group is looking to establish itself and seek financial support, he said.

Art Budget for East Stadium Bridges

On the agenda was an item to set the budget for artwork at the East Stadium bridges – currently being rebuilt by the city of Ann Arbor. AAPAC had voted to form a task force for the project at its September 2011 meeting, citing its importance as a gateway to the city. The bridges are located near Michigan Stadium on a major east-west artery.

A request for proposals (RFP) from artists is under review by the city’s legal staff and is expected to be issued in the coming weeks. Goals for the artwork include: (1) unifying an area that has highly diverse uses, including single-family homes, apartment buildings, student housing, retail, and university sports facilities (such as Michigan Stadium and the Crisler Center); (2) creating awareness for art with multiple audiences – drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians, neighbors, residents, out-of-town-visitors; and (3) creating multiple pieces that are tied together by a unifying theme.

Possible locations for the artwork include the fence along Rose White Park, which is adjacent to East Stadium; the end of White Street, which intersects with East Stadium; the north side of East Stadium Boulevard; the underpass and staircases at South State Street; and the East Stadium bridge abutments, sidewalk and railings.

Two AAPAC commissioners – Wiltrud Simbuerger  and Bob Miller – serve on a task force for the project. Other task force members are Nancy Leff of the Lower Burns Park Neighborhood Association; Jim Kosteva, University of Michigan director of community relations; David Huntoon, a principle of Intalytics; and Joss Kiely, a UM graduate student and community member.

Wiltrud Simbuerger

Wiltrud Simbuerger is an AAPAC commissioner who also serves on the task force for art at the East Stadium bridges.

Simbuerger and Miller said the task force felt strongly that because the location would be a highly visible landmark marking an entrance into the city, the project should be well-funded. About $100,000 is available from the Percent for Art money directly taken from the bridges project. That’s included in a balance of $529,251 that has accumulated for public art from streets-related capital projects. The city’s public art ordinance requires that 1% of all capital project budgets (up to a limit of $250,000 per project) be set aside for public art.

Simbuerger originally proposed $350,000, but Miller suggested that even more should be allocated. He made a formal motion for a $400,000 budget.

Commissioners discussed other possible projects that might be coming in the near future, including artwork for the North Main corridor and downtown Main Street. About $1.13 million of Percent for Art funds are currently unencumbered, and more funding will be added to that from upcoming capital projects. For example, Seagraves said that another $109,000 in Percent for Art funding is estimated to come from street projects alone in the next fiscal year.

Theresa Reid calculated that if $400,000 was allocated for the bridges artwork, plus estimated funding for other projects that are already in the works – including the mural program, and art for the Kingsley rain garden and Argo Cascades – that still leaves about $600,000 of the $1.13 million for other as-yet-unidentified projects. “I think that’s healthy,” she said. “We could do a lot with that.”

Outcome: The five commissioners present at the March 28 meeting unanimously voted to set a $400,000 budget for artwork at East Stadium bridges. The final budget and artist contract require approval by the city council.

Argo Cascades Art Proposal

Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, introduced the agenda item regarding art at Argo Cascades, the new Huron River bypass near the Argo Pond canoe livery. Commissioners were asked to recommend approval of developing an art project for the Cascades, as well as a budget.

No specific location has been identified for the work. A task force recommended instead to issue a request for proposals (RFP) and get input on the location from the artist who’s eventually selected for this project. About $175,000 is available for the project from money that has accumulated in the city’s Percent for Art fund. That money includes $155,561 from water-related capital projects and $19,655 from capital projects in the parks system. The city’s public art ordinance requires that 1% of all capital project budgets (up to a limit of $250,000 per project) be set aside for public art.

A mission statement developed by the project’s task force states: ”The Argo Cascades public art project will be informed by the historical connection of the urban city and the natural river at this location. The public art here will be a marker of the community’s interest in ‘facing the river,’ as it celebrates the river’s water quality, environmental assets, and recreational uses.”

Aaron Seagraves

Aaron Seagraves, Ann Arbor's public art administrator.

Neither of the two commissioners who are on a task force for the project – Malverne Winborne and John Kotarski – attended the AAPAC meeting. Other task force members are: Cheryl Saam, the city’s recreation facilities supervisor for the Argo and Gallup liveries; artist and former AAPAC chair  Margaret Parker; Cathy Fleisher, a local resident; Bonnie Greenspoon of the Ann Arbor Rowing Club; Julie Grand, chair of the city’s park advisory commission; and Colin Smith, parks and recreation manager.

Seagraves told commissioners that originally two parks – Argo and Gallup – were considered for a river art project. But a renovation of the Gallup livery has been pushed back, he said, so the focus is now on Argo.

Wiltrud Simbuerger said she found it hard to vote without a better understanding of the vision for the project. Connie Brown agreed, saying that in contrast, it had been clear what the task force for the East Stadium bridges project had envisioned.

Seagraves brought up another issue. If funds from the water-related capital projects are used, then the artwork’s theme must also be water-related. Parks funding doesn’t come with a thematic constraint, as long as it’s used in the parks. The task force needs to give direction on that, he said.

Other commissioners also felt they needed more information before voting on a budget. Marsha Chamberlin suggested tabling the item.

Outcome: The five commissioners at the March 28 meeting voted unanimously to table action on the Argo Cascades project.

Annual Public Art Plan

The city’s public art ordinance requires that AAPAC submit an annual plan to the city council by April 1, outlining public art projects anticipated for the coming fiscal year. The commission has been working on a public art plan for the city’s fiscal year 2013 – from July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013. The plan had been the topic of a four-hour retreat in late February.

About an hour was spent at the March 28 meeting thrashing through a draft of the plan, which had been proposed by AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin based on previous discussions. Much of the conversation involved word-smithing of the various objectives.

The final plan includes a list of five objectives for the next fiscal year:

  1. Develop a master plan for 2013-2016 that will create community engagement and expedite work of the commission.
  2. Advance the following projects that are underway, meeting all deadlines. All the projects have task force oversight, approved budgets, and are in various stages of completion. The projects are: (1) installation of Ed Carpenter’s “Radius” sculpture in the lobby of the Justice Center by November 2012 ($150,000); (2) a mural in Allmendinger Park by Mary Thiefels, to be completed by September 2012 ($12,000); (3) two additional murals by August 2013 ($40,000); (4) artwork for a rain garden at Kingsley and First by August 2013 ($27,000); (5) artwork for the East Stadium bridges by the fall of 2014 ($400,000); and (6) installation of artwork in the Detroit Institute of Art’s Inside|Out project by the spring of 2013 (budget TBD). That project involves installing framed reproductions from the DIA’s collection at outdoor locations on building facades or in parks.
  3. By June 2012, identify and prioritize new projects for FY 2013, allocating existing funds using agreed-upon criteria of type, location, and community involvement. The criteria will be defined during the master planning process.
  4. By Aug. 1, develop and begin to implement an effective communications plan about the uses and value of public art and the operation of the commission.
  5. Collaborate with commissions, organizations, and agencies to accomplish public art projects.

The first objective – developing a master plan – included details on its purpose. The intent of the master plan is to: (1) guide AAPAC’s efforts to include public art throughout the city, involve community groups and create substantial visibility for public art as an integral part of community life and a city asset; (2) train commissioners and task force members with the goal of increased community knowledge, engagement and advocacy for public art; and (3) better integrate the public art administrator with every city department with the goal of increasing public art in the city.

By way of background, there has been some confusion in past years regarding AAPAC’s annual plan. In 2010, the plan wasn’t approved by AAPAC until its June meeting. Last year, the plan was approved in late April. However, neither of those plans were forwarded to the city council until June of 2011 – an oversight attributed to the transition following the departure of the previous public art administrator, before Seagraves was hired. [.pdf of FY2012 public art plan][.pdf of FY2011 public art plan]

Previous public art plans have also differed in format. The plans previously have been lists of projects that AAPAC intends to work on, with the name of the commissioner who’s leading each project, but no budget amount indicated.

Some specific projects that were included in the past two plans but have not been completed have dropped off the current plan, and there has been no discussion about them at recent AAPAC meetings. Those past projects include: (1) a possible pilot public art program at bus stops in collaboration with the AATA; (2) possible public art associated with the Manchester elevated water tank painting project scheduled to occur in FY 2013; (3) continued exploration of repairs/replacement of the Sun Dragon sculpture at Fuller Pool; and (4) assisting the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority in developing a Hanover Park public art project.

Outcome: The five commissioners at the March 28 meeting reached consensus on the draft, with the understanding that some additional revisions would be made by AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin and distributed via email. [.pdf of final FY2013 annual public art plan]

Plaque, Name for Dreiseitl Sculpture

Wiltrud Simbuerger introduced the topic of a plaque for the Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture in front of city hall. She wanted the commission to start thinking about what kind of sign to put there – something is needed to indicate what it is, who made it, and how it works, she said.

Bob Miller, Connie Rizzolo Brown

Ann Arbor public art commissioners Bob Miller and Connie Rizzolo Brown at AAPAC's March 28, 2012 meeting.

Bob Miller asked for an update on the sculpture – had all the work been finished? Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, reported that there was still some fine-tuning that needed to be done in the spring. At that point, the water for the sculpture will be turned on.

Theresa Reid said that Dreiseitl should be asked to provide a name for his sculpture.

Commissioners then discussed the need for a larger sign that explains how the design of the entire plaza area and building helps manage the flow of rainwater. There was also some discussion about the need to develop a broader communications strategy, with a consistent design across all projects. Marsha Chamberlin suggested that the work be done by Quinn Evans Architects, which designed the new municipal center – including a renovated city hall, the adjacent new Justice Center building, and the front plaza area.

Commissioners eventually reached a consensus, directing Seagraves to initiate the effort and report back to AAPAC at their April 25 meeting.

Communications & Commentary

Several opportunities arose during the meeting for commissioners and the public art administrator to give updates and raise topics for discussion. There was also an opportunity for public commentary.

Comm/Comm: Public Commentary

Three members of the public attended AAPAC’s March meeting. It was a notable departure from the typical pattern, which is that attendees tend to be high school students fulfilling a class assignment, or people who end up serving as commissioners. (Two new commissioners, Bob Miller and John Kotarski, both attended several AAPAC meetings before being appointed last year.)

Jack Urban

Jack Urban, a Kalamazoo County commissioner and chair of the Kalamazoo public arts commission, attended AAPAC's March 28 meeting.

At the start of the meeting, AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin asked the visitors to introduce themselves, and commissioners did the same.

Ed Weiss said he was relatively new to town. He’d been reading online publications and had become incensed over some of the commentary he saw – for example, people calling the Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture in front of city hall “The Hurinal” (it’s located on Huron Street) and people complaining about funding for public art. He came to the meeting because he was interested in the city’s public art program.

Jack Urban introduced himself as a Kalamazoo County commissioner and chair of the Kalamazoo public arts commission, which was formed in partnership with the county and the cities of Kalamazoo and Portage. The group is trying to get itself restarted, he said. Unlike Ann Arbor, however, the Kalamazoo public art commission does not have a funding source. So the group is looking to establish itself and seek financial support, he said.

Also attending the meeting was Thomas Partridge, who arrived after the time allotted for public commentary. At the end of the meeting, both he and Weiss expressed some frustration that the agenda did not provide for a second public commentary slot at the end of the meeting. Weiss said it would be good to have a chance to provide feedback on the discussions that had taken place during the meeting.

Several commissioners acknowledged the frustration, but contended that this is standard practice for the city’s public meetings. [But in fact, most public meetings for city entitites – including those for the city council, planning commission, park advisory commission, greenbelt advisory commission and others – include public commentary at the start and end of each meeting.]

Comm/Comm: Administrator’s Report

At the start of the March 28 meeting, Aaron Seagraves – the city’s public art administrator – updated commissioners on several projects.

Nominations are being accepted until April 13 for the annual Golden Paintbrush awards, which recognize local contributions to public art. [.pdf of nomination form, which can be completed and emailed directly to Seagraves at aseagraves@a2gov.org] Last year’s winners were: (1) Krazy Jim’s Blimpie Burger, for the Snow Bears sculptures they build each winter in front of their business at Packard and South Division; (2) Mary Thiefels and Treetown Murals for the mural outside the Alley Bar along West Liberty; and (3) Peter Allen & Associates, for rock sculptures on North Main Street.

Seagraves also noted that the city council would be voting on approval of Ed Carpenter’s “Radius” sculpture its their April 2 meeting. AAPAC had recommended approval of the $150,000 work, to be located in the lobby of the Justice Center at Fifth & Huron. [The council subsequently voted to postpone action on that item until its May 7 meeting, expressing an interest in using the delay to explore the possibility of moving the security screening to a point well past the entrance in the interior of the building. The visibility of the proposed sculpture from outside the building was also a point of discussion.]

Related to artwork for a rain garden at Kingsley and First, Seagraves said the city’s purchase of that corner property has been completed. Connie Brown added that a full task force hasn’t yet been selected for that project, but the rain garden probably won’t be installed until the spring of 2013.

Comm/Comm: Allmendinger Mural

The contract with artist Mary Thiefels for a mural in Allmendinger Park is still in review by the city attorney’s office, Seagraves reported. The mural task force has met to discuss soliciting statements of qualifications (SOQs) in order to develop a pool of potential artists for future murals, he said.

Wiltrud Simbuerger, who leads the mural task force, reported that Thiefels had responded to the group’s request to alter her proposal – she submitted a revised project scope and budget, Simbuerger said. [AAPAC had discussed this issue at their January 2012 meeting, when they approved the selection of Thiefels for the project.] Thiefels now plans to work with local schools and incorporate ideas from students into her design, Simbuerger said, adding that this will be a much more powerful community approach.

Comm/Comm: Art Loan Project

Bob Miller said he’s interested in possibly developing a art loan program, which would allow the city to borrow artwork from other municipalities or institutions. It might involve setting up a permanent location to have rotating exhibits, he said.

Marsha Chamberlin noted that cities like Brighton and Canton have similar programs. Aaron Seagraves cited the Midwest Sculpture Initiative as another example.

Commissioners present: Connie Rizzolo-Brown, Marsha Chamberlin, Bob Miller, Theresa Reid, Wiltrud Simbuerger. Also Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator.

Absent: Tony Derezinski, Cathy Gendron, John Kotarski, Malverne Winborne.

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 at 4:30 p.m. at city hall, 301 E. Huron St. [confirm date]

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  1. By Alan Goldsmith
    April 8, 2012 at 7:16 am | permalink

    “Several commissioners acknowledged the frustration, but contended that this is standard practice for the city’s public meetings. [But in fact, most public meetings for city entitites – including those for the city council, planning commission, park advisory commission, greenbelt advisory commission and others – include public commentary at the start and end of each meeting.]”

    Wrong yet again.

    It’ not called ‘The Hurinal’ by lots of folks in the community. It’s called The URINAL. And that should be the official name.

  2. By Rod Johnson
    April 8, 2012 at 10:57 am | permalink

    Welcome to Ann Arbor, Ed Weiss. But why is he “incensed” that people have strongly held opinions? Did he elaborate?

    April 8, 2012 at 6:51 pm | permalink

    Funny to see an article about spending money on art work while the park sign in your picture apparently isn’t a priority — a tired, broken mess.

    How about fixing those kinds of things first !?

  4. By John Floyd
    April 8, 2012 at 11:19 pm | permalink

    If the art commission thinks that the Stadium Bridge is an entranceway to Ann Arbor, it tells us more about the commission than about the bridge. Perhaps they need to get around town and explore more.

  5. By Chuck Warpehoski
    April 8, 2012 at 11:26 pm | permalink

    How does the $400,000 figure for this project fit with the $250,000 per project cap in the percent for art program (as mentioned at [link] and elsewhere)?

  6. April 8, 2012 at 11:51 pm | permalink

    Re: $400,000 > $250,000 Huh?

    The $250,000 cap is on the 1% amount that must be allocated per capital project. But some projects don’t lend themselves to siting any art. If a capital project doesn’t inherently offer a reasonable place to site a piece of art that’s integrated into it, then the money can be “pooled” into some other project. That, I think, is what’s going on here. The $400,000 is a combination of funds that have been pooled from other projects.

  7. By Bob Elton
    April 9, 2012 at 8:08 am | permalink

    Interesting story, and it’s always informative to see what the Art Commission is thinking and planning.

    But there was no mention of the issue, raised last week, about the basic definition of public art. I’m referring to the issue of whether or not people have to submit to the security rules in order to view the public art in the lobby of city hall.

    When I served on the initial art commission, CAAP, sometimes as chair, there was a definition of public art written into our charter, and another in the bylaws we passed to begin operating. Public art is defined as art visible to the public without restraint. Spefically, art inside buildings could only be described as public art when the public was allowed unfettered access.

    So, if the public is NOT allowed unfettered access, is it still public art? Can funds earmarked for public art still be legally used whent he art is not available for public viewing?

    Have you considered asking those questions of the responsible people?

    Bob Elton

  8. By Mary Morgan
    April 9, 2012 at 9:21 am | permalink

    Re.: “But there was no mention of the issue, raised last week, about the basic definition of public art. I’m referring to the issue of whether or not people have to submit to the security rules in order to view the public art in the lobby of city hall.”

    At this meeting of the art commission there was no discussion about the security issue related to the proposed Justice Center lobby artwork – the meeting was held on March 28, prior to the April 2 city council meeting when the security issue was raised. In general, based on past discussions of the art commission that I’ve observed, commissioners generally do take into account the public accessibility of their projects.

    In the case of the Justice Center lobby, it was clear that security would be in place there. Here’s an excerpt from the project’s solicitation for an artist statement of qualifications/request for proposals:

    As visitors and staff enter the lobby of the AAJC, they will pass through a security check point and into the large open lobby area. A blue glass wall spans the length of the entire right side of the lobby area and floor to ceiling windows are on the remaining three walls. The artwork will be located in the southwest corner of the lobby. This corner currently has a public seating bench with a carpeted floor area underneath. Public traffic for the AAJC will be for the 15th District Court, Probation Office and Police Services.

    Specific attention needs to be given to the type of piece that can sustain a high traffic volume. This artwork should be a ceiling mounted or suspended piece that will be visible and make an impression looking in from both North Fifth Avenue and Huron Street (southwest corner) during the day and at night with either incorporated or reflected lighting. The artwork should complement the building and surrounding site environment. The artwork should speak to the public purposes of the building, which include public safety, justice, equality and security.

    Members of the task force who recommended Ed Carpenter’s proposal were Elaine Sims, Margaret Parker, Spring Tremaine, Karl Daubmann, Maureen Devine, Laura Rubin, Ray Detter, Margie Teal, Homayoon Pirooz, and Aaron Seagraves.

  9. By Bob Elton
    April 9, 2012 at 10:51 am | permalink

    The members of the task force might have unanimously agreed to the siting of the piece, but that isn’t a real indication that the siting of the piece mneets the requirements and/or bylaws of the commission.

    I’m almost certain that it would not have met the requirements of the original Commission on Art in Public Places. I seem to recall wrigint those requirements, but memory can be unreliable.

    If I didn’t have a day job, and a radio show, and a book to write, and a car to finish, I’d look into this myself. Surely these documents are in the public realm.


  10. By Mary Morgan
    April 9, 2012 at 2:19 pm | permalink

    Re. “Surely these documents are in the public realm.”

    The bylaws for the public art commission are posted on the commission’s website, as is a copy of the public art ordinance. [.pdf of AAPAC bylaws] [.pdf of public art ordinance]

    The ordinance defines public art 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.”

    The ordinance makes reference to the siting of public art only in a general way. There is no mention of a requirement for “unfettered access” or of the need for artwork to be “visible to the public without restraint.” Nor do I see any mention of requirements for location in the commission’s guidelines, which are also posted online. [.pdf of AAPAC guidelines]

    In reference to siting public art, the commission’s bylaws state only that the commission shall “Promulgate guidelines, subject to the approval of City Council, to implement the provisions of this chapter, including procedures for soliciting and selecting public art and for determining suitable locations for public art…”

    Based on their discussions that I’ve observed, art commissioners clearly believe that the Justice Center lobby is a public place that’s suitable for public art. I might personally wish for a more visible location for this or any other work – I rarely have occasion to enter that building – but it doesn’t appear to me that the ordinance, bylaws or guidelines constrain public art from being installed in that location.

  11. By tim
    April 26, 2012 at 3:25 pm | permalink

    A few random thoughts.

    1. I wonder if any thought was given during the conceptualization of the bridge, that the bridge itself could be art or sculpture?

    2. I like the Master Plan. I think the City ought to be able to map locations and a walking tour of public art, not just provide it for people in cars.

    3. The conditions should dictate that the art come from within the community.

    4. I’m not sure where Ed Weiss came from. But if I were him I’d take the commentary as a sign that people care about the town in which they live. There is no consensus on art, and I hate to say it but I share the opinion of the City Hall fountain and the building addition. It’s an ugly Bauhaus leftover with no character or relation to anything local or regional.

    Someday the city will get over it’s inferiority complex and embrace architecture with a tie to – well – anything.

  12. April 26, 2012 at 4:20 pm | permalink

    I have pretty much exhausted my share of the public forum on this subject. But I would like to express the wish that they would leave the Argo Cascades alone. Nature should be enjoyed in its own right. That is also not a particularly “public” siting, as only a minor section of the public is likely to attain access.

  13. By tim
    April 27, 2012 at 10:49 am | permalink

    Vivienne, I disagree with your logic for opposing art sited in Argo Cascades. This is not a nature preserve, it is a public space that’s about to grow in size and increase in use. In my opinion, it shouldn’t be a nature preserve – to me that indicates that man has no place in this space. The relationship of Argo Cascades to the surrounding urban area should be more appropriate than that of a nature preserve.

    Bikers, runners, walkers, paddlers sounds like a pretty holistic group of people. If the City does it’s work, the issue will be managing use conflicts and maintaining an oft-used space.