Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (May 23, 2012): Much of this month’s AAPAC meeting was focused on developing a strategic plan for the next three years, with commissioners brainstorming about possible locations and types of public art projects they’d like to see in Ann Arbor.
Ideas included public art at the planned South State and Ellsworth roundabout, projects in underserved neighborhoods, the traffic island at the Washtenaw split with East Stadium, the dog park at Ellsworth and Platt, the non-motorized path along Washtenaw Avenue, and the skatepark at Veterans Memorial Park. About $500,000 is available in unallocated Percent for Art funds, with an estimated $200,000 to $300,000 coming in to the program annually from upcoming capital projects.
The discussion led some commissioners to speculate on the possibility of changing the composition of AAPAC to increase the number of commissioners, so that more people would be available to handle the work. Another possibility they discussed was making the public art administrator’s job a full-time position. Currently, the public art administrator’s job is defined as 20 hours per week, with additional hours added for management of specific projects. After some discussion, it seems unlikely that commissioners will pursue either of those options at this time.
The commission handled two action items during the May 23 meeting. Connie Rizzolo Brown was recommended to represent AAPAC on a new city task force for the North Main/Huron River corridor. The task force had been established by the city council at its May 7, 2012 meeting with 10 members, then expanded at the council’s May 21 meeting to include four additional members. The council vote to add an AAPAC representative had passed on a 6-5 split, with some councilmembers concerned that the group was getting too large.
At their May 23 meeting, art commissioners also voted to fully fund the mural project at Allmendinger Park for $12,000. Previously, an initial $10,000 budget later had been increased to $12,000, with $7,200 of that amount to be paid for with a grant from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation. But the city council first must formally accept the grant, and that’s not expected to happen until its June 18 meeting. Meanwhile, Percent for Art funds will be allocated to the project so that a contract can be executed with artist Mary Thiefels. The foundation grant will eventually reimburse the program for this project.
Also discussed at Wednesday’s meeting were the upcoming Golden Paintbrush awards, which will likely be presented at the city council’s June 18 meeting. The awards recognize local contributions to public art. This year, former AAPAC chair Margaret Parker will be among those artists honored.
North Main/Huron River Task Force
At the Ann Arbor city council’s May 21 meeting, councilmember Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) lobbied successfully to add a member of the city’s public art commission to a task force that had been created by council to study the corridor along North Main Street and the Huron River. Derezinski is also a member of AAPAC.
The task force was established by the city council at its May 7, 2012 meeting, with 10 members in the following areas: one member of the park advisory commission, one member of the planning commission, one resident representing the Water Hill neighborhood, one resident representing the North Central neighborhood, one resident from the Old Fourth Ward, one resident representing the Broadway/Pontiac neighborhood, two business and property owners from the affected area, and one member of the Huron River Watershed Council.
At its May 21 meeting, the two sponsors of the resolution that created the task force – Ward 1 councilmembers Sabra Briere and Sandi Smith – proposed adding three additional representatives: a member of the city council, someone from the boating/fishing community of river users, and a representative from the Huron River Citizens Association.
Derezinski then proposed an amendment to add an AAPAC member to the task force, too. After some discussion – and concerns that the task force was growing too large – the AAPAC addition was passed by council on a 6-5 vote.
At AAPAC’s May 23 meeting, Derezinski told commissioners that “basically, we need someone at the table.”
The task force is charged with delivering a report to the city council more than a year from now (by July 31, 2013) that describes “a vision to create/complete/enhance pedestrian and bike connection from downtown to Bandemer and Huron River Drive, increase public access to the river-side amenities of existing parks in the North Main-Huron River corridor, ease traffic congestion at Main and Depot at certain times of a day and recommend use of MichCon property at Broadway; …”
Earlier than the due date for the main main report is a Dec. 31, 2012 deadline for the task force to make recommendations on the use of the city-owned 721 N. Main parcel.
AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin noted that several commissioners had expressed interest in being on the task force. Cathy Gendron, who’s been talking with developer Bill Martin about a possible public/private partnership along the North Main corridor, said she probably shouldn’t do it since her term ends later this year and she’s not seeking reappointment. Gendron has served on AAPAC since its formation in 2008.
Connie Rizzolo Brown, who has served on AAPAC since early 2009, noted that her term also ends in December 2012, but she wanted to volunteer for the task force. She is a principal of Rizzolo Brown Studio, an Ann Arbor architectural design firm. Chamberlin noted that Brown – who leads AAPAC’s projects committee – has been interested in gateway projects for a long time.
Outcome: Commissioners unanimously voted to recommend that Connie Rizzolo Brown be nominated for a position on a task force to study the corridor along North Main Street and the Huron River. That recommendation will be forwarded to mayor John Hieftje. Appointments are expected to be made at the council’s June 4 meeting.
Funding for Allmendinger Mural
Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, brought forward an item asking the commission to allocate full funding to the Allmendinger mural project from the Percent for Art program. AAPAC selected Ann Arbor muralist Mary Thiefels of TreeTown Murals for the project at its Jan. 25, 2012 meeting. An initial $10,000 budget later had been increased to $12,000, with $7,200 of that amount to be paid for with a grant from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation.
However, the foundation grant must first be formally accepted by the Ann Arbor city council, and that hasn’t happened yet, Seagraves said. It is expected to be on the council’s June 18 agenda. In order to move ahead with the project and execute a contract with Thiefels, Seagraves asked commissioners to approve full funding of the project from Percent for Art funds, with the understanding that $7,200 of the funding would be reimbursed with the community foundation grant after it’s accepted by the council.
Wiltrud Simbuerger, who leads the mural task force, said Thiefels has already started working on the project, even without a contract. Marsha Chamberlin noted that AAPAC had been contacted by the community foundation regarding the grant about a year ago – it’s taken a long time to process.
Thiefel’s project includes working with local schools and incorporating ideas from students into her design – creating mosaics at the top and bottom of pillars on the building at Allmendinger Park. This is the first mural in a pilot program that AAPAC hopes will eventually create several murals in city neighborhoods. The commission’s annual art plan for fiscal year 2013 – which begins July 1, 2012 – allocates an additional $40,000 to fund two more murals. No locations or artists have been selected for those projects.
Outcome: Commissioners approved funding for the Allmendinger mural, with planned reimbursement from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation grant.
Communications: Golden Paintbrush Awards, Townie Party
During her report from the public relations committee, Cathy Gendron gave an update on plans for the Golden Paintbrush awards. The annual awards are presented at a city council meeting and recognize local contributions to public art. Though all of the winners have not been publicly announced, AAPAC’s discussion made it clear that one of the awards will be given to Margaret Parker, AAPAC’s former chair who left the commission when her term ended last year.
Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, indicated that he hadn’t yet been able to confirm that the awards were on the June 4 city council agenda. Marsha Chamberlin, AAPAC’s chair, told commissioners that Seagraves wouldn’t be able to attend the June 4 meeting because he’ll be out of town – he’s getting married on June 2. Commissioners discussed moving the awards to the June 18 meeting, to accommodate his schedule. He said he’d check with the award winners to see if they can attend on the 18th, and also if it’s possible to place the presentation on the city council agenda for that meeting.
After the city council presentation, a reception for the Golden Paintbrush winners is planned in the atrium of city hall, at 301 E. Huron. Commissioners discussed inviting others who’ve been instrumental in public art activities, including members of various AAPAC task forces.
Gendron also noted that the PR committee is preparing for this year’s Townie Street Party, held on Monday, July 16 at Ingalls Mall. It’s an annual event hosted by the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair prior to the art fairs, which this year run from July 18-21. Gendron hoped that other commissioners would help shoot video at the party, talking to people about why public art is important.
Bob Miller noted that he’d been recruited to AAPAC as the result of meeting commissioner Malverne Winborne at last year’s Townie Street Party.
Communications: Update from City Council
In addition to the discussion about the North Main corridor task force, Tony Derezinski told commissioners that the May 21 city council meeting had included a proposed budget amendment that would have “tickled” the public art commission’s work. But that amendment was defeated, he said. [For a close look at budget deliberations on this and other amendments, see Chronicle coverage: "Debate Details: Ann Arbor FY 2013 Budget."]
The budget amendment, brought forward by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Jane Lumm (Ward 2), would have eliminated $307,299 in transfers to public art. It was rejected on a 2-9 vote, with support only from Kunselman and Lumm. It stipulated that the transfers from various city funds into the public art fund would not take place, “notwithstanding city code” – a reference to the city’s Percent for Art ordinance. The Percent for Art ordinance requires that 1% of all capital improvement projects, up to a cap of $250,000 per capital project, be set aside for public art. The amendment would have prevented the transfer of $60,649 out of the drinking water fund, $22,400 out of the stormwater fund, $101,750 out of the sewer fund, and $122,500 out of the street millage fund.
The council had re-debated its public art ordinance most recently at its May 7, 2012 meeting, in the context of a sculpture for the Justice Center lobby, which was ultimately approved.
At AAPAC’s May 23 meeting, Derezinski said he’d told his fellow councilmembers that this amendment was part of a continued way of “nibbling us by ducks” – alluding to other previous attempts to scale back the Percent for Art program. He said he would have used the expression “death by a thousand cuts,” but felt that was too bloody for the council.
Commissioners spent much of their May 23 meeting talking about strategic planning, picking up on a four-hour retreat they had held in April. [See Chronicle coverage: "Shaping Ann Arbor's Public Art Landscape."] They had originally intended to schedule a second retreat, but opted instead for tackling the topic at a regular meeting.
AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin began by saying that although the commission has previously talked about developing a master plan, she felt that the term “strategic plan” was more appropriate and was a better way to capture what AAPAC was trying to do. She brought a draft of a strategic plan, as a way to start the discussion. [.pdf draft strategic plan]
Wiltrud Simbuerger proposed thinking of the strategic plan in terms of a plan of action. That might include allocating a certain percentage of funds to particular types of projects – gateway projects, or public art in neighborhoods, for example. Another approach would be to allocate percentages of funding to large, medium or small projects, as defined by budget size. She’d also like to see a mix of long-term and short-term projects, and for AAPAC to be proactive in their work, not just responsive to proposals that are submitted by others.
Cathy Gendron expressed some concern about whether the allocation of funds to a certain type of project would dictate its size. Does that tie AAPAC’s hands? Simbuerger said the intent would be to guide AAPAC’s work generally, but that they could stray from those general strategies based on community input or when opportunities arise.
Bob Miller asked about the funding outlook – what are the projects for Percent for Art revenues next year? Theresa Reid pointed to the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP), saying there are more than $1 billion worth of projects in that. She said AAPAC should be made aware of things like the CIP, which could directly impact their work. [While it's true that the most recent CIP – for the fiscal years 2013-2018 – identifies $1.13 billion in projects over that period, funding for a large portion of those projects has not been identified. To some extent, the CIP is considered a "wish list" of projects that city staff believe are needed. (.pdf of FY2013-2018 CIP)]
Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, said that in general, he’d estimate the Percent for Art program would bring in between $200,000 to $300,000 annually. [The program currently has about $500,000 in funds that have not yet been allocated to specific projects. About $629,000 in additional funds are set aside for projects that are underway, as summarized in the annual plan that AAPAC approved at its March 2012 meeting. (.pdf of FY 2013 annual public art plan)]
Gendron cautioned that commissioners need to keep in mind the constraints of the funding sources. [A percent of the budget for each city capital project – up to $250,000 per project – goes toward public art. But money earmarked for the Percent for Art program must be used for public art that somehow relates to the original funding source. For example, the Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture in front of city hall was paid for in part using Percent for Art funds from stormwater capital projects, because the city contends that the sculpture is "related to the purposes" of the stormwater fund.]
Commissioners spent a portion of the session brainstorming about projects they’d like to get started in the next three years. Suggestions included public art at the planned South State and Ellsworth roundabout, projects in underserved neighborhoods, the traffic island at the Washtenaw/East Stadium split, the dog park at Ellsworth and Platt, the non-motorized path along Washtenaw Avenue, and the skatepark at Veterans Memorial Park.
Also discussed was the typology of projects that AAPAC would like to pursue. Ideas included projects that are interactive, creative and connective with the community. Connie Rizzolo Brown cautioned that the commission shouldn’t be too specific in its direction, however. Development of specific projects should be the purview of task forces that are created for that purpose, and for the artists who are selected, she said.
Reid suggested that over the next month, commissioners should circulate more ideas via email to discuss at their June meeting. She also said she worried about capacity. With only nine commissioners and a part-time administrator, how much work could they shoulder? There was some discussion about the process of adding commissioners – it would require the city council to amend the Percent for Art ordinance, which sets forth the number of AAPAC members. Brown ventured that councilmembers might not be inclined to do that. [Tony Derezinski, who serves on both AAPAC and city council, had left the meeting early and was not part of the discussion at this point.]
Chamberlin noted that although the position of public art administrator is only a 20-hour-per-week job, Seagraves can also work additional hours as project manager for specific art projects. A project manager’s hours are funded from the Percent for Art dollars allocated to those projects. For example, Seagraves will be the project manager for the art installation at the Justice Center, which was approved by city council at its May 7, 2012 meeting.
Miller asked whether it would be possible to make the public art administrator’s job a regular 40-hour-per-week position. Chamberlin said it would take a lot of politicking and lobbying of city council, and it’s not likely something AAPAC should pursue at this point. However, as more projects are completed and councilmembers view the program as successful, she said, the council could probably see a rationale for making it a full-time job. Miller noted that if the administrator works more hours, AAPAC can get more accomplished.
Commissioners present: Connie Rizzolo Brown, Marsha Chamberlin, Tony Derezinski, Cathy Gendron, Bob Miller, Theresa Reid, Wiltrud Simbuerger. Also Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator.
Absent: John Kotarski, Malverne Winborne.
Next regular meeting: Wednesday, June 27, 2012 at 4:30 p.m. at city hall, 301 E. Huron St. [Check Chronicle events listing to confirm date]
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