Public Art Commission Works on Strategic Plan

Also: North Main task force, Golden Paintbrush, Allmendinger mural

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.

Public art planning process

Draft of a schematic showing the Ann Arbor public art commission's process, from ideas through implementation. Other steps include decision-making, task force work, artist proposals, and selection. The flow chart is being designed by Hannah Nathans, a University of Michigan undergraduate who's working as an intern with the city. (Photos by the writer.)

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.”

Connie Rizzolo Brown

Connie Rizzolo Brown, pictured here at AAPAC's April 2012 meeting, volunteered to be the commission's representative on a North Main/Huron River corridor task force.

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.

Strategic Planning

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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  1. By abc
    May 29, 2012 at 4:02 pm | permalink

    I am curious as to why the AAPAC is designing a flow chart. Is it for their internal use so they know the steps, or is it to show the public the process they follow? I am also curious if what they are representing is the process they have been following, or will be following? Or is it both? Also I’d love to be able to see it better and to be able to read it. Is there a better view somewhere?

    There has been a lot of discussion about process over the last months at the AAPAC and I have been left with the feeling that the process may not be known or agreed upon by the Commissioners. There are discussions of possible sites but who identifies them? (Better yet, who rejects them?) There have been discussions of an evaluation rubric but is one being used? Commissioners have discussed the desire to integrate art into the selected project, as opposed to just decorating it, but they are still too late to do that for most projects on the list.

    I also have to question a possible public art project at the planned South State and Ellsworth roundabout. Is that really the best place for the next piece of public art or is it because a lot of yellow vehicles will be converging on that location soon? How was that site tested or challenged as a site for a work of art? For what it is worth, I am fairly sure that 3 of the 4 corners there are in Pittsfield Township.

    Now don’t get me wrong I think you can have art anywhere (and I really mean that) but the site will call the kind of art it wants, and that may not be immediately palatable to the public at large. If you asked me today what I think that roundabout location wants I would say something made from cars; think Cadillac Ranch or Carhenge. Maybe something crash-like, violent and gritty. I think cars could have the right scale as it would need to compete with all of the visual noise at that location. And at the same time its not a great place to do something inviting as we do not want to encourage people to be walking to the center of the circle.

  2. May 29, 2012 at 4:17 pm | permalink

    Re: [1] flowchart

    I’ll try to follow up to see if we can’t eventually track down a legible version of that.

    Re: [2] roundabout

    I’m thinking the middle of a roundabout might not be a great place to put anything that would distract a driver’s focus. Having spent some time one day in the middle of a roundabout, it’s my observation that drivers will look at whatever interesting thing might be there.

  3. By Mary Morgan
    May 29, 2012 at 6:16 pm | permalink

    I’m not sure about the genesis or purpose of the flow chart – it wasn’t discussed, and was simply shown briefly to commissioners as something that the intern is working on. I’ll see if I can get a copy.

    I should also stress that these ideas – including the suggestion of art at the State/Ellsworth roundabout – were part of a brainstorming session. It’s my understanding that they did not settle upon these ideas as ones that they will definitely pursue. Nor are the ideas exhaustive – the intent is to continue the discussion.

    You are absolutely correct that there’s been a lot of talk at AAPAC meetings about process. That’s been true since I started covering these meetings in 2008, and it tends to spike when new commissioners join the group. Three new commissioners (Bob Miller, John Kotarski and Theresa Reid) have joined within the past six months or so.

    Speaking of process – the planning commission is wrapping up its dinner break and getting ready to start Hour 4 of its retreat. Time to get back to that.

  4. By James Jefferson
    May 29, 2012 at 9:54 pm | permalink

    I have been contacting board members, city council reps, and the public art commissioner, and no one has had the decency to respond to my inquiries about public art projects. What does it take in this city to get involved in the processes that spend our tax dollars? I think it is pretty sad that just a handful of people (the same few people, it seems) get to decide how our city is shaped, with little or no public input allowed. It is time to put a stop to the city hall cronyism that rules Ann Arbor.

  5. By abc
    May 30, 2012 at 1:27 am | permalink

    Mary (and Dave) – speaking of process – yours is commendable. Thank you for spending all of the time you do.

    Re: the middle of a roundabout – Yes I had the same thought, if the middle of a roundabout were too lookworthy (for lack of a better word) could it cause a lack of focus. I have been guilty in certain circumstances. But I have never driven the Arc de Triomphe. Its a good thing too.

  6. By Suswhit
    May 30, 2012 at 10:53 am | permalink

    Wasn’t there a tree in the middle of one of the roundabouts near Skyline that was promptly demolished by a confused driver? I’d say the outsides of the roundabouts fair no better given the state of the light poles.

  7. By john floyd
    May 31, 2012 at 12:28 am | permalink


    Are you suggesting that you are an interesting distraction?

    James Jefferson,

    The August primary, and November general election, are great opportunities for getting the attention of incumbants. When officials feel unaccountable, they stop paying attention.