A special meeting of the Ann Arbor public art commission – to discuss a proposed public art millage – has been scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 15 at 4:30 p.m. in the basement conference room of city hall, 301 E. Huron.
The meeting is being called in response to an unexpected proposal by Ann Arbor city councilmember Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). At the council’s Aug. 9 meeting, Taylor put forward a resolution that would place a question on the Nov. 6 ballot, asking Ann Arbor voters to pay a 0.1 mill tax for four years to support public art. The public art commission, which oversees the current Percent for Art program, had not previously been consulted about the proposal, and AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin had only been informed of it a few days prior to its presentation to council. [See Chronicle coverage: "Public Art Millage Mooted, Postponed."]
Taylor presented the resolution on Aug. 9, but then sought its immediate postponement until the council’s Aug. 20 meeting. A council decision on Aug. 20 would allow for some public discussion before taking action to put the proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot, while still meeting the statutory deadline for delivering ballot language to the Washtenaw County clerk.
The ballot question would read: “Shall the Charter be amended to limit sources of funding for public art and to authorize a new tax of up to one-tenth (0.10) of a mill for 2013 through 2016 to fund public art, which 0.10 mill will raise in the first year of levy the estimated revenue of $459,273?”
The public art millage would at least temporarily replace the city’s current Percent for Art program, which was approved by the council in 2007, but has been controversial. The program requires that 1% of the budget for any capital improvement project be set aside for public art – up to a cap of $250,000 per project. For the current fiscal year, it’s estimated that $320,837 in new revenues will be made available through this funding mechanism. That’s in addition to about $1.367 million in unspent funds that have accumulated from previous years.
Supporters of public art have mobilized in the past when some councilmembers previously proposed reducing the amount collected for the Percent for Art program, and similar efforts have launched against the current millage proposal. On Monday, Aug. 13, former AAPAC chair Margaret Parker sent an email criticizing the effort: ”No sooner were the City Council primaries over, losing one strong public art supporter and gaining two negative votes, than the five year old Percent for Art program is up for grabs. Years of planning, community surveys, peer community research, and city and community input are now to be swept aside.”
Parker’s allusion to city council changes refers to Tony Derezinski, a Ward 2 incumbent who lost the primary to fellow Democrat Sally Petersen. Derezinski serves on AAPAC and has been an advocate of the Percent for Art program.
At this point, Taylor’s proposal does not eliminate the Percent for Art program or its funding. While the proposed millage would temporarily replace the Percent for Art funding mechanism, it would continue to exist if the millage referendum failed on Nov. 6, or if the millage were not renewed in four years. That could change if the council decides to eliminate the Percent for Art funding prior to the Nov. 6 election. If the Percent for Art funding mechanism were to be rescinded before the millage vote, then the millage vote would be just about the question of support for public funding of art, not a choice of mechanism.