Ann Arbor public art commission special meeting (Aug. 15, 2012): Ann Arbor city councilmember Christopher Taylor stunned many in the arts community by unexpectedly proposing a public arts millage for the Nov. 6 ballot. He took that action at the council’s Aug. 9 meeting – two days after the Aug. 7 primary.
At that meeting, he indicated a desire to start a conversation about public arts funding, and expressed the hope of getting input from the Ann Arbor public art commission and the community in general.
Some of that conversation took place at the public art commission’s Aug. 15 meeting, which ended in a vote of support for the millage proposal.
Much of the reaction so far from the arts community has focused on the short timeframe until the November election, and the lack of clarity that a yes or no vote would indicate, based on the wording of the proposal.
In response to that perceived lack of clarity, on Friday, Aug. 17, councilmember Jane Lumm (Ward 2) added a resolution to the Aug. 20 council agenda that would lead to a choice for voters on Nov. 6 between: (1) a millage to support public spending on art; or (2) no continued accumulation of public funds to be spent on art. Her resolution would direct city attorney staff to prepare ordinance language to repeal the funding mechanism in the Percent for Art ordinance – effective July 1, 2013. The intent is to repeal the ordinance in a way that allows funds already set aside for art to be spent on art, and to provide for maintenance of existing works.
If approved by the council on Aug. 20, Lumm’s resolution would lead in late September to the first of two city council votes necessary to repeal the ordinance section. In part, Lumm’s resolution states that “to truly enfranchise residents, voters should be offered a clear, yes/no choice on public funding for public art rather than an either/or choice of the mechanism used to fund public art; …” [.pdf of Lumm's draft resolution and memo]
Lumm’s resolution hadn’t been proposed when AAPAC held its special meeting on Wednesday to focus on Taylor’s millage proposal. The commission had essentially been forced to call a special session because its next regular meeting, on Aug. 22, falls after an expected vote by the council on Aug. 20.
The special meeting drew more public commentary than at any of AAPAC’s previous meetings. Nine people spoke, including leaders of several local arts institutions: Deb Polich of the Arts Alliance, Russ Collins of the Michigan Theater, Mark Tucker of FestiFools, and former AAPAC chair Margaret Parker, among others. Several more people attended but did not formally address the commission.
It seemed clear that neither commissioners nor members of the arts community who spoke during public commentary had been consulted about the millage proposal, and only a few had been informed that it would be brought forward. While there was broad support for the idea of a public arts millage, many people questioned the timing and felt that 11 weeks until the Nov. 6 election was too short a time to mount a successful millage campaign.
When asked by commissioners who would lead such a campaign, Taylor said he assumed it would be led by the arts community, with money raised from private contributions. He felt the amount of time was sufficient, and that the millage would be approved by voters. He thought the November election would be a good time for the vote, with higher participation by students and renters – that’s a good core, he said.
During AAPAC’s meeting, Taylor told commissioners that if a millage vote is delayed, that puts the current Percent for Art program at risk. He said his sense is that the risk is growing, though he was unclear about why he believes that’s the case. Marsha Chamberlin, AAPAC’s chair, wondered whether the concern stems from a change in composition to the council, following the November election. Taylor did not respond directly to that question.
In the Aug. 7 primary election, Democrat Sally Petersen defeated incumbent Tony Derezinski in Ward 2 – Derezinski also is a member of AAPAC, though he has not attended a regular meeting since May, and did not attend the Aug. 15 special session. No incumbents ran in the Ward 1 and Ward 5 races, where Democrats Sumi Kailasapathy and Chuck Warpehoski prevailed in their respective primaries. No Republican is running against Petersen or Kailasapathy in November. And though Warpehoski faces Republican Stuart Berry in Ward 5, it’s likely that Warpehoski will win that heavily Democratic ward. Taylor is also running for re-election, but was unopposed in the Ward 3 Democratic primary and is unchallenged in November.
In a pre-election survey conducted by the Arts Alliance, Petersen indicated support for the Percent for Art program, though she suggested some changes. Warpehoski supported “looking for ways to establish a more flexible funding stream for the arts.” Kailasapathy did not respond to the survey, according to the alliance, but her campaign website did not list public art among her priorities. [.pdf of Arts Alliance candidate survey]
In general, another complicating factor with the millage proposal is a separate effort to develop a countywide plan and funding mechanism for public art. The Arts Alliance is leading that initiative, and earlier this year applied for a $100,000 grant through the National Endowment for the Arts “Our Town” program to help fund it. At AAPAC’s Aug. 15 meeting, Polich – the alliance’s executive director – advocated for more time so that a fully-developed, comprehensive strategy could be prepared.
Polich questioned how the millage rate was determined in Taylor’s proposal – a 0.1 mill tax for four years. She raised the concern that the city is “leaving money on the table” – that is, it’s possible that voters would be willing to pay more for public art than the amount proposed. Polich also mentioned concerns about the millage’s potential impact on private contributions to arts and cultural organizations, which wouldn’t necessarily get funding from a public arts millage. There might be confusion about that, making fundraising more difficult.
Despite a range of concerns, AAPAC ultimately voted unanimously to recommend that the council place the proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot. Among the commissioners, John Kotarski appeared to be the most enthusiastic supporter of the proposal, praising Taylor for bringing it forward.
The city of Ann Arbor already has one means of paying for works of art with public funds – the Percent for Art program, which is funded through a city ordinance. The context of the proposed millage is this existing funding program.
Background: Percent for Art
The current Percent for Art program has been in place since 2007. It 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. The program has generated just over $2 million, and more than $1 million in Percent for Art revenues have been expended to date – primarily for the program’s first and largest project, the Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture in front of city hall.
Projects paid for with Percent for Art funds are restricted in two major ways. They must be permanent “monumental” type art, which means that “temporary” art like performances or artist-in-residency programs can’t be supported with Percent for Art funds. The projects must also have some link to the funding source – that is, art paid for out of street millage revenues must be part of a street project, or incorporate street or transportation themes. This lack of flexibility has been a frequent criticism of the program. Questions also have been raised about the legality of diverting funds intended for capital projects to use for public art. The city attorney, Stephen Postema, has never made public a legal opinion on this issue.
The amount of funding has also been a point of contention. There have been three proposals brought by city councilmembers over the past few years to reduce funding for the program, though none have received enough votes on council to pass. There has never been a formal proposal to eliminate the program completely.
The idea of a millage for public art had been mentioned by councilmember Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) earlier this year, during the council’s May 7, 2012 meeting when councilmembers voted on artwork for the city’s new justice center. However, no formal proposal was presented or further discussed by the council. Nor was the issue pursued by the city’s public art commission, even though they recently crafted and approved a four-year strategic plan at their July 2012 meeting.
Background: Public Art Millage – Ann Arbor
So it came as a surprise to many – including Kunselman and other councilmembers, AAPAC members and leaders of the arts and cultural community – when Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) proposed putting a public arts millage on the Nov. 6 ballot. He took that action at the council’s Aug. 9 meeting. An email from assistant city attorney Abigail Elias to Taylor and mayor John Hieftje on July 25 indicated that by then the ballot language had already been reviewed by the state’s attorney general.
The ballot proposal would levy a 0.1 mill tax for a four-year period, which would bring in an estimated $450,000 annually. The proposal is worded so that passage of the millage would suspend the collection of Percent for Art funds under the city’s ordinance only during the four-year period of the millage. So if voters approved the public art millage this year, and then failed to approve a millage renewal four years from now – either because the council did not place a renewal on the ballot, or voters rejected the renewal – the Percent for Art ordinance would again require that funds from capital project budgets be set aside for public art.
If approved by the city council on Aug. 20 as proposed, 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 corresponding charter language would be [emphasis added]:
Funds for Public Art
SECTION 8.24. In addition to any other amount which the City is authorized to raise by general tax upon the real and personal property by this Charter or any other provision of law, the City shall, in 2013 through 2016, annually levy a tax of up to one-tenth (0.10) of a mill on all taxable real and personal property situated within the City for the purpose of providing funds for public art, including but not limited to the permanent and temporary acquisition, maintenance and repair of works of art for display in or on public structures or sites and/or as part of or adjacent to public streets and sidewalks, and performance art on City streets, sidewalks or sites. Except for funds previously raised, set aside, allocated or otherwise designated to be used for public art, including such funds in the July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013 fiscal year budget, and except for funds that are received by grant, gift, bequest or other donation to the City for public art, for the duration of this millage, the City shall not raise, set aside or designate funds for public art in any other manner. This millage also shall not preclude the grant, gift, bequest or other donation to the City of works of art.
The reaction on Aug. 9 from councilmembers to Taylor’s proposal was generally positive, though considerable dissatisfaction was expressed regarding the secretive nature of the work that had produced it. In making the proposal on Aug. 9, Taylor first read a prepared statement then asked for postponement of the resolution. The council agreed unanimously to postpone action until its next meeting, on Aug. 20.
During council deliberations, Taylor indicated that he hoped to receive input from the public art commission, before the council voted on whether to put the proposal on the ballot. This essentially forced the commission to schedule a special meeting on the issue, as its next regular meeting – on Aug. 22 – fell after the Aug. 20 council meeting.
For additional background, see Chronicle coverage: “Ballot Questions: Parks, Public Art Funding” and “Column: Two Questions on Public Art.” Or click here for a list of Chronicle reports on past meetings of the Ann Arbor public art commission.
Background: Public Art Millage – Countywide?
Part of the dynamic related to the current Ann Arbor millage proposal is connected to a quiet discussion that’s been taking place about a possible countywide millage for public art. That effort is being led by the Arts Alliance and its Cultural Leaders Forum – an invitation-only group focused on advocacy and sustainable funding for local arts and culture.
Earlier this year, the alliance submitted a $100,000 grant proposal to the National Endowment for the Arts “Our Town” program. If awarded, the funding would be used to help develop a public arts master plan for Washtenaw County over an 18-month period. According to an excerpt from the grant proposal, the total budget for this effort would be about $400,000, with other funds anticipated to come from Washtenaw County government ($25,000); ArtServe Michigan ($5,000); the city of Ann Arbor/Ann Arbor public art commission ($5,000); the Cultural Alliance of Southeast Michigan ($5,000); the University of Michigan’s ArtsEngine program ($92,825); and the Huron River Watershed Council ($10,000).
Update after publication: The alliance has been informed that the NEA grant for this project would not be awarded. In an email to the proposal’s partners, Polich described it as a “blow to the full project” but indicated an intent to explore options and move forward with some aspects of the proposal.
The grant proposal noted that in 2008, the Arts Alliance developed a Washtenaw County cultural plan, as well as individual plans for seven communities within the county: Ann Arbor, Chelsea, Dexter, Manchester, Milan, Saline and Ypsilanti. Public art wasn’t a part of that plan, however. More recently, according to the proposal, the alliance “convened a meeting with all interested parties during which it was decided to have the Arts Alliance apply its expertise and the methodologies it used for the Cultural Plan to create a Washtenaw County Master Public Art Plan.”
Among the activities cited in the grant proposal, one major goal would be to “assign responsibility, stewardship and accountability” for public arts in Washtenaw County: “With citizen input, guiding principles, goals and best practices will be set to determine who is accountable for how public art is to be administered, funded, proposed, selected, installed and maintained in each city specifically and in the county in general.”
During the Aug. 15 AAPAC meeting, Theresa Reid – the commission’s newest member who’s also executive director of UM’s ArtsEngine – noted that the alliance’s Cultural Leaders Forum has discussed the possibility of a countywide millage. She said there doesn’t yet seem to be a consensus on how to proceed with that effort, and it’s unclear how long it might take to put forward a countywide public arts millage. She noted that one concern is whether a public arts millage in Ann Arbor would undermine that broader effort.
Public Commentary: Pre-Vote
Eight people spoke to the commission at the start of AAPAC’s Aug. 15 meeting.
Margaret Parker introduced herself as an artist and co-owner of Downtown Home & Garden – her studio is located above the Ashley Street store. She noted that she served on the commission since it started in 2004, and had been chair for many of those years. She had helped get the Percent for Art ordinance passed and had helped develop the guidelines for the commission. Parker said when she first heard about the millage proposal, she had been shocked because it had happened so fast. She allowed that she’d made some errors in calculating how much the current program generated in revenues. She had been worried that the millage wouldn’t bring in as much, but now she felt it would be generally an even exchange. It would be a good start. She’s been told that a lot of the administrative duties would be the same, but there would also be different guidelines so a lot of their previous work “would be thrown out the window, but that’s how it goes.”
Parker was also concerned about the short time – until Nov. 6 about 11 weeks – but said it doesn’t appear they have a choice about it. She noted that other millages have passed, so while she was initially worried, she’s feeling better about the situation now.
Lynne Friman, a Saline resident and chair of the Ann Arbor-based Arts Alliance board, noted that the Ann Arbor region is widely recognized for its arts community. The area is an arts and cultural mecca and destination that’s known throughout the country. The community places a high value on arts and culture, she said. Adequate funding is critical to the growth and sustainability of the arts community throughout Washtenaw County. It’s disappointing that while other cities nationwide invest in their public art, Ann Arbor must continually defend the Percent for Art program. Friman noted that the Arts Alliance is exploring public arts funding across the county, possibly through set-asides in individual communities, or through with a countywide millage.
Friman told commissioners that the alliance is developing a public arts master plan for the entire county, an effort that has included several members of AAPAC, she said. While she applauded Taylor’s initiative, she would have preferred it if he had consulted the arts and cultural community to get a better understanding of the risks and impact of his millage proposal. The alliance believes that more time and thought is needed to work together, improving the current functioning program and determining what’s necessary to ensure that the Ann Arbor region benefits from a well-conceived, successful funding plan.
Shoshana Hurand, program manager for the Arts Alliance, said that everyone in the room supports arts and culture. Her points would be more focused on process and timing. If approved by voters, the millage would reflect that the community highly values the arts. But it takes 12-18 months to do a millage campaign properly, she noted – to consult with community leaders, get a sense of the appropriate millage rate, educate the community and select the right time to put it on the ballot. There needs to be sufficient time for all this to happen.
Hurand acknowledged that the Percent for Art program has issues. For example, she said she’d love to know the language that explains exactly what the Percent for Art funding can support. There needs to be time to explore other models. “We want to make sure we do this right,” she said, and that will take more than 11 weeks.
Tom Petiet introduced himself as a commercial artist and illustrator, and member of the Ann Arbor Comic Opera Guild. He indicated that the millage vote was essentially a good idea, in that it would allow everyone to know the public’s view. He wanted the support for arts to expand beyond the visual arts. This area probably has more performing artists than any other city of its size in the country, he said. But there’s no place to perform other than the university, and that’s too difficult. There’s no affordable rehearsal and performance space, he said. Arts groups are suffering from a lack of funding, and audience levels are also falling. That means more money has to be spent on advertising – all of this needs to be considered, Petiet said. The public art ordinance should be more inclusive, and should include funding for the creation of a public performance space. There’s an opportunity now, he said, and people would be receptive to the idea.
Russ Collins, executive director of the Michigan Theater, began by thanking commissioners for the work they do. He noted that he serves on the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, and indicated that he knows how hard it can be. He said he was glad that Taylor had brought forward the millage proposal, because now it creates a dialogue about funding arts in this community. He noted that the community hasn’t really funded the arts very much. Ann Arbor aggressively funds other things that contribute to quality of life – parks, schools, public transportation, the library. But the thing that’s missing is governmental funding of the arts. The No. 1 source of government funding for the arts comes from local communities, not the state or federal levels, he said. And in that regard, in general this community’s public funding for the arts hasn’t reflected its community values.
Collins said he was sorry that this conversation had been imposed on the commission, but it’s now the start of a dialogue. Yes, it’s a short time, he said, but he hoped this proposal could be leveraged into a dialogue about the broader role of government in subsidizing the arts. Our community has been very generous in private giving to sustain the arts, Collins said. The University of Michigan has also been very generous, and that’s often taken for granted. There needs to be a broader discussion within the county, he said, and they need more time to talk about these issues.
Mark Tucker told commissioners that he was there as a representative of FestiFools, FoolMoon, and as a resident and artist. Because Taylor had mentioned FestiFools and FoolMoon as a possible recipient of funding from a millage, Tucker felt it was appropriate to comment about it. The millage is a good idea, he said. It takes what’s already strong about the public art commission and the Percent for Art program, and releases some of the baked-in restrictions of the current ordinance. That’s beside the fact that FestiFools and FoolMoon might benefit from millage funding, he added – he noted that he’s been an outspoken supporter of the Percent for Art program even after receiving a letter from the commission stating that FestiFools couldn’t be funded by it. Tucker said he didn’t know about the timing of it, but he supported a millage. He hoped everyone could leave the room on the same page, heading in the same direction – with or without a millage.
Shary Brown, an Ann Arbor Township resident, described herself as a retired arts administrator. She was director of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair and before that was director of the Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair. It would be a terrific thing to look at funding episodic, temporary art events, she said. Ann Arbor is known for its stellar line-up of art festivals, which brings money into the community – money that’s spent locally. The Street Art Fair alone pays the city close to $60,000 in fees, she noted. She urged the commission to take a broad look at the issue, but she observed that the timing is very short to educate the arts community, let alone the community at large.
David Esau, of Cornerstone Design Architects, is an Arts Alliance board member, and said he endorsed the alliance’s position. He supports waiting on the millage, but if it does move forward, he’d encourage publicity about the parameters of what the millage can or can’t fund. He doesn’t want people to stop funding arts organizations, thinking that those organizations would be supported by the millage revenues.
Public Art Millage: Taylor’s Comments
Marsha Chamberlin, AAPAC’s chair, asked Christopher Taylor to talk about his proposal, joking that he’d get more than the three-minute speaking turn allowed for public commentary.
Taylor began by saying that he hadn’t prepared anything, because he hadn’t anticipated making a presentation. He noted that his proposal is clearly “animated” by the principle that public art is a public good. Arts and culture are one of the community’s core values, and it ought to be something that people can rally around and support. The current incarnation of the public art funding is contentious in a manner “that we all regret,” he said. To the extent that the program is contentious, it relates to the manner in which it’s funded, he said. It takes infrastructure dollars and uses them in a related manner for public art. That’s a policy matter, he said, and there’s some controversy about it. The current program also constrains the commission’s work and its ability to make decisions, he said. Those strong limitations are inhibiting the program’s success – it’s a vicious circle.
It appears that the way to fix this, Taylor said, is to revitalize the program by changing the funding model. He believes the millage would pass, and would demonstrate wholeheartedly the citizenry’s support for public art. And it would free the commission to use its best judgment about what to fund. The millage funds could be used for a broader range of projects, including performing art and temporary art.
Taylor explained that the current program is a “creature of the city council,” so passage or rejection of the millage wouldn’t automatically alter the Percent for Art ordinance language. The millage vote would be a point of information, one way or another, he said, as to whether the program would be continued. The millage wouldn’t terminate the program, he said.
The millage proposal was intended to initiate a conversation, Taylor said – and that’s happened, so that’s good. He thinks 11 weeks is sufficient time, and the November election is a good time for the proposal to be on the ballot. His emails are running more than 2-t0-1 in support of the millage, Taylor reported. That’s not scientific, but it’s encouraging.
Taylor told commissioners that there’s risk in delaying a millage vote. The current program is contentious. We live in a politicized environment, he added, and if nothing is done now – if there’s a delay in order to prepare for a millage vote several months away – that puts the current program at risk. What that risk is, he added, is impossible to say. But his sense is that the risk is growing.
Taylor concluded by joking: “Fix it or risk it, if I can go Johnnie Cochran on it.”
Public Art Millage: Deliberations
Commissioners spent much of the next hour asking Taylor questions about his proposal. And at the behest of John Kotarski, the meeting rules were relaxed to allow for input from the public during the discussion. This report organizes that discussion thematically.
Public Art Millage: Deliberations – Timeline
Connie Brown began by noting that the city’s parks millage will also be on the Nov. 6 ballot, and she wondered how Taylor would compare the timeline for that proposal with the much shorter timeline for the public art millage, and whether the shorter timeline is adequate.
By way of background, the renewal of the city’s parks maintenance and capital improvements millage – at the rate of 1.1 mills from 2013-2018 – has been discussed by city staff for months. The park advisory commission was first briefed about the millage renewal at its March 22, 2012 meeting. At its June 19, 2012 meeting, PAC voted to recommend that council place the millage on the ballot, which the council did at its Aug. 9 meeting.
Responding to Brown, Taylor said the public art millage proposal was made with the stated and actual intent of starting a conversation. If it’s the consensus of the community’s cultural leaders that a millage is generally a good idea, but that the vote should be held off until a future date, then he’d be inclined to defer to that. So holding off is a real possibility, Taylor said. There are many possibilities, and he’d be open to them.
Broadly speaking, he continued, there’s been a lot of discussion about the benefits of public art for a long time. In discussions about problems with the current program, there’s virtually always the statement that the criticism isn’t about funding public art, but about how the city is going about that funding. So the groundwork for a millage is laid, he said. The economic benefits of public art are well known, he said – that’s largely a given throughout the community.
What if the millage isn’t put on the Nov. 6 ballot? Tom Petiet asked. What would be the next opportunity for it?
Taylor replied that the state now limits elections to four times a year. They can be held on the fourth Tuesday in February, and the first Tuesday after the first Monday in May, August and November. Petiet clarified with Taylor that it would therefore be possible to put a millage on the ballot within a year.
Taylor noted that if the commission stated that the Nov. 6 election is too soon for a millage question, and if the council concurs, then the council could postpone action on the issue until a later meeting.
Margaret Parker weighed in, saying that November will be a huge election because of the presidential race. She felt that the more people who turn out to vote, the better chance the millage will have to be passed. Mark Tucker asked if that’s what Taylor thought, too.
Taylor thought the November election would be a good time, with higher participation by students and renters – that’s a good core, he said. [Those two groups do not pay property taxes directly – and the millage is a property tax.] He said he liked the idea of asking more people about something like this, since it has been the subject of some controversy.
Cathy Gendron pointed out that if they don’t have time to educate the community, then voters won’t be informed. There might be less risk with a smaller turnout, when people would be well-informed and feel strongly about it.
It’s a judgement call, Taylor acknowledged. With a February election, you can know with a fair degree of “granularity” who the voters will be, he said. In November, you’ll get a wider swath of the community.
Sabra Briere, a Ward 1 councilmember who attended the meeting, added that in a special election, you’ll get a certain kind of voter who’ll likely feel passionate about the issue, compared to the November general election. Another factor is that on Nov. 6, there will be a significant number of statewide and local issues on the ballot, she noted. An issue like this public art millage might get lost, she said, yet it might still garner enough votes. If it’s the only item on the ballot – during a special election, for example – then it becomes difficult to sell, she said.
Lynne Friman of the Arts Alliance board reported that in her day job, she works for the Cultural Alliance of Southeast Michigan. That group was involved in the recent successful millage campaign for the Detroit Institute of Arts, which had been on the Aug. 7 ballot. There had been many conversations about the timing of that vote, she said, and much research was done about when to place the millage on the ballot. They learned that a general election is not the best time for an arts issue, she said. The DIA specifically put the millage question on the August ballot in order to reach a certain kind of voter, Friman said. She suggested looking at the timing of similar arts millages that had been successful.
Public Art Millage: Deliberations – Relationship to Current Program
Connie Brown wondered if the current Percent for Art program would automatically be suspended, if the millage passes. The funding would be suspended, Taylor replied, but the ordinance would be “live and active” until the council acted to change it.
Theresa Reid asked what would happen in four years if a millage renewal doesn’t pass. Does the other Percent for Art funding kick in again? Taylor said it would surprise him if there weren’t changes to the ordinance before then, assuming that the millage passed in November. He would suspect that some aspects of the ordinance would be changed by the council. But right now, the only thing that would change is the funding.
Marsha Chamberlin noted that when the current ordinance was created, there was tremendous support for it from the arts community. With a millage, it would expand the ability to fund projects like FestiFools. In a way, it would be simply switching funding mechanisms while opening up the options for projects to fund. That’s one way of looking at it, she said. Taxpayers currently fund the existing program, and would be paying taxes on it in a different way with a millage.
Taxes would be raised with a millage, Taylor said. The current program might need to be tweaked to allow for the freedom of the new funding model, he added, but there wouldn’t be the need to start from scratch. [This might have been an indirect response to Margaret Parker's public commentary earlier in the meeting, when she stated that a lot of work they'd done to create the program's guidelines would have to be thrown out the window.]
Reid said there seems to be support for fewer restrictions on how the money is spent. Why couldn’t the council simply change certain aspects of the current ordinance, such as decoupling the artwork from its source of funding, or allowing for temporary art? That might be a way to address these issues while they work toward a longer-term solution, she said.
Taylor didn’t think that was possible. He said the ordinance had been created in this way based on state law, not the council’s whimsy.
Public Art Millage: Deliberations – Assessing Risk
Theresa Reid noted that people who are concerned about funding for public art are weighing the likelihood of losing funding because of city council action versus a public vote. She acknowledged that Taylor and others felt confident about the passage of the millage, but she observed that voters had recently rejected a schools millage. Sabra Briere clarified that the millage Reid mentioned was a countywide millage, not one in Ann Arbor. [In fact, Ann Arbor voters in May of 2012 approved a technology bond, at an estimated annual average millage rate 0.51 mills. Reid perhaps was recalling a countywide school millage that was on the November 2009 ballot, and defeated – though supported by a majority of Ann Arbor voters.]
Wiltrud Simbuerger pointed to Taylor’s statement about the risk of waiting. But if the millage is voted down, what does that mean? Is that a statement against public art? That result could be a greater risk for the existing program than waiting and taking more time to educate the public, she said.
That’s clearly true, Taylor replied. If the millage loses 40% to 60%, that means one thing, he said. If it loses by a single vote, that means something else.
Briere observed that now they’re talking about voter intent – which was something the council had discussed with regard to a proposed parks charter amendment that councilmembers voted down at their Aug. 9 meeting. Reasons for voting no could vary from voter to voter, she said. Some might vote no because the millage rate was too high or they didn’t support any public funding for art or they liked the current funding model. Defeat of the millage wouldn’t automatically mean that the council would agree not to fund public art, she said.
Taylor agreed with Briere’s assessment. He noted that he’s received about 170 emails about the millage, and some of those are against it because they like the current funding.
Simbuerger cautioned that defeat of the millage could be used as an argument to cut other funding, too. Taylor said defeat of the millage wouldn’t be a definitive sign, but it wouldn’t be a win, either.
Marsha Chamberlin raised another issue. Some councilmembers don’t think the current funding is legal or appropriate, so a no vote on the millage would fuel that fire. She didn’t think the majority of councilmembers felt that way, but some did.
Chamberlin said the commission has felt hamstrung by the current ordinance, because of restrictions that tied projects thematically to their funding sources, and that required a level of permanence that prevented the funding of temporary work. There’s been no doubt that the program took a while to get up and running, she added, as the commission developed policies and procedures. Now they have a strategic plan and 14 projects in the works, but their work isn’t yet visible – except for the Dreiseitl sculpture, which has been controversial.
For the past 1.5 years or so, Chamberlin said, the commission has been hearing from some city council members and others that the city is spending public dollars on art, but the public hasn’t voted to do that. The sense is that some of the new councilmembers feel strongly about this, she said, and that perhaps the Percent for Art ordinance might be repealed. She asked Taylor if that’s true – could the current ordinance be repealed?
Taylor replied that if someone wanted to draft a resolution to that effect, they could do so. It would require an initial vote, a public hearing, then a final vote at a second meeting. Briere, who had been out of the room at the start of Chamberlin’s question, said she didn’t think the council would consider simply eliminating the Percent for Art ordinance [leaving no public art funding in place].
In that case, Chamberlin said, it didn’t sound like that was an immediate concern. Taylor said the objections had primarily been related to funding, not to the overall program.
Public Art Millage: Deliberations – Communication, Mounting a Campaign
Connie Brown noted that there hasn’t been much dialogue on the public art commission or among leaders of the arts community about this millage. She asked Taylor to address this lack of engagement.
That’s a legitimate concern, he said. The council is under a time pressure because of the deadline to place a question on the Nov. 6 ballot – they would need to vote at their Aug. 20 meeting, he said. But if the arts community speaks with a clear voice that it wants to seek a millage – but not just now, then that would be something to weigh very seriously, he said.
Brown wondered how the voice of the arts community will be part of the publicity, assuming that the council decides to pursue a millage. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about the current ordinance, she noted, even though it’s been in place for several years. If a millage question is placed on the Nov. 6 ballot, there’s such a short time to communicate what that vote will mean, she said.
Taylor clarified with Brown that she was essentially asking how to run a millage campaign. Theresa Reid added: And who pays for it? Private donations would pay for a campaign, Taylor replied.
John Kotarski asked who would run such a campaign? “I don’t know,” Taylor said. He suspected that arts leaders would be engaged and do it.
What if arts leaders are divided on the issue? Reid asked. That sometimes happens, she joked. Taylor said it depends on the nature of the disagreement, and the manner in which it’s articulated.
Later in the meeting, Brown asked how much it would cost to mount a campaign. Taylor estimated it would cost about $25,000. Lynne Friman of the Arts Alliance board thought it would cost significantly more than that. [By way of rough comparison, in for the Aug. 7 primary, the eight city council candidates, in four two-way races, raised about $50,000 combined. As a one-way race, a campaign for the millage could conceivably be mounted for half that, or $25,000.]
Responding to another question, Aaron Seagraves – the city’s public art administrator – explained that although the city staff can’t advocate for a millage, they can provide information about it. Reid jokingly asked if the commission could spend Percent for Art funding on yard signs “if we keep them for five years?” [The reference to five years is an allusion to the need for current art projects funded through the program to be "permanent," because the funding comes from capital projects. The timeframe for what constitutes permanence has been somewhat fluid over the years.]
Public Art Millage: Deliberations – Commissioners Weigh In
John Kotarski read a prepared statement expressing his support for the millage to be placed on the Nov. 6 ballot. It will strengthen public art, and if it passes, it could be the start of expanded support countywide for public art. It appears it might have support even from councilmembers who oppose the current funding mechanism, he said. The current funding arrangement doesn’t allow for things like performing arts and artist-in-residence programs. Art monuments are important and Ann Arbor should have more of them, he said, but temporary art is also important, adding to the creative energy of the city. He cited Christo’s installation in New York City’s Central Park (The Gates) as an example of temporary art that generated more than $250 million in the local economy over the 14 days that it was in place.
Kotarski also said that the millage would allow the public art program to be more accountable, and give the commission a chance to explain what they do. He might be naive, he said, but he takes councilmembers at their word when they say they’d support a millage and campaign for its passage. The art commissioners aren’t politicians, he said, so they need to trust that these seasoned politicians mean what they say. He thanked Taylor for giving Ann Arbor a chance to weigh in on this issue.
Theresa Reid began by noting that she’s a member of the countywide Cultural Leaders Forum. The CLF has talked about a possible countywide millage to support arts and cultural organizations, she said, but there are still a lot of questions. There isn’t a consensus yet on important issues like the timing and amount of that possible millage, she said, and how it might affect funding for local arts and cultural institutions.
Reid said she understood the concern of some CLF members and the Arts Alliance about putting forward an Ann Arbor-specific millage. But Kotarski had assured her, she said, that in the experience of other communities, passage of a city millage later ended up helping pass a broader millage, too. She was concerned about the 11-week timeline, but felt it would take the CLF and Arts Alliance a long time to bring forward a countywide millage proposal, and she didn’t think the Percent for Art program could wait. If it doesn’t hurt the countywide effort, she thought they should move forward quickly. She “cautiously trusted” the council’s sense that the millage would pass. So the next 11 weeks would be spent on educating the public and moving this forward, she concluded.
Connie Brown spoke next, saying that the millage proposal is an improvement, and there are a lot of good things about it. She was concerned about the timing – she’d been surprised by that. But now she’s leaning toward faster movement. Her biggest concern is for the educational campaign to be effective, and so far, for the current program, it hasn’t been, she said. You want to have informed voters.
Cathy Gendron agreed with what others had said. She’s also concerned about the timing, but said she’s willing to dig into it.
Wiltrud Simbuerger said there’s no question that a millage would be a better funding mechanism. She just wondered how they can do it in such a short time. She still didn’t know how that would work out, but she would love for it to pass so it would resolve the whole question about how the public feels about funding public art.
Kotarski said the commission wasn’t going to do a millage campaign alone. They need the support of all arts and cultural organizations in the county, and he encouraged everyone to support it. There’s a synergy that everyone can build on, he said. If it passes, it will be a start. They’ll learn how a cultural millage campaign can work locally, and use that knowledge to support a larger, more vibrant cultural community. They want to raise everyone’s boat, he said, and this is an easy start. The city is willing to support it, and if they can present a united front and pass this millage, it will bode well for everyone.
Kotarski said he enthusiastically moved to recommend that the city council put a public arts millage on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Malverne Winborne entered the meeting just as a roll call vote was beginning on this resolution. He asked for clarification about what exactly he would be voting on.
Outcome: Commissioners voted unanimously to recommend that the council place a public arts millage on the Nov. 6 ballot. Two commissioners – Bob Miller and Tony Derezinski, who also serves on city council representing Ward 2 – were absent.
Public Commentary: Post-Vote
Four people addressed commissioners after the vote.
Russ Collins pulled out one of his frequent observations – that politics is the art of the possible. The commission had spoken very strongly about its intent, he said. He appreciated Taylor’s intent, but said there are a lot of unknown dynamics in politics. He guessed they should all keep their fingers crossed and see what happens on Monday, when the council votes. He hoped councilmembers would think clearly about how things play out in the November election, in the press, and what the long-term benefits and liabilities might be. In 1982, citizens voted to support the Michigan Theater [by voting for funds to pay off its mortgage], but that didn’t include any operating funds, he noted. The theater has been supported through private giving, he said.
City leaders and the electorate need to be encouraged to think carefully about the role of government funding in supporting the arts, he said. Currently, community values aren’t reflected, and this proposed narrow millage doesn’t change that in any significant way. It’s a start, he said, and he hoped it could be built into something more dynamic. “Hope is something we should always have,” he concluded.
Margaret Parker told commissioners that she was proud of them, of the arts community and of city council. It’s tremendous that there’s so much more discussion about the arts. Artists are being looked at as adults who should be paid, and who live all over the county – it’s a much broader conversation, she said. It’s important to see each of these actions as a building block, Parker said. The Percent for Art program was a tremendous accomplishment, Parker said, because it showed the community how public art funding could be allocated in a targeted way. That narrow focus was used to accomplish a lot of things, she said. And now there’s further planning at the county level. In Seattle, which was used as a model for the Ann Arbor program, Parker said there are many different groups that fund public art. It’s always been known that the Percent for Art program couldn’t provide all the funding, she said. In addition to grants and private giving, the millage is just another, larger building block. People have expressed the wish to support more Michigan artists, too, Parker noted: “I say yes!”
Deb Polich introduced herself as president of the Arts Alliance. Based on discussions about the millage since it was proposed on Aug. 9, everyone thinks that a millage is a good idea, she said, but the timing of it is a great concern to leaders of cultural institutions and members of the Cultural Leaders Forum. For one thing, there are a lot of other issues on the Nov. 6 ballot. Also, the CLF has been quietly talking about a possible countywide millage, but one of the concerns about that has been the impact on private contributions to arts and cultural organizations that wouldn’t get funding from a public arts millage. That remains a great concern, she said. The messaging for a millage is critical, and many people don’t believe 11 weeks is sufficient time for an effective millage campaign. A millage, and the ability to fund a broader range of projects, could be a very positive thing, Polich said, so it’s important that it’s successful.
Another concern is whether the city is “leaving money on the table,” Polich said. It’s not clear how the amount of the proposed millage was determined, she said – some people believe that voters would support a higher millage. But the real concern is whether there’s enough time to make this happen. The proposal is well-intended, and the Arts Alliance supports a millage. But they encouraged Taylor to withdraw the current proposal to allow time for a more fully-developed, comprehensive strategy to be prepared. More time is needed for a well-conceived, comprehensive, sustainable public arts funding plan that’s worthy of support from the city council and local citizens.
Mark Tucker said that as an artist, he’s pleased about the direction of this discussion. He noted that there’s the expectation that you’ll hit a home run, but as artists know that it’s rare to hit a home run. You rarely come up with fantastic pieces, he said. So the risk of not moving forward is that it will make the commission’s job more difficult, because people will expect home runs from the projects that are funded. If the millage fails, the only thing worse is to walk around and see a lot of disappointing public art.
Marsha Chamberlin concluded the meeting by noting that they now have their work cut out for them. They’ll begin at AAPAC’s next regular meeting, she said, on Aug. 22. [The meeting starts at 4:30 p.m. in the basement conference room of city hall, 301 E. Huron.]
Speaking personally, she said, her career has been in the visual arts and she’s been torn on this issue. Professionally, she felt caught in the middle. If she didn’t support the millage, it would run counter to her day job [as president of the Ann Arbor Art Center]. She said she’d heard encouraging things that evening, and she urged people to attend AAPAC’s Aug. 22 meeting too. Assuming that city council votes to put the millage proposal on the November ballot, “we’ll need help in keeping the ball rolling,” she said.
Margaret Parker added that if anyone is interested in speaking to the city council at its Aug. 20 meeting, they’ll need to call the city clerk’s office first thing on Monday morning to sign up for public commentary. There are only a limited number of speaking slots, she said. [Ten spots are reserved for people to speak on agenda items. The clerk's number is 734-794-6140. Additional public commentary, with no sign-up required, is available at the end of the council meeting.]
John Kotarski asked whether there will be a public hearing on the millage. Taylor indicated that there won’t be a formal public hearing.
Meeting Coda: Post-Meeting Actions
The day after the AAPAC vote, the Arts Alliance sent out an email announcing a special meeting to talk about the millage. The meeting is set for Monday, Aug. 20 from 2-3:30 p.m. at the second floor south conference room of the NEW Center, 1100 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor.
From the email: “We know we want to make sure the messaging is clear. What else do we want? Please invite anyone who has a stake in this conversation! During this meeting we will also begin to look at how we position and leverage this millage to the advantage of the whole creative sector.” The alliance also has posted a position statement about the millage. [.pdf of Arts Alliance position statement]
Also on Thursday, Margaret Parker sent out an email to her distribution list of arts supporters, saying that she now supported putting a millage on the Nov. 6 ballot. [In an earlier email, sent before AAPAC's meeting, Parker had lobbied against the millage.] Part of her reasoning in support of the millage seems linked to Taylor’s intimation that the risk to the current program is growing, though he did not explicitly tie that risk to a turnover on council in November. New councilmembers will be replacing Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Sandi Smith (Ward 1), who did not seek re-election, as well as Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), who was defeated in the Aug. 7 Democratic primary by Sally Petersen. It’s expected that Chuck Warpehoski and Sumi Kailasapathy, who won the Democratic primary in wards 5 and 1, respectively, will also prevail in the general election.
“The big picture is that the new council will not have the votes to continue support for the Percent for Art funding,” Parker contended. “Setting aside 1% of funds from capital improvement lines in the budget proved to be complex and difficult to implement. It also restricted the use of funds in many ways, excluding temporary projects and events. So a millage looks like the next step to continue and broaden public art funding in the city,” she wrote.
Commissioners present: Connie Rizzolo Brown, Marsha Chamberlin, Cathy Gendron, John Kotarski, Theresa Reid, Wiltrud Simbuerger, Malverne Winborne (who arrived at the end of the meeting). Also Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator.
Absent: Tony Derezinski, Bob Miller.
Next regular meeting: Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012 at 4:30 p.m. at city hall, 301 E. Huron St. [Check Chronicle events listing to confirm date]
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