Council Puts Public Art Millage on Nov. 6 Ballot

A public art millage will be on the Nov. 6, 2012 ballot for Ann Arbor voters. That decision was made by the Ann Arbor city council at its Aug. 20, 2012 meeting on a unanimous vote. One wording change made at the meeting was to replace “public art” with “art in public places” throughout the charter amendment.

The wording change was undertaken to make clear that organizations like The Ark or the Michigan Theater would not benefit from such a millage, so that their supporters would not mistakenly believe that the millage would support those organizations and thus decide to diminish their donations to those organizations.

The possibility of placing a ballot question in front of voters this November was first revealed at the council’s Aug. 9, 2012 meeting, when Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) added the item to the agenda at the start of that meeting. The millage that voters will be asked to approve would be levied at a rate of 0.1 mills, which will generate around $450,000 annually. For the owner of a house worth $200,000 the tax will cost around $10 a year.

If it’s approved by voters on Nov. 6, the funding mechanism already provided by Ann Arbor’s Percent for Art ordinance would be suspended for a period of four years – the duration of the millage. That program, in place since 2007, requires that 1% of all city capital projects be set aside for public art, up to a limit of $250,000 per project.

Concerns about placing the item on the ballot voiced by the arts community and others include a lack of clarity for voters about how yes or no votes would impact public funding for art, the short time frame during which a millage campaign could be mounted, and the fact that Ann Arbor voters will already be asked to vote for two other millages on the Nov. 6 ballot. Those two millages are: (1) a renewal of a 1.1 mill tax to pay for park capital improvements and maintenance; and (2) a library millage to support construction of a new downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library – expected to cost 0.56 mills in its first of 30 years, but averaging 0.47 mills.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) attempted to amend the public art millage question so that its proceeds would be added to the existing program, instead of suspending the program. But that amendment got no support from other councilmembers.

A separate resolution concerning the existing Percent for Art program is meant, according to its sponsor Jane Lumm (Ward 2), to provide clarity to voters about what their vote on a public art millage would mean for the future funding of public art. It came much later on the council’s agenda, and had not yet been decided when this brief was published. Lumm’s resolution would direct city staff to prepare an ordinance revision to the Percent for Art program, with the idea of repealing the current funding program before the millage vote. The idea is that voters would understand clearly that unless the public art millage is approved, no public funding for art would remain.

This item will be updated when the outcome on Lumm’s resolution is known. Update: The council voted down Lumm’s resolution. It got support only from Lumm, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), and Mike Anglin (Ward 5). 

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city, hall located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]