Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (June 26, 2013): Much of the discussion at AAPAC’s most recent meeting focused on the themes of outreach and public engagement.
As part of that, a proposal to overhaul the Golden Paintbrush awards – the city’s annual recognition of individuals and organizations who support public art in Ann Arbor – received the most attention. Commissioners John Kotarski and Connie Brown had recommended four categories of public recognition to replace the Golden Paintbrush, including a lifetime achievement award, a “Random Acts of Art” award, and public art awards to be presented at a formal social event that was described as an “Academy Awards-type” ceremony.
Although there was general consensus that the Golden Paintbrush needs to be improved, some commissioners felt that the proposed public recognition program was overreaching at this point. Malverne Winborne worried about “scope creep” – going too far afield of AAPAC’s role. Marsha Chamberlin thought that making some changes to the Golden Paintbrush, including a new name, could serve the same purpose. Ultimately, commissioners decided to give the proposal more thought before acting on it.
Also related to public engagement, Kotarski and AAPAC chair Bob Miller reported on efforts to get input on proposals by four finalists for artwork at the East Stadium bridges. The two men have been making presentations to a variety of groups, and are seeking feedback via two online surveys – one on Survey Monkey, another on A2 Open City Hall. Commissioners also talked about having a regular table at the Sunday artisan market and increasing their use of social media, including the commission’s Facebook page and Twitter account – @AAPublicArt. AAPAC also will have a table at the July 15 Townie Street Party.
In other action, commissioners voted to create exploratory task forces for possible projects at Arbor Oaks Park in southeast Ann Arbor, and at the wastewater treatment plant on Dixboro Road in Ann Arbor Township. Craig Hupy, the city’s public services area administrator, had approached AAPAC about the possibility of incorporating public art into the wastewater treatment project. He noted that of the remaining amount in the Percent for Art funds, much of it came from wastewater-related projects, and must be spent on public art with a “nexus” to wastewater.
Art Awards: Rethinking the Golden Paintbrush
The city’s annual Golden Paintbrush awards, given out for the past 14 years, are meant to recognize people and organizations who contribute to public art works that “add interest to our cityscape, beautify the community and create a sense of place.” This year’s awards were announced at the city council’s June 17 meeting, and given to: (1) John Carver, who commissioned “Spirit of Ann Arbor” by Detroit artist Charles McGee for the outside of the Carver-Gunn Building on Liberty Street; and (2) Vic Strecher and Jeri Rosenberg for their support of events like FestiFools and FoolMoon.
The public art commission is now responsible for selecting the winners, but some commissioners in the past have expressed frustration that the awards don’t adequately highlight accomplishments of local artists and patrons of the arts. Two commissioners, John Kotarski and Connie Brown, prepared some alternative ideas for a public recognition program that they presented at AAPAC’s June 26 meeting. [.pdf of public recognition memo]
They proposed four new award/recognition categories:
- Lifetime Achievement Award: Given to end-of-career artists/art administrators/art promoters at a public event hosted by AAPAC. The award would be given to someone whose work has impacted art in public places, and the awardee would need to be nominated by at least three community members.
- Ann Arbor Public Art Award: Given for more classically identified public art, such as monument art, streetscapes, or installation art. It would replace the current Golden Paintbrush award. Winners would be given a medallion or statuette, to be presented at an Academy Awards-type event – not simply presented in front of city council, as the current awards are.
- Random Acts of Art: Given “randomly and covertly” to more temporary work, such as snow sculptures, landscaping, or “guerrilla” art. Winners would be given a gift certificate and also recognized publicly.
- Resolution of Support: Given by AAPAC to publicly support projects that the city doesn’t fund. It would be given only in response to requests, and if the project fits into AAPAC’s vision for Ann Arbor’s public art program.
Kotarski introduced the proposal, saying that the issue of adequate public recognition had arisen as he’d tried to solicit nominations for this year’s Golden Paintbrush awards. Public recognition is a very effective tool, he noted – saying it’s cheap, and it matters to people.
Regarding the resolution of support, Brown told commissioners that the intent is to tell people that AAPAC appreciates artmaking efforts in the community. It’s a way to “give an ‘attaboy’ without taking the project under our wings,” she said. Brown acknowledged that AAPAC had struggled in the past with the idea of giving endorsements, but she said it was important to recognize non-AAPAC projects in some way.
Art Awards: Rethinking the Golden Paintbrush – Lifetime Achievement
Kotarski wanted commissioners to adopt the lifetime achievement award at their June 26 meeting, saying that some recommendations had already been made to him for potential awardees. The other items could be considered at a later date. He made a formal motion to adopt the lifetime achievement award.
Malverne Winborne cautioned that these awards in general represented “scope creep.” The commission is still figuring out its role, he noted, yet now they’re considering additional work.
Marsha Chamberlin, AAPAC’s longest-serving member, pointed out that the Golden Paintbrush awards can be given in several categories, including one that recognizes substantial contributions to public art – similar to a lifetime achievement award, she said. Margaret Parker and Jan Onder have been recipients of that award.
In addition, AAPAC’s charge is focused on public art, Chamberlin noted. How many lifetime achievement awards can be given in that category, for a community this size? She questioned the assumption that AAPAC had the authority to give out awards for arts achievements generally, given its purview of public art, and said the broader awards might subject the commission to criticism.
Winborne supported possibly partnering with other groups, such as the Ann Arbor-based Arts Alliance – if the goal is to give general arts-related awards. Otherwise, it would move AAPAC too far away from its main mission of public art, he said.
The commission gets involved in so many things, Winborne said, then “gets in the weeds” and loses its momentum. The public recognition proposal includes some great ideas, he added, but AAPAC has limited resources. He liked the concept, but wanted to evaluate it more before voting – noting that he never buys a car the first time he walks into the dealership’s showroom.
Kotarski countered by saying that these awards directly address at least 30% of AAPAC’s task, as defined in the city’s public art ordinance – to promote public art. It doesn’t cost a dime, he said, and it would be in collaboration with others. He suggested that community members who nominate someone for a lifetime achievement award, for example, could take on the task for organizing the awards ceremony.
The current Golden Paintbrush awards lump everything together, Kotarski said. This new approach attempts to draw out and highlight different categories of achievement, he said, to get “more bang for our buck” in promoting public art. He noted that the lifetime achievement award wouldn’t need to be given annually – it would only be awarded if someone worthy is nominated for it.
Chamberlin gave a brief history of the Golden Paintbrush awards. The concept was modeled after the Ann Arbor park system’s Golden Trowel award, she noted, and was designed to pay tribute to individuals and organizations, as well as to publicize public art in general. Prior to the creation of AAPAC, the awards were originally given by the Washtenaw Council for the Arts – now called the Arts Alliance.
Chamberlin questioned AAPAC’s organizational capacity to pull off a major awards event, especially in the context of recent changes to the public art program. Renaming the Golden Paintbrush awards was fine, she added, but she didn’t feel the commission could take on a project like this now.
Winborne agreed with renaming the Golden Paintbrush – because to him, it seemed too specific to painters, not general public art.
Ashlee Arder, one of the newest public art commissioners, called the public recognition proposal a “noble concept,” but thought that AAPAC needed to figure out its capacity first. People in the arts community – including those at the University of Michigan, as well as arts patrons – would expect a certain caliber of event, she noted. If an awards ceremony fell short of that expectation, “it would do more harm than good,” she said.
If commissioners didn’t feel that the Golden Paintbrush awards were sufficient, then perhaps they needed to step back and think about ways to improve and promote those awards, Arder said. Chamberlin suggested holding a more formal reception after the awards are presented at the city council meeting. Winborne volunteered to wear his tuxedo.
Outcome: Kotarski withdrew the motion to create a lifetime achievement award, with the consensus that commissioners would consider the overall awards/recognition proposal and discuss it at a future meeting.
Outreach & Social Media
At several points throughout the June 26 meeting, commissioners discussed issues related to public outreach and engagement.
Ashlee Arder reported that she, Bob Miller and Aaron Seagraves had spent some time at a recent Sunday artisan market, talking with people about the city’s public art program and the East Stadium bridges proposals. They’d had some good conversations about visibility, she said. It’s importance for the community to know that the public art commissioners aren’t just figureheads making decisions – they’re people.
So to help make that point, Arder is making a video montage that includes images of commissioners. She shot some of those images during the June 26 meeting. [Arder is programs coordinator for ArtServe Michigan, a statewide nonprofit advocacy organization. She has an undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and while there was heavily involved in other arts advocacy efforts. She recently participated in the UM Museum of Arts "Many Voices" project, in which participants created short videos inspired by artwork at UMMA. Her video is called "Boy" – and it explores the theme of young male energy in West African and Western cultures.]
Commissioners also talked about using social media to engage the public – specifically, the commission’s Facebook page and Twitter account, which is @AAPublicArt. Arder explained the different purposes served by these two social media platforms, and commissioners discussed whether they should all make posts or only have a couple of commissioners handle that task. Arder noted that social media is another way to humanize the commission. She reported that a woman showed up to the Sunday artisan market because she’d seen an @AAPublicArt tweet. “It works,” Arder said.
Commissioners also discussed whether to participate in the upcoming Ann Arbor art fairs, which run from July 17-20. A table costs $90, and would need to be staffed with commissioners and other volunteers for those four days. There was some uncertainty about whether funds would be available, given the change in funding for the city’s public art program.
Marsha Chamberlin reported that from her experience, a huge percentage of visitors to the art fairs are from out of town and “don’t give a damn” about local programs. [Chamberlin recently retired as the long-time president of the Ann Arbor Art Center.] She also noted that “it is the nastiest four days to spend on the street.” She said she’d rather see AAPAC’s resources at the artisan market or farmers market on a regular basis.
Malverne Winborne expressed support for doing something at the art fairs, but the general consensus was to organize a regular table at the Sunday artisan market, perhaps once a month.
However, AAPAC will have a table at the July 15 Townie Street Party, as it has in the past. Commissioners plan to re-use a large poster made last year by Hannah Nathans, who worked for the city as an intern. The poster was a popular interactive feature at last year’s Townie Street Party. People poked their faces through cut-out holes and got their pictures taken, which were then posted on AAPAC’s Facebook page. The poster is based on a mural by Richard Wolk on East Liberty near State Street, with stylized portraits of Woody Allen, Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Hesse, Franz Kafka, and Anaïs Nin.
During the June 26 meeting, commissioners also voted on appointments related to outreach – making John Kotarski responsible for community outreach and engagement, and Marsha Chamberlin for media relations.
Those roles were not defined, and do not appear to be connected to existing AAPAC committees. Chamberlin asked for clarification of what media relations meant, saying “I’m old-school enough to think it meant working with the press.” Based on the ensuing conversation, it appears the focus will be more on social media like Facebook and Twitter, as well as an emailed newsletter.
Kotarski pointed out that many people don’t use social media, or even email. Those people are still remorseful over the loss of a real newspaper, he noted. Chamberlin replied that AAPAC has limited capacity, both as a commission and as individuals, so they need to prioritize. She thought that Facebook and the newsletter should be among the priorities.
Outcome: Commissioners voted unanimously to appoint John Kotarski to community outreach and engagement, and Marsha Chamberlin to media relations.
New Exploratory Task Forces
Two proposals were on the agenda to create exploratory task forces for possible projects at Arbor Oaks Park in southeast Ann Arbor, and at the wastewater treatment plant on Dixboro Road in Ann Arbor Township.
New Exploratory Task Forces: Arbor Oaks Park
Malverne Winborne reported that he and Seagraves had met in mid-June with David Jones, a board member of the Community Action Network (CAN). The nonprofit, under contract with the city, manages several community centers in Ann Arbor, including the Bryant Community Center in the Arbor Oaks neighborhood. There’s interest in putting some kind of public art in the Arbor Oaks Park, Winborne said, so the plan was to bring the idea to AAPAC, then form a task force to explore the possibility.
Task force members would include Winborne, Jones, AAPAC member Nick Zagar, and Derek Miller, CAN’s deputy director, as well as other members of the neighborhood and the arts community to be determined.
Connie Brown noted that there are several youth in that neighborhood who are interested in getting involved. She suggested that some of them could be part of the task force.
Outcome: AAPAC voted to create an exploratory task force for public art at Arbor Oaks Park.
New Exploratory Task Forces: Wastewater Treatment
The city is building a new wastewater treatment facility and renovating its existing facility in Ann Arbor Township, at 49 S. Dixboro Road. [.pdf of memo describing the wastewater treatment plant renovations] Craig Hupy, the city’s public services area administrator, had approached AAPAC about the possibility of incorporating public art into the project.
John Kotarski told commissioners that he’d be taking the lead on this. People from the community – including elementary school students – take tours of the facility, he said, so it’s an opportunity to make public art that’s engaging, educational and that gives “memorable impressions of that plant and the process contained within it.”
He described the renovations as a large project, with the opportunity for AAPAC to get involved at the beginning. Hupy, who attended the June 26 meeting, clarified that the project was already well underway.
Hupy also noted that of the remaining amount in the Percent for Art funds, much of it came from wastewater-related projects, and must be spent on public art with a “nexus” to wastewater.
By way of background, starting in 2007 and until this year, the city had funded public art through a Percent for Art mechanism, which set aside 1% of the budget for each of the city’s capital projects – up to a cap of $250,000 – for public art. However, at its June 3, 2013 meeting, the city council voted to eliminate the Percent for Art approach. At that time, amounts remaining in the respective funds totaled $845,029:
- 002-Energy $3,112
- 0042-Water Supply System $61,358
- 0043-Sewage Disposal System $451,956
- 0048-Airport $6,416
- 0069-Stormwater $20,844
- 0062-Street Millage $237,314
- 0071-Parks Millage $28,492
- 0072-Solid Waste $35,529
Of that total, the council voted to restore a portion to their funds of origin – which returned the additional amounts that had been set aside for the fiscal year 2014 budget:
- 0042-Water Supply System $113,500
- 0043-Sewage Disposal System $50,050
- 0069-Stormwater $33,500
- 0062-Street Millage $120,700
- 0071-Parks Millage $8,714
So about $402,000 is available for public art from the sewage disposal system (wastewater) fund.
Connie Brown had some concern about spending a large amount of money on a project like this, in what seemed to her like an ad hoc approach. Feedback she’s heard from the community indicates the desire for smaller work that’s integrated into neighborhoods, not large-scale projects. She wondered if it made more sense to have a committee look into the full range of possible projects for wastewater treatment funds, not just one at the main facility.
Kotarski noted that the task force is described as exploratory – it’s not a commitment to doing the project at the treatment plant. He invited Brown to join the task force, too.
Outcome: Commissioners voted to form an exploratory task force for possible artwork at the wastewater treatment plant.
Revisions to AAPAC Guidelines
On the agenda was an item to create a committee charged with revising AAPAC’s guidelines. [.pdf of existing guidelines] Bob Miller, AAPAC’s chair, introduced the item by saying “This is not a small one.”
Connie Brown expressed some skepticism, noting that in previous years the work on developing guidelines had not been “very fruitful.” [AAPAC had approved its guidelines at a March 9, 2010 meeting. Until that time, the guidelines had been under review – mostly by the city attorney’s office – for nearly two years.]
Marsha Chamberlin asked if anything had really changed, other than the public art program’s funding mechanism, that would impact the guidelines. Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, noted that some practices and policies have been adopted by AAPAC but aren’t reflected in the guidelines. He gave as an example the artist selection process.
Rather than form a committee, Chamberlin suggested that Seagraves develop a draft set of revisions to bring back to AAPAC for review. At that point, if commissioners felt more work was needed, they could form a committee then, she said.
Outcome: The motion to create a committee to revise AAPAC’s guidelines was withdrawn.
Several projects were discussed briefly during the June 26 meeting, by way of updates. Additional information was also included in a written report by Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator. [.pdf of Seagraves' report] These projects were either already in progress when the city council temporarily halted spending on public art late last year, or don’t use Percent for Art funds.
Project Updates: East Stadium Bridge
John Kotarski and Bob Miller have been making presentations to various groups about proposals from four finalists for artwork at the East Stadium bridge: Volkan Alkanoglu, based in Atlanta, Georgia; Sheila Klein of Bow, Washington; Rebar Group of San Francisco; and Catherine Widgery of Cambridge, Mass.
The presentation of their proposals is available online. The project has a budget of $400,000. Members of the task force are Miller, Wiltrud Simbuerger, Nancy Leff, David Huntoon and Joss Kiely.
Among the presentations included one at the June 18, 2013 meeting of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission, a table at the June 14 Green Fair on Main Street, and a meeting on June 25 at the Ann Arbor senior center, attended by Ward 2 city councilmembers Jane Lumm and Sally Petersen, and about a dozen residents.
Miller reported that Kotarski has been organizing these outreach efforts, as a way to promote community engagement with specific AAPAC projects.
Marsha Chamberlin praised the approach, but suggested that they might consolidate some of their efforts in order to reach more people. Kotarski responded, saying he purposefully didn’t plan the presentations that way because he wasn’t interested in efficiency so much as having multiple points of contact. It’s time intensive, he noted, but he wanted people to know that he and Miller are available and interested in getting input. There are a lot of misperceptions about the public art program and about how artists work, he said. This is a way to educate people as well, Kotarski said.
Project Updates: Kingsley & First Rain Garden
At AAPAC’s March 27, 2013 meeting, commissioners had selected Denver artist Josh Wiener to work with landscapers and incorporate public art into a new rain garden at the corner of Kingsley and First. The project has a $27,000 budget.
Wiener will be coming to Ann Arbor on July 15 to present his design to the public. He’ll also be attending the Townie Party to talk with community members about the project.
Project Updates: Coleman Jewett Memorial
At a special meeting on March 7, 2013, AAPAC had voted to accept a memorial for Coleman Jewett as an official AAPAC project and to approve Sarah Gay as a volunteer project manager. Her duties were to lead efforts for city council approval, donor relations and fundraising.
The original proposal was for a bronze Adirondack chair at the Ann Arbor farmers market. Jewett was a long-time local educator who died in January. After he retired, he made furniture that he sold at the Ann Arbor farmers market. A private donor has committed $5,000 to create a memorial at the market, in the form of a bronze replica of one of Jewett’s Adirondack chairs.
Seagraves reported that a memorandum of understanding is being negotiated between the Jewett family, the city, and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation. Marsha Chamberlin said the plan now calls for two full-sized replicas in bronze. The cost is estimated at $15,000 each, and about $6,000 has been raised. Materials for fundraising are being developed.
Seagraves met with parks staff regarding a location for the chairs. At this point, the plan is to remove one of two existing benches on the market’s east side, and locate the bronze chairs there. The proposal would be put before the city’s public market advisory commission as well as AAPAC, before seeking city council approval.
Project Updates: Justice Center
Ed Carpenter’s “Radius” hanging sculpture was installed in the lobby of the Justice Center in late May. Seagraves reported that a formal dedication and ceremony is being planned for September, although a date hasn’t yet been set. Carpenter would return for that event.
Project Updates: Argo Cascades
A selection panel has picked three finalists for artwork along the Argo Cascades. Members of the selection panel include John Kotarski, Malverne Winborne, Cheryl Saam, Margaret Parker, Cathy Fleisher, Bonnie Greenspoon and Julie Grand. AAPAC approved a $150,000 budget for that project on April 25, 2012.
A survey to solicit feedback is being sent to stakeholders and also handed out at the Argo canoe livery, Seagraves reported. Connie Brown urged Seagraves to distribute the survey as widely as possible, including posting it on AAPAC’s website.
The finalists will be invited to a site walk-through in early August.
Free docent-led tours of Detroit Institute of Arts’ Inside|Out program artwork in Ann Arbor have ended, John Kotarski reported. But as a result of those tours, which he organized, he’s been asked to lead similar tours for visually impaired students. He described a recent group that spent most of the tour at the Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture in front of city hall. The students as well as their sighted parents took their shoes off and got into the fountain, he said – it was designed that way, to be accessible and interactive, he noted.
Kotarski said he’d like to find a way to recognize the docents who’d volunteered to give tours in May and June, with perhaps a gift certificate.
Project Updates: Canoe Art
Marsha Chamberlin has been working on a canoe art project with other local organizations, called Canoe Imagine Art. The project will use old aluminum canoes from the city of Ann Arbor’s Argo canoe livery, which artists and community groups will turn into artwork that will be displayed throughout the downtown in 2014. Partners in the project include the Ann Arbor Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), the Main Street Area Association (MSAA), the Arts Alliance, and the Huron River Watershed Council (HRWC). Task force members are Chamberlin; Cheryl Saam, the city’s canoe livery supervisor; Shoshana Hurand of the Arts Alliance; Mary Kerr of the CVB; Maura Thomson of the MSAA; and Laura Rubin of HRWC.
Seagraves reported that the task force is reviewing a draft fundraising proposal and call to artists. Chamberlin told commissioners that she planned to have a formal agenda item about the project for AAPAC’s July meeting. “I’m gonna creep the scope,” she joked.
Communications & Commentary
During the meeting there were several opportunities for communications from commissioners and staff, and two slots for public commentary. Here are some highlights.
Communications & Commentary: Fencing on Scio Church
Near the start of the June 26 meeting, Craig Hupy, the city’s public services area administrator, suggested a possible project for AAPAC. The city is putting in sidewalks along a stretch of Scio Church Road, he reported, and will also be installing a fence there. The city staff is planning to install the kind of chain link fence that they usually use, he said, but he thought there might be an opportunity for something more creative, if AAPAC wants to explore that possibility.
Marsha Chamberlin noted that the project could serve as a prototype for other fencing in the city. At the suggestion of AAPAC chair Bob Miller, Chamberlin volunteered to serve as the commission’s point person on this possible project.
Communications & Commentary: Public Commentary
Jeff Hayner attended the June 26 meeting and spoke at the final opportunity for public commentary. Bob Miller, AAPAC’s chair, reported that he had talked with Hayner at the recent Green Fair, and had encouraged Hayner to attend an AAPAC meeting.
Noting that there were two vacancies on AAPAC, Hayner encouraged commissioners to reach out and fill those positions. He noted that he serves on the board of the Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop, and they’re also working to fill some vacancies.
By way of background, Nick Zagar was appointed in March 2013 to replace Theresa Reid, for a term ending Dec. 31, 2015. Reid had resigned mid-term. Also in March, Ashlee Arder was appointed to replace Cathy Gendron for a term ending Jan. 20, 2016. Gendron had been reappointed at the city council’s Jan. 7, 2013 meeting, but resigned soon after that.
Wiltrud Simbuerger resigned in March, also before the end of her term. Bob Miller had previously reported that Maureen Devine’s name has been submitted to mayor John Hieftje, who is responsible for making nominations to most of the city’s advisory boards and commissions. Devine is art coordinator for the University of Michigan’s North Campus Research Complex (NCRC). However, Hieftje has not yet put forward her nomination.
Nor has anyone been nominated to replace a position previously held by Tony Derezinski. Along with Gendron and Connie Brown, Derezinski been nominated at the council’s Dec. 17, 2012 meeting for reappointment to serve terms ending Jan. 20, 2016. Both Gendron and Brown were reappointed at the council’s Jan. 7, 2013 meeting, but Derezinski’s name had been crossed out and the position he held remains vacant.
During his public commentary, Hayner also asked some clarificational questions about the city’s public art funding, and encouraged the commission to provide as much information as possible about its work. All taxpayers are stakeholders, he noted, adding that it had been very difficult for him to find out about AAPAC’s activities.
Commissioners present: Ashlee Arder, Connie Brown, Marsha Chamberlin, John Kotarski, Bob Miller, Malverne Winborne. Also: Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, and Craig Hupy, the city’s public services area administrator.
Absent: Nick Zagar.
Next regular meeting: Wednesday, July 24, 2013 at 4:30 p.m. in the basement conference room at city hall, 301 E. Huron St. [Check Chronicle events listing to confirm date]
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