Editor’s note: The candidate forum was moderated by the writer, Chronicle publisher Mary Morgan.
Twenty candidates for political office attended a forum hosted by the Arts Alliance on July 23, held at the Michigan Theater in downtown Ann Arbor and focused on the creative sector.
The event included presentations by each candidate as well as opportunities for questions from the audience, and drew out policy positions related to the arts.
County-level candidates shared their thoughts on the possibility of a countywide arts millage.
And mayoral candidate Sally Petersen took the occasion to float the idea of an Ann Arbor city income tax as an approach that would generate more revenue, at the same time shifting some of the burden of local government funding to those who work in Ann Arbor but do not live here.
Bryan Kelly, independent candidate for mayor of Ann Arbor in the Nov. 4 general election, made his first public appearance since qualifying for the ballot. “I can say firsthand that being an artist is the toughest damn job in the world. I’d rather run for mayor than keep writing novels,” he quipped.
Ypsilanti mayoral candidate Tyrone Bridges shared an example of his daughter’s artwork with forum attendees.
Favorite public art named by the candidates included the mosaic adorning the Fourth and Washington parking structure, as well as the half-mile of daffodils planted in The Arb.
And Ann Arbor Ward 5 incumbent Chuck Warpehoski delivered his opening statement in the form of a rap.
In her remarks at the end of the forum, Arts Alliance executive director Deb Polich urged candidates and elected officials to tap into the experts who know the creative sector. She encouraged candidates to touch base with ArtServe Michigan and the Arts Alliance to get accurate information. Ann Arbor is losing ground to other communities like Grand Rapids and Detroit, she said, and that’s why public funding and investment in the arts is important. “Private funding is absolutely here in this county, but it’s not enough – there’s not enough.”
It’s not just about funding, however. Polich stressed the importance of public policy to make the city a fertile ground for the creative sector.
Polich reported that the Arts Alliance will be holding a statewide conference called Creative Convergence on March 19, 2015. Thought leaders from across the country, state and Washtenaw County will be coming to speak about these issues, she said.
This report focuses on state and local candidates, including the Ann Arbor mayoral and city council races, Washtenaw County commissioners, and state legislators. It also includes responses to a candidate survey distributed by the Arts Alliance prior to the forum. Not included here are statements by the two Congressional candidates who attended the forum: Democrat Debbie Dingell, who’s running in the primary against Raymond Mullins of Ypsilanti for the District 12 seat in the U.S. House of Representatives; and Republican Douglas Radcliffe North, who’s running against incumbent Republican Tim Walberg for the District 7 seat in the U.S. House.
The outcomes of many of the local races will be determined in the Aug. 5, 2014 Democratic primary elections, if no Republicans or independent candidates are running. More information about candidates can be found on the Washtenaw County elections division website. Check the Michigan Votes website to find out your polling location and view a sample ballot.
Ann Arbor Mayor
Three of the four Democrats running for Ann Arbor mayor attended the July 23 forum: Sabra Briere, Sally Petersen and Christopher Taylor. Not attending the 8:30 a.m. event was Stephen Kunselman. All candidates completed the Arts Alliance survey. [.pdf of Briere survey response] [.pdf of Kunselman survey response] [.pdf of Petersen survey response] [.pdf of Taylor survey response]
There are no Republicans in this race. In November, one independent candidate – Bryan Kelly – will face the winner of the Democratic primary. Kelly attended the Arts Alliance forum, but did not complete the survey.
Ann Arbor Mayor: Opening Statement – Sabra Briere
Sabra Briere said it had been interesting to sit in the audience and listen to what other candidates had to say, as well as being “part of the show.”
Art is both passive and active, she said. One person can create a score, a play or a piece of visual art. Some people can work with that one person – as a crew, as a band, as a cast – to create something bigger. But many people enjoy art in a passive way, by going to a lecture or a gallery. She’d like to see more people in the second type of group, rather than the passive group.
There’s no doubt that public art, private art and creativity all create an opportunity for economic development, and that’s important, she said. But what’s more important to her is community development. “I want to see people engaged in creativity, because the more people who are engaged in this, the greater the opportunity they have to enrich their lives.” Being a passive audience is good, but being a participant in art is better, she said.
A decade ago, an artist envisioned a bright yellow line across an uneven surface, Briere recalled. And dozens of community members showed up at The Arb to plant over 10,000 daffodils. It was work, and it was wet, she said. “But it was an act of anticipation.” There wasn’t immediate gratification – you had to spend months waiting for those daffodils to bloom. She’d bet that many of the people who planted those daffodils go back every year to see how that line has changed. They go back to see where it’s gotten fuzzy, because the daffodils have spread, and where it’s nearly disappeared because it was too shady. “This is what I want to see happen in our community – more community building, strengthening our relationships with each other.”
Ann Arbor Mayor: Opening Statement – Bryan Kelly
Bryan Kelly told the audience that this was the first time he’s addressed an audience as a mayoral candidate. He’s a novelist, having studied writing at the University of Michigan.
“I can say firsthand that being an artist is the toughest damn job in the world. I’d rather run for mayor than keep writing novels.” He joked that he might drop out of the race and move to Ypsilanti to vote for Tyrone Bridges, because he liked everything that Bridges had to say. [Bridges, an Ypsilanti mayoral candidate, spoke earlier in the event.]
Kelly liked the idea of an art auction, saying that’s a reasonable application of what the city government can do. There’s a long history of scholarship that calls into question whether the public sector should support the arts, he said, based on the idea that the public would be subsidizing one artist over another.
“And it’s not always the case that politicians are the best determiners of what is good art,” he said. “I think the public is, and the people are.” He said he might have some uncomfortable responses to questions that were posed at this forum.
He said that “art begins with the individual and not with funding. You can have all the funding in the world, but if you don’t have artists, you don’t have art.”
Ann Arbor Mayor: Opening Statement – Sally Petersen
Sally Petersen began by talking about her family’s commitment to art. She and her husband, Tim Petersen, have supported FestiFools since it started, she said – “Mark Tucker had us at ‘hello.’” Her husband is a board member of the University Musical Society, and she’s a past board member of the Ann Arbor Art Center, and she’s about to begin her third term on the board of the Neutral Zone, a nonprofit for teens.
Petersen had three points. The first related to economic development. When she started on city council, she quickly learned that even though the council had made economic development a budget priority, the city has no economic development staff and only makes a $75,000 allocation to Ann Arbor SPARK for job creation.
And SPARK is very focused on technology jobs, she noted. As mayor, Petersen would focus on job creation in all sectors that do well in Ann Arbor, including arts and culture. She reported that the Americans for the Arts have said that nationally, 4.4% of the companies in the country are in the arts and creative sector. In Washtenaw County, that number is higher – at 5.3%, she said. But nationally, 2.1% of jobs are in that sector, compared to only 1.8% in Washtenaw County. So there’s room to grow here in terms of jobs in the arts sector, she said.
Her second point related to public-private partnerships. Grand Rapids has ArtPrize. So Ann Arbor gets compared to Grand Rapids all the time, she noted, but it’s important to remember that ArtPrize is privately funded. She spent the first five years of her business career in Columbus, Indiana, working for Cummins Engine, which made significant investments in public art in that community. [As one example of public art in that southern Indiana city of about 45,000 people is the sculpture by Henry Moore that stands in front of the public library, which was designed by I.M. Pei.] In Ann Arbor, there’s Sonic Lunch that’s supported by the Bank of Ann Arbor, she said. Neutral Zone’s annual Live on Washington event has lots of private-sector donations. “To me, it feels like the appetite for public expression of art through private donations is pretty healthy in Ann Arbor. We just need to leverage that more as the economy improves.”
Finally, Petersen said it’s important to keep a pulse on the public attitude toward art. The city’s Percent for Art program didn’t resonate with the majority of citizens in Ann Arbor, she said, “and we saw that in 2012 when the public art millage failed.” She said she had supported that millage. As the economy improves, if the city leverages public-private partnerships and creates more jobs in the arts, “we can change the public attitudes towards art so that perhaps in the future, a millage will actually work.”
Petersen concluded by reminding the audience of Ann Arbor Art Center’s motto: “Where creativity and community meet.” This inclusive nature about art is what she’d promote as mayor, Petersen said.
Ann Arbor Mayor: Opening Statement – Christopher Taylor
Art and the arts are important to him as an individual, Christopher Taylor said. Ever since his seventh grade teacher realized that he could carry a tune, arts have been a part of his daily life. He attended the University of Michigan on a music scholarship, and he has a degree in vocal performance. “And like of course many aspiring opera singers, I’m now a lawyer,” he joked. He works at the law firm of Hooper Hathaway on Main Street in Ann Arbor.
He noted that the arts play an important role in economic development, as others have mentioned. Several candidates have also mentioned the importance of the arts to children, and it’s true that the arts couldn’t be more effective in “helping raise good little people.” But he said he wanted to expand on something that Briere had mentioned – the role of arts in the community. The creation of art by the people of Ann Arbor is important to people’s quality of life and sense of being and place, he said, and to their engagement with one another.
With “all profound respect” to the city’s professional arts organizations like the Arts Alliance, Michigan Theater and UMS, Taylor said, people’s day-to-day lives are most profoundly affected by things like the Water Hill Music Fest, the Burns Park Players and Thurston Community Players. These are events where people come together with common purpose to create something that’s meaningful and personal, that creates connections among neighbors, Taylor said.
They create lifelong friendships, and a “third place” where people can come when they’re not at work or home. As mayor, he’d love to help propagate and expand these kinds of things. If he were mayor, people in the arts would know that they had a true friend and ally and advocate in the mayor’s office, he said. “What you needed, what you could dream of, what you can imagine a mayor could do – ask, and I’ll do everything I can to get it done.”
Ann Arbor Mayor Q&A: What is your position on public art in Ann Arbor? What elements are necessary to make a public art program successful?
Bryan Kelly: Public art in Ann Arbor could be better, he said. Some of it makes him scratch his head. As a novelist, “I don’t understand physical art….it needs to have words on it.” But if a painting or other type of physical art has words on it, he added, “it usually undermines its purpose.”
Sabra Briere: Briere said she supports public art in Ann Arbor in a lot of different ways. She supports art that’s a physical manifestation – a sculpture or fountain – but she also supports public art that’s a performance. That includes band performances, plays in The Arb and West Park, and “the mimes that occasionally show up at my table.” Art challenges her and makes her think, “and thinking is always a wonderful thing.”
A successful public art program comes from a combination of resources at the governmental level, and creativity bubbling up from the people, Briere said. She supports opening city hall to temporary exhibits of art, and opening up the city parks to temporary exhibits of art. Other ideas include holding a plein air painting contest for amateurs in the park, or closing Main Street for a play to be performed. “I think you can do lots of creative things with art in public, without it becoming something where the public feels bad art is forced on them.” As mayor, she’d do her best to make sure many of these things happen, and she’s open to other creative ideas that include a small amount of financial or staff support, opening up the creative world to a large number of people. She noted that there’s never been a single piece of art displayed in public that someone doesn’t think is bad.
Christopher Taylor: “I support public art – full stop.” It’s important for the city to invest in and advocate for the arts, he said. Public art programs are most successful when residents believe – and when it is factually true – that their other needs are being addressed, he added. “Being satisfied? Who’s ever satisfied? But when the city is making an earnest and consistent effort, that is appreciated and understood by the residents.” This is what allows a public art program to thrive in a political culture and political environment, he said.
The city failed in its initial effort to support public art through the Percent for Art program, Taylor said. It was insufficiently resourced from the staff side, and the public art commission was given a set of tasks with insufficient tools, he said, so it didn’t work out. Integrating public art design into city capital projects on a project-by-project basis is the best way to move forward. If elected mayor, his votes will reflect the fact that he believes public art to be a value. If a new play structure in a park will cost X without art and enhanced design, but will cost X plus Y – “where Y is reasonable” – with art or expanded design, then he’d support that.
Sally Petersen: Regarding her attitude toward public art, it’s really about priorities, Petersen said. “I’m still kind of shrugging my shoulders over a discussion we had at the council table on Monday night.” The council voted 8-2 to inquire about acquiring two more pieces of property for the parks system. She reported that she and mayor John Hieftje were on the losing side. There are 158 parks – does the city need two more? She characterized one property as swampland, and the other parcel as unbuildable. So the question is about priorities.
The city has only $57,000 allocated for community events, and she’d rather double that budget so that the city could support events like FestiFools. The economic development allocation is only for $75,000 – and that’s for technology jobs, she noted. [That amount is for the contract the city has with Ann Arbor SPARK.] She’d like to double that as well, so that the city could support job creation in other sectors, including the creative sector. “So again, it’s a matter of priorities,” she said.
Ann Arbor Mayor Q&A: What’s your favorite public art in Ann Arbor?
Bryan Kelly: There’s some decent graffiti in town – under the train bridge at Argo Pond, for example.
Sabra Briere: Her favorite piece of public art is the sculpture in Hanover Square, at the corner of Packard and Division. It’s a set of cascading books. [The piece by Ronald Bauer is titled "Arbor Sapientiae."] Briere said she likes it when it’s wet – it makes noise when it’s raining, and it’s fascinating to see what the artist did. “A lot of people don’t get it, but being a book person, I like it.” Her second favorite piece of public art is on the University of Michigan campus – a fountain at the Kellogg Eye Center that was locally designed.
Christopher Taylor: He works on Main Street and has affection for the artwork on the Fourth & Washington parking structure. [The structure includes "Urban Configurations" by Irina Koukhanova and untitled stoneware panels by Barron Naegel and Yiu-Keung Lee.] Taylor said he loves the “big sculpture with the swing” in front of the UM Museum of Art. [Mark di Suvero's "Shang."] His kids love the sound of it and love interacting with it.
Sally Petersen: Her definition of art is broad, and she’s a huge fan of FestiFools. “It is where community and creativity meet,” she said, so that’s her favorite expression of art in Ann Arbor. She values its inclusive nature. Petersen said she also likes art that’s functional, like the mosaic tile on the Fourth & Washington parking structure [a mural by Michael Hall]. She also spends a lot of time running through Gallup Park, and there’s a playground with a climbing structure in the shape of a frog. Art that’s functional makes a lot of sense to her, Petersen said.
Ann Arbor Mayor Q&A: Comment on the notion that Ann Arbor is being surpassed by other Michigan communities as a creative destination in Michigan.
Sally Petersen: Grand Rapids is probably one of those communities that has surpassed Ann Arbor, Petersen said. They have a lot of private funding for the arts. That city also has a city income tax, she noted. In Ann Arbor, about 68,000 people come into the city each day for work, she said, so the population of Ann Arbor increases by a third during the workweek. If Ann Arbor had an income tax, the state sets the level, she said – a half percent for out-of-towners, and one percent for people who live and work here. For Ann Arbor residents, the current city operations millage would be eliminated, she noted.
When the city looked at a possible income tax in 2009, the net gain was $12 million. Petersen thought the first priority would be repairing the roads, but it might free up other areas of the budget to invest in the arts. “It’s kind of a crazy thing to say – I’m running for mayor, and I want to consider a city income tax? What a crazy thing to run on! But at the same time, it lessens the tax burden for all of Ann Arbor.” It would shift part of the tax burden onto people who are coming from out of town, who are also using the city’s resources, she said.
Sabra Briere: Ann Arbor is best known for performance art – music and vocal art – and is less known for visual art, she said. In the past five years, a lot of people have asked why the city needs to put money into visual art, she added, because the university does that already. As a mechanism for becoming economically healthier, other communities are turning to art and to the expression of the human soul – while Ann Arbor is getting just a little bit more pragmatic and saying “Just fix the roads.” In order to be healthy, to be a growing, vibrant, exciting community, Ann Arbor needs to do both, Briere said. We need to figure out what an expression of the city’s artistic soul may be, she added, and she’d like to see that expression as a community that works together to create art.
Christopher Taylor: Taylor said he didn’t think it was necessarily true that other communities are surpassing Ann Arbor. Grand Rapids receives a great deal of notoriety for ArtPrize. “If any of the local billionaires in the audience are interested helping out in this regard, I think we could certainly move the bar a little bit on that one,” he joked. But it’s true that there’s a competitive environment, he said, and Ann Arbor needs to move forward and be better at what it does, and to advocate for the creative sector.
He’d like to see the community propagate and support organizations that want to put on events throughout the city, whether it’s in neighborhoods or downtown. The city has a role there. Also, the city owns a lot of land, including some land that city officials are considering selling. Taylor said he’d be interested in entertaining the possibility of workspace for artists, where appropriate, if a practical proposal is brought forward. It’s a community value, and would help move any misconception about Ann Arbor’s friendliness for arts to the side, he said.
Bryan Kelly: “This is easy,” Kelly said. “Over my dead body. I’d dare any city to be more artistic.” Being more artistic comes down to the individuals that a city attracts, and he takes very seriously the part of the city charter that defines the mayor as the ceremonial head of the city. That’s part of the reason why he was attracted to run for mayor. He intends to be symbolic, as a candidate “who has not found success in their creative life,” but who is able to apply his talents to running for mayor and share a commonality with the artistic experience. “And I’m not going to Grand Rapids to buy any art,” he quipped. “I’ll buy from a neighbor first.”
Ann Arbor Mayor Q&A: It sounds as if candidates don’t see a significant role for city government funding for the arts via the city’s general fund. Why is that?
Bryan Kelly: The public arts millage wasn’t approved by voters, he noted. And as Briere had pointed out, there will always be people who hate a public presentation of art. So what the city is dealing with is the fallout from the millage. Personally, Kelly said, he’s dealing with the question of whether the public sphere should take the primary role in supporting the arts – or should it be individuals and the private sector.
Christopher Taylor: Taylor said he’s very much in favor of public support of art. At the council table, he said, he’s been a strong supporter for funding public art, and he’s supporting the new public art program that integrates art into enhanced design of city capital projects. The city needs to expand its support of community events, and many of those events are arts-based. The city provides support to the original Street Art Fair, he said, through a direct subsidy. The city also supports the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, Taylor said. He didn’t know whether the city has a role at this point in directly supporting performing arts organizations. The city needs to continue to support the infrastructure and underlying environment where these programs can prosper, he said.
Sabra Briere: Briere noted that she, Petersen and Taylor had all helped rewrite the public art ordinance and removed the Percent for Art concept. Now, the ordinance includes the concept of “baking in” art into capital improvement projects. That allows the city to designate some types of capital improvement to be enhanced by more architectural design, or including art in the design of the project from the beginning – not slapped on as an afterthought. “If you don’t hear a dedication to spending money on public art, it’s not that we aren’t dedicated,” she said. It’s something they might not talk about explicitly because they’ve already thought about it and committed to supporting public art. “We give money to cultural events, though not enough. But we all care about public art.”
Sally Petersen: Petersen addressed the issue of why the city’s general fund doesn’t have a larger line item for public art. “I think it comes back to the current appetite for public dollars for public art.” For a variety of reasons, the Percent for Art approach didn’t work in Ann Arbor, she said. The councilmembers who are running for mayor worked on a task force to transition the program to become part of capital improvements, and to crowdfund public art projects as well, she noted. She thinks there’s an appetite for crowdfunding from the private sector for public art. “I think we need to see some examples of positive art – positive public art that’s privately funded.” If the private sector gets on board, that might “water the soil” for the public coming forward. She’d like to see another try at a public art millage. The time might not be now, but it might be four years from now, she said. “If we can rely on private-sector partners first, maybe we can sow the seeds for that in the future.”
Ann Arbor City Council
Four candidates for Ann Arbor city council attended the July 23 forum: Don Adams, Kirk Westphal, Julie Grand and Chuck Warpehoski.
Ann Arbor City Council: Opening Statements – Don Adams
Don Adams is running for a seat in Ward 1 currently held by Sumi Kailasapathy, who is seeking re-election. Both are Democrats. Kailasapathy did not attend the forum, but did complete the candidate survey. [.pdf of Kailasapathy survey response] Adams did not turn in the survey.
Adams said that if elected, he’d like to see the council work with the creative sector more to improve art. Art is something that’s close to his heart. The council can help attract and retain talent to the city. Artists can bring a vibrant community together. Some people say it would attract young talent, but Adams noted that older people love art as well. He pointed out that Debbie Dingell, in her remarks earlier in the forum, had mentioned the STEM (science technology engineering math) approach to education. At Northside Elementary, which his two daughters attend, the program is STEAM – adding art into the mix.
Adams also talked about how art can work with rehab. He’s on the board of directors at the Eisenhower Center, where they work with people who have traumatic brain injuries, including veterans. There’s a music therapist who works with the patients and gets good results, he said. They had an art therapist student too, but she recently finished her degree and moved on. At their Manchester campus, there’s an art therapy program with ceramics, drawing and painting, and a woodshop. Art and rehab is something he holds dear to his heart.
In conclusion, Adams noted that his seven-year-old daughter’s artwork was hung at the Ann Arbor District Library. “So she is now officially a published artist.”
Ann Arbor City Council: Opening Statements – Kirk Westphal
Kirk Westphal is running against Nancy Kaplan in Ward 2. There’s no incumbent in this race. Both candidates are Democrats, and no Republicans are running this year. Kaplan did not attend the forum, but both candidates completed the Arts Alliance survey. [.pdf of Westphal survey response] [.pdf of Kaplan survey response]
When his family talks about the arts, Westphal said, his wife literally and figuratively steals the show – she was a Broadway music director who’s now a professor with the University of Michigan musical theater department. He encouraged people to attend the department’s productions, saying “it’s the best value ticket in town.”
Westphal told the audience that he’s an urban planner. His job includes creating educational documentaries about cities and different aspects of urban life. His latest one is based in Ann Arbor, called “Ride ‘Round A2.” It focuses on bus and bike commuting.
The role of the creative sector in this community is absolutely about art objects and entertainment venues, Westphal said. But in the bigger picture, it has to do with creative problem-solving and creativity in different industries. It’s a core competency in today’s economy – whether you’re an artist or an engineer or an architect, creative problem-solving is important, and the arts play a major role in that.
Last year, the Knight Foundation completed a major study, interviewing more than 40,000 people over a three-year period in small to mid-sized cities nationwide. The purpose was to find out what the drivers are for growing people’s affection for their community, he said – what makes people love a city and stay there. The three major drivers were the city’s aesthetics, its social offerings, and its openness. “Now if the creative industry can’t tackle these items, I don’t know who can.”
So how can Ann Arbor leverage and strengthen the talent and organizations that the city has now? First, the city needs an arts and culture master plan, Westphal said. Unless the community can describe what it wants and where – and come up with something that can be measured, documented, and inventoried – it’s much less likely to happen. Creating a master plan would be a great opportunity to talk about what the community values. Another strategy is to empower people to make creativity happen now, he said. There are tens of thousands of people in this community who voted to tax themselves to make public art happen, he noted. [This was a reference to those who voted for the unsuccessful 2012 millage proposal.] “So where are they now, and where’s their money?” Let them envision where they’d like to invest and then let them build it, he said.
This is a conversation that needs to keep happening – and not just during an election, Westphal said. As a city councilmember, he’d help facilitate an ongoing dialogue with the community and artists.
[Regarding the master plan, five years ago the Arts Alliance had developed a cultural master plan for Washtenaw County, with customized "working plans" for several local population centers, including Ann Arbor. Deb Polich, the Arts Alliance executive director, reported that "we're ready to dust it off" and refresh it next spring.]
Ann Arbor City Council: Opening Statements – Julie Grand
Julie Grand is one of three Democrats running for Ward 3 city council. There is no incumbent for this seat. Other candidates are Samuel McMullen and Bob Dascola, who did not attend the forum or complete the Arts Alliance survey. [.pdf of Grand survey response]
As a parent, Grand sees how her own kids get out their emotions through art – “even if it’s sometimes an X over my face when they don’t like what they hear.” She shared a personal anecdote that she said reflected the community’s relationship with art. She was a dancer from kindergarten through college, and taught dance in high school. Her last performances were in Philadelphia. When she came to Ann Arbor for grad school, she thought she’d keep dancing. She went to the dance department and was told that she wasn’t in the right kind of shape. “So since I was too fat to dance, I stopped.” Grand said she wasn’t trying to engender sympathy, but wanted to point out that it takes a lot of courage to participate in the creative sector. “You have to be willing to put yourself out there to an often anonymous and unkind public.” It’s really easy to abandon a focus on the arts and turn to other priorities, she said.
Similarly, it takes a lot of courage to stand up for public funding of the arts, Grand said. There’s that unkind and anonymous public out there, who would rather see the city spend its money elsewhere. It’s really easy to use the small amount of funding that’s spent on arts as a scapegoat, instead of coming up with real solutions to things like roads and sewers, “which have nothing to do with the arts.”
Grand said she didn’t want to preach to the choir, but from her perspective, the city council can take several actions to help bring the community back to an appreciation and support of the arts. Residents want projects that are smaller in scale, she said, so that’s important. The city also needs to have projects that are unrestricted in theme. “The site should dictate the art, not the funding source.” Residents also really want to support local artists, Grand said. The city needs to do a better job of reaching out to the creative sector. She’d also like to see more opportunities for temporary art that can provide exposure for lots of local artists. The city should promote and provide funding for festivals so that everyone in the community can get exposure to the arts. It contributes to the unique character of this community. Ann Arborites also want to see projects that are accessible, Grand said – not just in the downtown, but in parks, libraries, along the Huron River and elsewhere. The city needs to think about public-private partnerships, as well as partnerships with educational institutions and nonprofits.
Grand pointed out that John Kotarski, vice chair of the city’s public art commission, was in the audience. He has lots of wonderful ideas, she said. Six months was not enough time for the art commission to “turn that process around,” and she’d like to see it reversed. [Responding to a follow-up query from The Chronicle, Grand said she was referring to the defunding of public art and lack of staff support for the public art commission.]
Ann Arbor City Council: Opening Statements – Chuck Warpehoski
Democrat Chuck Warpehoski is running for a second term representing Ward 5. [.pdf of Warpehoski survey response] Leon Bryson will appear on the Ward 5 Democratic primary ballot, but is not campaigning and announced his intent to withdraw from that race.
Warpehoski delivered his statement in verse:
I’m a politician I’m not a poet And here with the Arts Alliance I don’t wanna blow it When I think of about the role of arts Here in our city It’s about more than just trying to make things pretty While we wring our hands talking about economic health the creative sector's a source of true community wealth As we rebuild this great Great Lakes state we can't do the old things we have to innovate And create places where people want to be sounds like a job for the arts if you ask me Nobody chooses a city about our sewer drains Or the miles and miles of new water mains Those are important we have to get them right but curb and gutter work doesn’t bring anybody delight And the kids, man, the kids Tyrone said it – the kids corporate culture has them tuning out watching YouTube vids Better to nurture Their creative expression that's a much more healthy fulfilling lifelong obsession You don’t just have to receive and passively watch You can create – to do so is our most fundamental human trait The arts here in town They have some challenges That’s no lie Studio rents are too damn high Maybe you wait tables and do art on the side I want Ann Arbor to be a place where you can reside So whether you sculpt or dance or sing We need more and affordable workforce housing So what can you expect If I'm re-elected? Funding for the arts will be protected From Top of the Park to FoolMoon in the dark or that great new mural Down in Allmendinger Park But there’s a limit To what the government can do That’s why to succeed We need all of you You keep creating We’ll keep debating Let’s hope the outcome invigorating Hey, I’m a politician I’m not a poet But Ann Arbor is art town I want you to know it.
Ann Arbor City Council Q&A: The public art commission is taking a hiatus as the program goes through some restructuring. What message do you have for the art commission and the broader arts community in terms of next steps for the program?
Chuck Warpehoski: There was a fight to get funding to hire an arts administrator to help move to the next stage, he said. The city had put a lot of responsibility on the public art commission without giving them the support they need.
Now, the city has lined up funds to get a professional arts coordinator to provide that support. “Where that’s gonna go? I don’t know – we’re still figuring that out.” But having institutional support will be vital, he said.
The public art commission has done great work, but if residents want this to be a priority for the city, they need to be involved, and encourage their friends and neighbors to get involved too. That’s important to build support for the arts, he noted, “because the fight to get the funding for the arts administrator was a real fight, and without your support, it’s going to get harder and harder.”
Kirk Westphal: Westphal said he’d echo Warpehoski’s sentiments. “This is a bottom-up fight for culture in our community. We cannot just offload it onto our politicians and our commissioners.” People need to communicate with their elected leaders about what they want. People love Ann Arbor for the culture it has, and “we have to keep infusing it with more.” It takes being proactive action from the bottom up – from citizens asking for it. We need to support the existing institutions and public art commissioners, “and we need more people under the tent.” There are a lot of different tastes in town, and different tolerances for how the city spends money – “so let’s get those ideas together, and expand the people in charge of this process.”
Julie Grand: With due respect to the councilmembers who worked on restructuring the Percent for Art program, Grand said, the public art commission had some really innovative ideas and she was profoundly disappointed when their funding and staff support was taken away. This process can’t happen in six months, she said. The commission was looking to incorporate best practices, and to go through a stronger community input process – which she supports whenever the city is dealing with complex issues. “We can’t expect that private donors are just going to fall out of the sky,” she said. It takes time to build those relationships. She’d be in favor of allowing the public art commission to do its work, and would like to be supportive of their recommendations.
Don Adams: Adams agreed with the other candidates, telling the creative sector that “you’ll always have a seat at my table.” He’s willing to work with the arts community to see how they can make things better. It won’t happy overnight, he said, but he’s willing to work on it.
Tyrone Bridges was the only Democratic mayoral candidate for the city of Ypsilanti who attended the July 23 forum. The other candidates are Amanda Edmonds and Peter Murdock. None of the candidates filled out the Arts Alliance survey. There are no Republicans in this race.
Ypsilanti Mayor: Opening Statement
Tyrone Bridges told the audience that he’s a 45-year-old single parent who’s been an artist for many years.
It started in the late 1970s when he was a breakdance artist. He joked that if there was more room, “I’d cut a little rug for you.” As an African American growing up in a home with abuse, he used art to escape. “Art was the closest thing that I had as a friend,” he said. Most people didn’t think he had artistic abilities, “but I can pretty much draw anything I can see.” God gives us artist ability and energy, he said.
As a single parent with a 15-year-old child, Bridges said he taught his son how to draw. His son was selected out of a group of 40 students to present his art to the public for an auction, he reported.
He’d brought the drawing to the July 23 forum, and showed it to the audience – a colorful Celtic knot. “My son took colors and made beauty.” This is what makes Washtenaw County powerful, he said – our colorful community, and our ability to share beauty. “We are some beautiful people created by God,” he said. He thanked God for giving him the ability to show his child how to be creative instead of being destructive.
As mayor of Ypsilanti, he’d work with the Arts Alliance on a countywide art competition for all students.
Ypsilanti Mayor Q&A: What’s your favorite piece of public art in Ypsilanti?
Bridges said he didn’t have a favorite piece of public art, but he always creates art in his spare time. God is always reaching down for you when you fall, just like parents picking up their children when they fall, he said. “Our communities should reach down and pick up our youth.” As mayor, Bridges said he would inspire more youth to be creative instead of destructive.
Ypsilanti Mayor Q&A: What would be your top public policy change as mayor, to support the creative sector?
Bridges said he didn’t know much about the policies in Ypsilanti, but as mayor, he’d have leverage to do some things. He’d love to bring all artists in the county together. In Ypsilanti, he’d like to do an art challenge for students. The city could do fundraisers and find matching grants, he said. Elected officials need to eliminate the word “can’t” from their vocabulary.
Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners
Five candidates for the Washtenaw County board of commissioners attended the July 23 forum: Felicia Brabec, Wilma Gold-Jones, Ruth Ann Jamnick, Andy LaBarre and Yousef Rabhi.
Washtenaw County Commissioners: Opening Statements – Felicia Brabec
Felicia Brabec, a Democrat from Pittsfield Township, is the incumbent representing District 4 on the county board. She is unchallenged in the primary, and faces Republican Stanley Watson on Nov. 4. [.pdf of Brabec survey response] Watson did not attend the forum or complete the Arts Alliance survey.
Brabec said she’s lucky that she grew up as an arts lover because of her parents. Her mom was an educator, and during many summers there was always one day a week when her family would go on excursions – to places like museums or concerts. Brabec and her husband try to encourage an appreciation of arts in their own children. She brought her son to the forum, and on the way over he asked what she planned to talk about. She reminded him of how they look for Sluggo and Philomena – characters by chalk artist David Zinn. “That’s part of our family culture,” she said.
At the county, there are some opportunities to support arts and culture. They can hang work by local artists and children in the county buildings, she said. The county also runs camps for kids, and being able to support arts education is a way to make a difference. It’s an important connection to make between arts and the community. Brabec also mentioned the revenue raised by levying a countywide Act 88 millage – a portion of that is used to invest in cultural preservation. She would continue to support that endeavor. The county also partners with local municipalities, she noted. District 4 includes Pittsfield Township, which recently installed its first public art piece at the township hall. She encouraged people to come out and see it.
Brabec concluded by reading a quote attributed to John F. Kennedy: “If arts is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.” Her hope is to support all local artists, to see where our community can go.
Washtenaw County Commissioners: Opening Statements – Wilma Gold-Jones
Wilma Gold-Jones is one of four Democrats running for District 5, which covers Augusta Township and part of Ypsilanti Township south of I-94.
Other Democratic candidates are Ruth Ann Jamnick, Victor Dobrin and Keith Jason. The winner of the primary will face Republican Timothy King in November. The current commissioner from that district, Democrat Rolland Sizemore Jr., is not seeking re-election. Gold-Jones did not complete the Arts Alliance survey.
Art is an educational tool, Gold-Jones said. Kids learn their creativity in school and are energized when they’re allowed to express themselves – through poetry, dance, music or other artistic ways. When she was a child, as an African American, she learned about her rich cultural heritage.
Learning about other cultures helps to dissipate fears and teaches people to appreciate each other. She said she’s not an artist, but she loves to dance.
Music is her way of expressing herself. She also likes to go to festivals and other arts and cultural events.
Washtenaw County Commissioners: Opening Statements – Ruth Ann Jamnick
Jamnick began by saying she was born and raised in Ypsilanti, but graduated from St. Thomas school in Ann Arbor. In Ypsilanti Township, there’s a company called Sensitile that asked for a tax abatement to refurbish an old building. They do unique lighting for businesses and homes, she said. The township gave them a tax abatement, she reported.
So that’s one way that government can support businesses that are oriented “in a little bit of a different nuance than what most people think is art.”
Jamnick said she was probably the least “artist-type person” in the room. “My doodles are squares.” She’s been a volunteer for various organizations over the years, including the Heritage Festival and the Festival of Lights.
She would work with leaders in other communities to preserve historic buildings. In Augusta Township, for example, there are two hamlets that could be helped, she said. Funding is still tight, but she’s heartened that the state might be bringing back some deductions for the state income tax.
Washtenaw County Commissioners: Opening Statements – Andy LaBarre
Incumbent Democrat Andy LaBarre is running for a second two-year term to represent District 7 in Ann Arbor. [.pdf of LaBarre survey response] He’s unopposed in the primary, and faces Republican Joe Miriani in November. Miriani did not attend the forum or complete the Arts Alliance survey.
LaBarre reported that on Monday night he was weeding his garden, and his mom came over to help. “As moms are wont to do, she was telling me a lot of things.” One of those things was a report that friends are coming to visit from London. His mom is meeting them in Chicago and on their way back to Ann Arbor, they’ll be stopping in Grand Rapids for an art festival. She told him that periodic interaction with the arts “recharges my soul.” And it does, he said. Brabec had done a good job in describing some of the ways that the county can support the arts, and he agrees with those. Sometimes people describe art as frivolous or not a basic function of government. “My pledge is that you’re not going to hear that from me.”
There are times when public money has to be spent on other things, but art itself is never a frivolous use of money or a waste of money. It connects you to who you are as a community, he said. To be honest, he added, the most he can do is to be open and receptive to ideas on how to expand the access to arts, and “how we can recharge souls.” That’s the job – don’t denigrate art, and try to promote it when they can, and be receptive to ways in which the arts affect people’s lives.
Washtenaw County Commissioners: Opening Statements – Yousef Rabhi
Yousef Rabhi is the incumbent Democrat in District 8, who current serves as chair of the county board of commissioners. The Ann Arbor resident is unopposed in the primary, and faces Republican Jeffrey Gallatin in November. Neither Rabhi nor Gallatin completed the Arts Alliance survey.
Rabhi said that for him, the definition of art is “the organic expression of the human spirit.” He feels that it’s essential to who we are as humans, and to who we are as a community. The founding of this country included the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, he noted. “What is the pursuit of happiness if you don’t have art?” So as a fundamental value for government, for communities and for our very being, he said, the importance of art should go without saying. He agreed with the things that Brabec and LaBarre had highlighted, but he wanted to highlight a couple of things that deserve “a little bit more watering of the roots.”
The county invests in the Washtenaw Area Teens for Tomorrow and other youth alliances, he said, to facilitate artistic expression like music, painting and sculpture. Every year, there’s a showcase of youth art and it’s a phenomenal event, he said. Access to art is an important thing, and investment is needed. Art shouldn’t be just for the wealthy – it should be for everyone. That’s why the investments on the east side of the county are important, Rabhi said.
Everyone should be able to be an artist, if that’s their calling. Part of this is a public campaign, he added, to convince the public that art is important. People should be reminded that everyone is an artist, and the role of government should be to create a community canvas where everyone can paint their expression of the human spirit.
Washtenaw County Commissioners Q&A: What are the advantages and disadvantages of a countywide arts millage. Would you support it?
Yousef Rabhi: Rabhi joked that he always likes to talk about taxes. More revenue for art is a good thing. However, when thinking about a millage, it’s something the community has to support. A lot of effort and money would be spent on getting it passed, and that’s a challenge. “But if an arts millage is the way we want to go, then fine. I think that being strategic is important.” Rabhi said he’d advocate more strongly for finding new ways of funding local government in general, including art. “We’re being pinched at every corner.” It’s ridiculous that property taxes are the only way to fund local government in Michigan, and it’s limiting the ability to provide even basic services. Options might be a local sales tax, or a tax on special events – but those changes would need to happen at the state level, he noted. It’s important that state legislators understand that local government can’t continue by relying solely on millages.
Andy LaBarre: He wouldn’t support putting a countywide public art millage on the ballot in the next two to four years. He didn’t think it would pass, and it would be detrimental to efforts to pass possible millages for public safety or human services. But if it were on the ballot, “I’d vote for it,” he said. If the community wants to fund art locally, they need to look at what other tools exist or ask for new tools. He wished he would say that he absolutely supports a public arts millage, “but I think the ‘No’ crowd and the anti-government crowd is still strong.”
Ruth Ann Jamnick: She’d support a public arts millage, with the caveat that there should be a very clear distribution of funds. The county would need to tell people in each community how they’d get a share, and how it could be spent. Every community would want to know what’s going to come to their community, in terms of funding to enhance their quality of life. Ann Arbor is obviously the cultural center of Washtenaw County, she said, but outside of that, people would want to know what their community would get. So they’d need to be very careful about that.
Wilma Gold-Jones: She agreed with LaBarre about the need to convince the public that an arts millage would be for the greater good, when funding in general is very tight. Most creative energy comes through the schools, and through grants that leverage county funds. With that approach, it spills over into the community, she said. Gold-Jones agreed with Jamnick that each community would want to know what its share would be, and what it could fund. It’s important to look at this possibility and do their homework ahead of time, to make sure such a millage would provide the community with the best bang for their buck.
Felicia Brabec: Theoretically, she’d be in favor of an arts millage. However, she’d balance that with the reality of the county’s situation now. Other issues are on the table, including public safety and human services. It was helpful to hear some of the data in ArtServe’s Creative State report, Brabec said, but there are some other pressing needs. She’d try to balance those and ask constituents what they want. But in general, she agreed with Rabhi that more funding tools are needed.
Dexter Township Supervisor
Only one candidate from the townships attended the Arts Alliance forum – Democrat Michael Kundak-Cowall, who’s running for Dexter Township supervisor. [.pdf of Kundak-Cowall survey response] He is unchallenged in the primary, and in November will face the winner of the Republican primary – either Mark Wojno or Harley Rider. They did not attend the forum or complete the Arts Alliance survey.
Dexter Township Supervisor: Opening Statement
Michael Kundak-Cowall described Dexter Township “solidly rural,” located between Chelsea and Dexter but not including the village of Dexter.
It has a population of about 6,000. The township budget currently has no money appropriated for the arts, he said. However, the township is home to a significant number of artists. Why? “First off, it’s just plain beautiful out there.” The township is at the edge of the Pinckney State Recreation Area, and there are several parks in the area. The infrastructure includes broadband access through Charter Communications, he noted. His neighbor is an oil painter, and the vocal music director for the Chelsea School District lives nearby.
To bring in more people, the township needs to improve its quality of life, Kundak-Cowall said. The township is on the edge of Detroit Edison’s energy grid, he said, so when power goes out, the township is usually among the last to get its power back. The vast majority of roads are unpaved, so whenever it rains there’s massive erosion and flooding, which sometimes makes the dirt roads impassable. A new substation is being built, which hopefully will improve the reliability of power, he said. The township is also doing what it can to help improve the roads, so you won’t have to renavigate the back roads when “part of the road is just kind of mysteriously washed away.”
So by spending less time taking care of your generator and less time trying to make sure the wheels of your car haven’t fallen off because of hitting a pothole, Kundak-Cowall said, you have more time to do what you want to do – whether it’s making art, or spending time with local artists.
Dexter Township Supervisor Q&A: As supervisor, are there concrete ways to support the local artists living in Dexter Township?
The township is currently running a budget surplus of about $200,000, Kundak-Cowall said. Some of that could be used for appropriations and grants, if the rest of the board agrees. That would be the most direct form. Right now the township hall is being renovated, and he’d appreciate art contributions for that. Most galleries in the area are in Dexter and Chelsea, outside of the township. The township appreciates all artists who contribute to the community, he said.
State Level Candidates
Three candidates at the state level attended the July 23 forum: Shari Pollesch, Gretchen Driskell and Jeff Irwin.
State Level Candidates: Opening Statement – Shari Pollesch
Democrat Shari Pollesch is running for a state Senate seat in District 22. The Livingston County resident is unchallenged in the August primary, and faces incumbent Republican Joe Hune on Nov. 4. Hune did not attend the July 23 forum.
The district covers Livingston County and western Washtenaw County, including the townships of Lyndon, Dexter, Webster, Northfield, Sylvan, Lima, Scio, Sharon, Freedom, Lodi, Manchester, Bridgewater, and Saline, as well as the villages of Dexter and Manchester, and the city of Chelsea. [.pdf of Pollesch survey responses] [.pdf of Hune survey responses]
Pollesch said she’s a strong believer in the arts in terms of education. Especially for at-risk kids, it’s one of the ways to keep them energized and interested in their education. She serves on the board of the Livingston County Concert Band, and they’ve talked about whether millages should be levied to help with the arts.
Any community that’s thriving is doing so in part because it has a thriving arts culture, she said. It’s the hallmark for quality of life. If elected, Pollesch said she’d support the arts and will continue to participate in the arts. “I’m much better at enjoying the arts than participation,” she joked, “but they let me play every week anyway.”
State Level Candidates: Opening Statement – Gretchen Driskell
Gretchen Driskell, a Saline resident, is the incumbent Democrat state Representative for District 52. She is unopposed in the Aug. 5 primary, and faces Republican John Hochstetler of Manchester in November.
Hochstetler did not attend the Arts Alliance forum or complete the candidate survey. District 52 covers the northern and western portions of Washtenaw County, including: the townships of Bridgewater, Dexter, Freedom, Lima, Lodi, Lyndon, Manchester, Northfield, Salem, Saline, Sharon, Sylvan and Webster; the cities of Chelsea and Saline; and portions of the city of Ann Arbor, Pittsfield Township and Scio Township. [.pdf of Driskell survey responses]
Driskell noted that she’s a freshman legislator and a former mayor of Saline. While serving as mayor, she started an arts & culture committee. She’s lived in this area for 26 years, and has served on various board and commissions that recognize the importance of arts and culture, including the economic importance. The creative sector attracts and retains people, she said. In the state legislature, she’s been working on two initiatives related to the arts. One is a bipartisan talent task force, and ArtServe had spoken to the group. It’s important to educate legislature about the importance of arts and culture. “There seems to be a huge disconnect,” she said, so that’s one thing she’s been working on.
The other effort Driskell cited is to increase investment in public education. Several school systems in District 52 are struggling, she noted, so more funding is needed. “Because as we all know, when education gets cut, they cut the things that they think are the soft things, which I strongly disagree with.”
State Level Candidates: Opening Statement – Jeff Irwin
Democrat Jeff Irwin is the incumbent state Representative for District 53, which covers the city of Ann Arbor. He is unopposed in the primary and will run against John Spisak in November. Neither Irwin or Spisak completed the Arts Alliance candidate survey.
Irwin focused on three priorities: money, marketing and education. He said that Driskell had done a good job identifying pressures on the education system. Ann Arbor has felt its fair share of those cuts, though the situation isn’t as bad here as elsewhere. The Lansing public schools cut all of their elementary school art teachers, he said, due to a lack of funding. The state needs to do a better job so that schools can focus on things like arts and culture that inspire kids to learn.
The second piece is marketing. The state spends a lot of money marketing economic development, Irwin said, but very little money marketing the economic development opportunities around the creative sector. If the Michigan Economic Development Corp. spent 10% of what they spent on marketing golf, and instead used that to market theaters and galleries, “I think our citizens would know a lot more about the excellent cultural offerings we have here in Michigan, and I think we’d get more bang for our buck.”
The final priority is money. At the end of former Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s administration and the depths of Michigan’s economic recession in 2008-2009, funding for the Michigan Council for the Arts was “beaten down to zero,” Irwin said. There’s been more support for the council in the past couple of state budgets, and if that trend continues, the funding will return to its former level and hopefully beyond, he said.
State Level Candidates Q&A: How would you make an argument for resources to support arts and culture, given that there are so many other pressing needs – from roads to education to social services?
Shari Pollesch: Arts and a thriving cultural community is the hallmark of our lifestyle, Pollesch said. “We can improve the roads – and god knows we need to improve the roads,” she added, “but people want more than roads.” We need to find a way to fund roads and education and the arts – it’s all one equation. “I would argue to find funding for all of it.” A millage might be one approach. She noted that other candidates – including Debbie Dingell and Jeff Irwin – touched on the fact that we don’t do a good job of promoting the arts as the reason why we’re living here, she said. “If we do a better job of selling these great amenities in our communities, people would be willing to fund it, if they know that the funding is being used responsibly.”
Gretchen Driskell: Part of attracting and retaining talent is quality of life, Driskell said, and that includes arts and culture at the top of the list. It’s important to educate state legislators about what quality of life means and how Michigan compares to other states, and why it’s an important investment at the state level. A recent report came out by Michigan Future Inc. that’s focused on prosperity, and compares Michigan to Minnesota. It specifically examines state policies, Driskell reported, and is very enlightening. The report looks at how investments are made for the public good – and arts and culture is a public good, she said. It’s an investment in quality of life, and helps attract and retain talent.
Jeff Irwin: When he advocates for these things in Lansing, he focuses mostly on what Driskell described – partially because that’s what Gov. Rick Snyder is saying and it’s an opportunity to work together and get something done. The argument for talent and economic development is a strong one. Irwin said he also makes arguments based on leveraging and proportionality. These types of investments bring a lot of bang for your buck. It’s something that people love and want to support in their community, so sometimes just a little public investment can be the foundation that private giving and volunteering can be built on. The argument of proportionality relates to spending in other areas, like education and roads. The state spends $15 billion each year on schools, and a little over $3 billion a year on roads – while the Michigan Council for the Arts struggles to reach $10 million in funding. Even if that funding were to increase by 50% or 100% to arts and cultural organizations, “it still would be pushing even a percent of what we’re putting into some of these bigger priorities.”
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