Meeting Watch: Public Art Commission (14 Oct 2008)

Commission discusses process for selecting artists for public art projects

The Ann Arbor Public Art Commission held its monthly meeting on Tuesday, with much of the group’s discussion focused on setting up a process for handling projects. That includes AAPAC’s first large project: public art for the new municipal center.

Public comment: Mary Thiefels of Tree Town Murals expressed interest in being part of a subcommittee of AAPAC’s community-based projects committee, focused on murals. She also requested that if she were selected for the subcommittee, that AAPAC sponsor her trip the National Mural Symposium in November, at a cost of $500. Local artist Leslie Sobel also spoke briefly, saying she too was interested in subcommittee work for AAPAC.

Taking inventory: Jean Borger, AAPAC’s administrative coordinator, reported progress on taking an inventory of the city’s public art and city-owned art. Her starting point is the book “Public Art in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County” by Martha Keller and Michael Curtis, but she’s also consulting with city staff to help identify relevant work. At Borger’s recommendation, the board unanimously approved hiring an intern for a $500 stipend to work 200 hours on this task, with the money coming from a previously approved $2,000 budget for the inventory project. Borger asked for help in prioritizing the types of art that should be included in the inventory. When the art is catalogued in a database, eventually the public might be able to access the information online, read about the different pieces and generate their own art tour of the city.

Municipal Center: AAPAC chair Margaret Parker gave a report from the task force set up to handle the public art component of the new municipal center, which will include the 15th District Court and police facility. Because that project is well under way, she said, the task force needed to move quickly. In September, they met with architects and landscape designers for the site, a meeting that also included Herbert Dreiseitl, a German artist and landscape architect internationally known for his urban waterscapes and public art projects. (Dreiseitl was in town last month for several speaking engagements, including the keynote for the Huron River Watershed Council’s State of the Huron event.) Meeting with Dreiseitl “was a great community education process,” Parker said, “and the fact that we could hook up with him at that point was fantastic.”

Parker said that because of the tight timeline and the fact that people on the task force were excited by Dreiseitl’s observations about the project, they’d decided to ask him to make a proposal to do three public art pieces on the site, ideally relating to each other, for a budget of $750,000.

Some commissioners expressed surprise at the amount of funding available for the project. Marsha Chamberlin said that to make an offer without a bidding process and to not include local artists sets “a precedent I’m somewhat uncomfortable with.”

That led to a lengthy discussion about the role of the task force and the commission in making decisions like this. Task force members noted that they’d been delegated this work, and stressed the unusual nature of the project – the need to act quickly on a project that was already under way, and the opportunity to involve a high-profile artist like Dreiseitl. No one disputed that having Dreiseitl involved was a good thing. “I think Dreiseitl is a wonderful choice, and I wouldn’t have changed anything except for the process,” Cathy Gendron said.

Parker ultimately proposed that the full commission vote on whether to extend an invitation to Dreiseitl for this project with a $750,000 budget and the understanding that if he did submit a proposal, the commission would vote on whether to accept it. The group unanimously supported that resolution.

Hiring an administrator: Applications for a part-time administrator were due on Sept. 30, and the group went into closed session to get an update on the hiring process. According to the AAPAC website, the position is “projected to expand to full time as capital projects of the city are developed.”

Community-based projects committee: Jim Curtis gave an update on working with the Downtown Development Authority. Funds could be available from various projects, like the parking structure at the proposed Village Green project at First and Washington. Curtis said that Susan Pollay, the DDA’s executive director, wants to work with the commission and be flexible in how it handles public art projects. Negotiations are still under way on how much the DDA needs to set aside for ongoing maintenance and administrative costs for each project. Parker urged the committee to set some guidelines for working with the DDA.

The issue of process also came up when Parker said she’d gotten a call from a donor who wanted to contribute $20,000 for a mosaic project, and wanted local artist Yulia Hanansen to do the work. Elaine Sims urged the commission to think about how to decide when to accept donations with strings attached. Parker reminded the group that they had previously adopted guidelines for a gift review process.

The commission also discussed the need to set guidelines for deciding who should serve on subcommittees, and how to handle potential conflict-of-interest issues that might arise if a subcommittee member also proposed a public art project. Parker said it was important to get local artists involved, and to capture their enthusiasm.

New commissioners: Larry Cressman and Tim Rorvig will be leaving the commission in December. The group talked about the need to generate names of possible replacements, who would ultimately be appointed by the mayor.

Commissioners present: Marsha Chamberlin, Larry Cressman, Jim Curtis, Cathy Gendron, Jan Onder, Margaret Parker, Tim Rorvig, Elaine Sims, Jean Borger

Next meeting: Tuesday, Nov. 11 at 5:30 p.m. at the Smithgroup JJR second-floor conference room, 110 Miller Ave.