Meeting Watch: Public Art Commission (11 Nov 2008)

German artist agrees to draft a proposal for new municipal center

A major step forward on a public art installation for Ann Arbor’s new municipal center was among several updates at Tuesday evening’s meeting of the Public Art Commission. Another potential project – called SoundFall – is moving ahead with a formal presentation planned in December.

Municipal Center project

Following a discussion at last month’s meeting, the commission invited Herbert Dreiseitl to submit a proposal to do three public art installations at the city’s municipal center, which is in the planning stages. He accepted the offer last week, and is working on a proposal for three related works, all involving some kind of water component. The pieces would be located: 1) outside facing Huron Street between Fifth and Division, to highlight the entrance to city hall, 2) in the atrium walk-through that will run from the front of the building to the parking lot and 3) in the lobby of the new court/police facility, coming off of Fifth. The works might be interactive in some way, said Margaret Parker, chair of the commission, perhaps changing color in response to sound. The commission has set aside $750,000 of the $1.05 million currently available for public art projects to pay for Dreiseitl’s work, assuming they accept his proposal.

Commissioner Tim Rorvig reported that he’d recently visited a college campus in Wisconsin where they’d heard that Dreiseitl was working on a project for Ann Arbor. “So word is out there,” Rorvig said.

In addition, there are other spaces in the municipal center’s site that would be suited to public art. Commissioner Jan Onder said that her task force will make recommendations to the full commission regarding available sites, a budget and a process for selecting artists.

Hiring an administrator

Commissioners Marsha Chamberlin and Elaine Sims gave updates on their interviews for a part-time administrator. They’ve interviewed two candidates and were to meet a third one at Cafe Zola after Tuesday night’s meeting adjourned. They planned to have a formal interview with her on Wednesday. Sims said that the references for the first two candidates have been stellar, which would make selection difficult – even more so if the third candidate is just as strong. “What a great problem to have,” Rorvig said. Chamberlin said that the candidate who is hired won’t likely start until after Jan. 1.

Earlier in the meeting, Jean Borger, the commission’s administrative coordinator, reported that she has hired an intern, as had been discussed at the October meeting. The intern is Kate McKelvey, a graduate student in arts management at Eastern Michigan University who has also worked with the Arts Alliance. She’ll be helping with a project to inventory the city’s public art.

Community projects committee

Onder reported that they’re planning to post an initial project proposal form on the commission’s website soon. The committee decided not to make other decisions related to the website until after a new administrator has been hired, so that that person can give their input. The committee hasn’t yet connected with Trevor Staples to talk about public art for the proposed skatepark. And there haven’t been any decisions made about DDA-related projects.

Onder asked other commissioners what they thought about setting up a separate site committee, one that could develop criteria for prioritizing sites that are suitable for public art. Commissioners seemed to support the idea, and Rorvig noted that some of that work had been done two years ago when the group developed its master plan, which included areas identified as gateways for the community. There might also be opportunities during road construction projects, he said, like rebuilding the Stadium Boulevard bridge over State Street. Chamberlin thought there might be Michigan Department of Transportation funds available for that kind of project.

Elaine Sims suggested having a forum once each year, inviting the public to give input.

The commission agreed to form a site committee. Initial members will be commissioners Cathy Gendron, Tim Rorvig and Larry Cressman.

Hunt for new commissioners

Cressman and Tim Rorvig are leaving the commission in December, and so far no replacements have been identified to recommend to the mayor, who ultimately makes the appointments. Commissioner Jim Curtis said he’s talked to landscape architect Peter Pollack, a former commission member who said he’d consider applying. “He liked the fact that there’s actual money now,” Curtis said. Onder reported that she’d talked with Ellie Serras, who recently stepped down as head of the Main Street Area Association. Serras is also considering whether to apply. Several others might be interested, but no one has made a firm commitment yet.

SoundFall project

Jim Kern gave an update on the SoundFall project, a potential installation for one of the city’s parking structures. He said he had a meeting with representatives from Huron Sign Co., the State Street Area Association, Republic Parking and Advanced Lighting & Sound. That group discussed structural details, including how it would be connected to the parking structure, the placement of electrical boxes and the placement of lights plus various kinds of aluminum tubes. Software programming would make the installation interactive: It could display different light configurations in response to conversation from passers-by on the sidewalk, or it could respond to ambient noise from the area. It could also be programmed to project images according to season, Kern said – leaves in the fall, snowfalls in the winter.

Kern said those involved in SoundFall will make a presentation at Michigan Theater on Dec. 17 at 4:30 p.m. They’ll have a demonstration of the technology, as well as a budget and other information. They’re hoping that the commission will fund this project. Elaine Sims said she’d like commissioners to get as much detail as possible before the Dec. 17 meeting, so that they can have time to prepare questions. Jim Curtis said he’d feel more comfortable funding it if the installation were insured, and urged Kern to look into having an insurance company evaluate the risk for this kind of prototype project.

The Arch

Curtis reported that he hadn’t made any headway in finding a way to fix the footings on the Arch, a piece located in Sculpture Park near Kerrytown. The commission decided to table further action at this point.

University art

Larry Cressman, an assistant professor of art at UM, pointed out that the large-scale modern sculpture by Mark di Suvero has been installed in front of the UM Museum of Art’s new addition. (See an article in The Chronicle about its installation.) That led to a brief discussion about the importance of public art at the university. Tim Rorvig said he likes to see projects like di Suvero’s on property that edges the town/gown border, and hopes to see something dramatic in the North Quad, which he described as a “huge gateway” for the community. North Quad is a dormitory now under construction at the corner of Huron and State.

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

Next meeting: Tuesday, Dec. 9 at 5:30 p.m. at the Smithgroup JJR second-floor conference room, 110 Miller Ave.

One Comment

  1. By Matt H
    November 16, 2008 at 1:12 pm | permalink

    Yes!– finally some public art involving water. Boston is full of public fountains that children can play in. Munich and Paris were both quite excellent, too. Water is a wonderful medium.