Art Is Part of City’s “Economic Calling Card”

Mayor urges public art commission to "make it happen"

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Public Art Commission (Dec. 9, 2008) Tuesday’s meeting of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission was the last one for two of the members. John Hieftje, the city’s mayor, dropped by for a brief visit, and the group discussed the recently hired administrator and got updates on several ongoing projects.

Talking with the mayor

The meeting began with a discussion with Hieftje, who first asked for feedback from the group about its work. Margaret Parker, the commission’s chair, praised Sue McCormick for helping guide them through the city’s bureaucracy. McCormick is the city’s public services area administrator, and serves as point person between the city and the commission. Others updated him on their committee work. Commissioner Jim Curtis said the Downtown Development Authority had given the commission a lot of flexibility in how to use funds coming from its projects. “We really are at the beginning of making some major decisions, and it’s really rather exciting,” Curtis said.

Hieftje asked if they’d heard anything from the University of Michigan about the university also possibly allocating a percentage for public art from its building projects. Larry Cressman, a commissioner and UM associate professor of art, said the university art committee that he sits on had its meeting canceled this month. “The idea isn’t lost, but it hasn’t been specifically pursued, either,” Cressman said. Hieftje said he was having coffee soon with UM president Mary Sue Coleman, and would bring it up to her when they meet.

Hieftje then told the group that public art is a component of a broader effort to improve the area’s economy, fitting in with things like the city’s energy initiatives and the Ann Arbor Region Success project. The area’s quality of life will be its “economic calling card,” Hieftje said, and investing in public art is a part of that. “Be careful in your steps, but don’t waste any time. Let’s make it happen, because it’s part of a bigger picture.”

Hieftje left after his remarks, saying he needed to attend the city’s Energy Commission – he’s a member of that group, which meets at the same time as AAPAC.

Inventory of public art

Jean Borger, the commission’s administrative coordinator, reported that the group’s intern, Kate McKelvey, has compiled a listing of city-owned art and is working with city staffer David Wilburn to create a searchable database. One long-term goal is to post the information online and create “walking tours” for the public. Tamara Real, director of the Arts Alliance and a former AAPAC member, suggested connecting with the Ann Arbor Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, to see if there were ways to partner with them. Margaret Parker said there might be possibilities to partner with UM as well.

Municipal Center task force

Margaret Parker said the task force has focused on art for the building’s north courtyard, off of Ann Street. (As discussed at last month’s meeting, the German artist Herbert Dreiseitl has been asked to submit a proposal for works in other parts of the municipal center.) They’re meeting next week with Ken Kline of Quinn Evans Architects, the Ann Arbor firm that’s designing the new facility, to talk about what might be possible on the site. Later in the meeting, Parker also said that she’d be meeting with Sue McCormick and some media relations staff from the city to talk about how to publicize the project.

New administrator

Katherine Talcott has been hired as the commission’s administrator, a part-time position. She’ll start sometime in January. Later in the meeting, Margaret Parker raised the possibility of holding a retreat for the commission to review the past year and go over the group’s guidelines. After some discussion about whether or not a retreat is necessary at this point, commissioners decided to table the idea until Talcott takes over as administrator.

Community Projects committee

Jan Onder reported that Ellie Serras and Bob Dascola have joined the committee. Separately, Serras and Dascola are working with a group that’s getting artists to paint mosaics on utility boxes in the city. Onder said AAPAC might consider contributing to this project, perhaps by paying the artists. Tamara Real urged the commission to follow up on that, even if it was an honorarium. She said artists are often asked to donate their time and talents in ways that people wouldn’t ask of, say, a dentist.

Onder also said the group had put together items to be posted on their website: 1) a form for artists to fill out if they’d like AAPAC to consider a project, and 2) nomination forms for the annual Golden Paintbrush awards. She also suggested, later in the meeting, that someone craft a press release announcing Katherine Talcott’s arrival.

Jim Kern gave an update about the SoundFall project, reminding commissioners of an information meeting on Dec. 17 at 4:30 p.m. in the Michigan Theater screening room. Jim Curtis said he felt more comfortable with the project after visiting the site at the Maynard Street parking structure with Kern and Tom Heywood of the State Street Area Association, which plans to contribute $50,000 toward the effort. The sum includes about $20,000 for upkeep. The project is a computer-programmed LED light display that can respond to voices and other sounds in the environment. Curtis also said he’d like to have that someone in addition to Bob Sullivan of Advanced Lighting & Sound be capable of programming the display.


The commission hopes to have a re-dedication ceremony in the spring for the refurbished Arch, a work located in Sculpture Park near Kerrytown. Margaret Parker said it would be an opportunity to re-educate the public about that particular piece of public art.

The group also discussed David Barr’s eight sculptures on the Pfizer property. Commissioners are curious about what Pfizer intends to do with them, and whether they might be available for some other public site. Onder reported that Ellie Serras was planning to contact someone she knew at Pfizer about it, hoping that the company would consider making a tax-deductible contribution of the pieces to the city.

Saying goodbye: As the meeting ended, commissioners gave a round of applause to outgoing members Tim Rorvig and Larry Cressman. Their terms have expired, and this was their last meeting. Parker said that the mayor is expected to nominate Connie Brown and Cheryl Zulig as new commissioners.

Commissioners present: Larry Cressman, Jim Curtis, Jan Onder, Margaret Parker, Tim Rorvig

Absent: Marsha Chamberlin, Cathy Gendron, Elaine Sims

Next meeting: Tuesday, Jan. 13 at 5:30 p.m. at the Smithgroup JJR second-floor conference room, 110 Miller Ave.