Public Art Commission (Jan. 13, 2009): Tuesday night’s meeting of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission covered a lot of territory, from updates on specific projects to concerns over a contract delay for the newly hired administrator, and the as yet non-appointment of Cheryl Zuellig to the commission. But commissioners spent a small portion of their meeting deciding to hold two parties – and who doesn’t need a little party planning to heat things up on a cold winter night? And if you stick with this article, you’ll also find out which artist is a direct descendant of Ann Allen.
Trying again on new commissioner appointment
Party planning came later in the meeting. Before that, Margaret Parker, AAPAC chair, reported on the status of new appointments. At the Jan. 5 city council meeting, council was expected to approve two new appointments to the art commission: Connie Rizzolo Brown and Cheryl Zuellig. Instead, as reported previously in The Chronicle, councilmember Marcia Higgins questioned why someone who didn’t live in Ann Arbor was being appointed to an Ann Arbor commission. (Zuellig lives in Ypsilanti and works at JJR’s downtown Ann Arbor office, where the commission holds its monthly meetings.) Mayor John Hieftje, who makes the appointments which council must confirm, didn’t have an answer to that, and so withdrew her name. Brown and the re-appointments of Marsha Chamberlin and Elaine Sims were unanimously approved.
At Tuesday’s art commission meeting, Parker said she intended to write a letter to council outlining the qualities that Zuellig would bring to the commission, and would resubmit her name to the mayor for appointment. Commission member Jan Onder pointed out that she didn’t live in Ann Arbor either, and that neither did developer Ed Shaffran when he was chair of the Downtown Development Authority. Precedent had been set, she said.
Commissioner Jim Curtis joked, “Marsha, could you house her for a while?” – a reference to Chamberlin hosting the newly hired commission administrator when she was in town apartment-hunting recently.
New director to start in February
Katherine Talcott will start work as the commission’s administrator, a part-time post, on Feb. 1. She’s moving here from Pittsburgh, and there was some concern because the city attorney’s office hasn’t yet completed Talcott’s contract. Chamberlin said for someone to commit to such a move without an agreement in place was a lot to ask.
Parker said she asked Abby Elias, the attorney who’s handling work for the art commission, to make the contract a priority. Parker noted that Elias also hadn’t finished approving the commission’s guidelines, which were submitted in May or June of last year. “We’ve had lag experiences with the attorney’s office before, to put it mildly,” Parker said. Some commissioners expressed concern that the delay will cause Talcott to reconsider.
Assuming these details get worked out, Chamberlin suggested hosting a “coming out” party for Talcott at the Ann Arbor Art Center, where she serves as president. The commissioners brainstormed on people to invite – including the city council, city department heads, downtown business groups, arts professionals, and members of the UM arts committee. They decided to have the meeting open to the public, which allows them to get reimbursed by the city for refreshments (though not for alcohol). They tentatively plan to hold the event in March.
Projects: Municipal Center, Skatepark, SoundFall
Three projects were discussed in some detail on Tuesday. Parker reported that the task force for public art in the city’s proposed municipal center was on hold. They’d come up with a list of possible spots for public art on the north side of the complex. And Herbert Dreiseitl, the German artist that the commission hopes will do three pieces on the site, has submitted a contract to the city for his initial design work. However, Parker said that Sue McCormick – public services area director for the city – wanted to wait on that contract until council had given its final approval for the municipal center, which is expected to occur in February.
Onder gave a report on a meeting with Trevor Staples of the Ann Arbor Skatepark Action Committee, saying “This group – they are just amazing.” They’re trying to incorporate art in different ways, she said, and they hope to find an artist who can work with the design team as they move ahead on the skatepark in Veteran’s Park. “They’d like to use art to make it a destination for visitors and people in town,” Onder said. For their fundraiser in May, they plan to give 50 blank skateboards to local artists, who’ll use the skateboards as canvasses for their art, which will be auctioned off to benefit the skatepark.
There was some discussion about whether the skatepark committee should make a presentation to AAPAC – and whether it was too soon to talk about the commission funding any kind of art project at the park. The group eventually decided that it would be good to get a brief overview of the project and its timeline, with the understanding that the commission wouldn’t be making any commitments at this point. “They are head and shoulders above other projects,” Onder said. “I think we should encourage them.”
Commission members didn’t have the same enthusiasm for SoundFall, a project that’s been years in development. A Dec. 17 presentation at the Michigan Theater was expected to provide all the information they needed before deciding whether to fund the project – a computer-programmed LED light display for the Maynard Street parking structure that can respond to voices and other sounds in the environment. But that didn’t happen, commissioner Jim Curtis said. “So it’s back to the drawing board for them.”
It wasn’t clear who’d be responsible for programming the system, and the three contractors in the project weren’t taking a warranteed position, which was a concern, Curtis said. What’s more, the technology is new and expensive, and that added to the hesitation. The State Street Area Association has been working on this project, as has Jim Kern, a public art commissioner who didn’t attend Tuesday’s meeting. However, Bob Dascola did attend – his business, Dascola Barbers, is a member of the association, and he sits on the art commission’s community projects committee. Dascola asked if the commission could provide a list of things they’d need to do to move the project along. Parker said she could do that, and also referred him to the jumpstART document on the commission’s website. At this point, SoundFall supporters would need to bring a proposal to the commission, which would then decide whether it was worthy of going through a peer review process.
Preservation: The Arch needs a party, too
Parker expressed some frustration that the commission wasn’t getting recognition for the work it’s doing. She cited the example of an Ann Arbor News photo of the Arch, a work that AAPAC recently refurbished that’s located in Sculpture Park near Kerrytown. The caption didn’t mention the commission’s role in the project, she said. They needed to highlight their accomplishments, and having a re-dedication party for the Arch would help do that. Elaine Sims suggested holding it in warmer weather. Other suggestions included holding it during the FestiFools parade or during the Juneteenth celebration in the Kerrytown area.
Arts at the university
Elaine Sims, director of UM’s Gifts of Art program, reported that the hospital will be installing six more Motawi tile murals over the next few weeks. She also reported that they’ve chosen a memorial sculpture for members of UM’s Transplant Survival Flight team, who died in 2007 when their plane crashed in Lake Michigan. “Rotations” – a work by Doug Hollis – is a 7-foot stainless steel sculpture that will face the hospital’s helicopter pad. Sims said Hollis also happens to be a direct descendant of Ann Allen.
Commissioners present: Jim Curtis, Marsha Chamberlin, Cathy Gendron, Jan Onder, Margaret Parker, Elaine Sims. Guests: Bob Dascola, Mary Thiefels
Absent: Connie Rizzolo Brown, Jim Kern
Next meeting: Tuesday, Feb. 10 at 4:30 p.m. at the Smithgroup JJR second-floor conference room, 110 Miller Ave. [confirm date] (Note the change in meeting time – previously, commission meetings began at 5:30 p.m.)