Dreiseitl Coming to Ann Arbor in July

Art commission discusses how to communicate with public
Public art commissioners Connie, Jim Curtis and Elaine Sims.

Public art commissioners Connie Brown, Jim Curtis and Elaine Sims at their April 14 meeting.

Ann Arbor Public Art Commission (April 14, 2009): Much of Tuesday’s meeting focused on issues related to communication, and in particular how it related to the controversial Herbert Dreiseitl project for the city’s municipal center.

And though his visit wasn’t discussed at length, the German artist is coming to Ann Arbor on July 20 to present his designs to the commission and city council. Using funds from the Percent for Art program, the city is paying $77,000 for his preliminary design work, but would still need to sign off on the entire project, which is estimated to cost around $700,000.

There will be a public reception for him, said Margaret Parker, chair of the art commission. It’s not clear whether the commission will see his designs before he arrives, but they might try to vote on the project and take it to city council for approval while he’s here, she said, adding that details about his visit have yet to be finalized. Before he arrives, the commission also plans to have an open house for the public on May 21, to talk about their mission and goals.

Dreiseitl and the Muncipal Center

Parker led off a discussion about how to increase public awareness of the process of selecting art through the Percent for Art program. The program receives 1% of funds from each of the city’s large capital projects, with a cap of $250,000 per project. Connie Brown said that in general, AAPAC needed to do more outreach and do a better job publicizing its work. She said public comment during AAPAC meetings would be an opportunity for input. No one from the public attended Tuesday’s meeting.

Parker said that one suggestion she’d heard was to put a general summary of meeting minutes from the municipal center task force on their website. [That task force has come under fire for its choice of Dreitseitl, with some people in the community saying the money should have been spent on work by local artists. Others have objected to the whole concept of the Percent for Art program, especially in the current economic climate.] Cheryl Zuellig said she wanted to make sure they weren’t creating two documents, one for the commissioners and one for the public. “Commissioners should be issued the exact same thing that the public sees on the website,” she said.

Jim Curtis said in general they should also publicize what they plan to discuss at their next meeting. He wondered why their meetings weren’t being aired on Community Television Network, which covers many other city commissions. Katherine Talcott, administrator for the Percent for Art program, said she’d look into that.

Margaret Parker, chair of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission.

Margaret Parker, chair of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission.

Marsha Chamberlin said that everyone understands the need for transparency. But her concern was that while the commission technically approved the Dreiseitl project, she didn’t think she could explain the process. It all goes back to the question, she said: What is their procedure for selecting projects?

Parker pointed to the commission’s guidelines, saying that the document outlined the procedures in detail. [That document is being reviewed by the city attorney's office and is not posted on AAPAC's website at this point.]

Later in the meeting, Parker asked the commission if they thought it was time to reconvene the municipal center task force to talk about the next phase of that project. They hadn’t met since late last year, she said, after they’d recommended asking Dreiseitl to submit a proposal for three main pieces at the center. There’s about $300,000 remaining in funding for the year, Parker said, over and above what’s been set aside for Dreiseitl.

In addition to Parker, members of the municipal center task force are:

  • Julie Creal, 15th Circuit Court judge
  • Ray Detter, DDA Citizens Advisory Committee
  • Bob Grese, director of Nichols Arboretum and Matthaei Botanical Gardens
  • Sue McCormick, city of Ann Arbor
  • Jan Onder, Ann Arbor Public Art Commission
  • Laura Rubin, director of Huron River Watershed Council
  • Spring Tremaine, Ann Arbor Police Department
  • Elona Van Gent, UM professor and artist

Jim Curtis said he didn’t support using the entire $300,000 on the municipal center. Marsha Chamberlin proposed waiting until they know what Dreiseitl’s proposal will entail before spending any additional funds there. [Dreiseitl specializes in work that incorporates water, including surface water runoff.] Chamberlin also said she wanted the task force to present year-to-date plans so that the commission has a better idea of what other projects are being considered for the municipal center.

Parker said the task force needs to be reconvened in order to receive and consider Dreiseitl’s proposal in July. Sims asked why it has to be reconvened – shouldn’t it just stay in place until its work is done? After some discussion, it emerged that the commission did not, in fact, need to vote to reconvene the task force, because it had not been disbanded.

Cheryl Zuellig asked if the public would be asked to submit proposals for the municipal center. The task force was charged with making recommendations to the commission, Parker said, and had a list of sites within the center and projects it was analyzing. Zuellig said she thought an important time to get public feedback would be when the task force makes its recommendations.


Katherine Talcott reported that she’d recently received a projection for Percent for Art funding in fiscal 2009: $441,612. Parker said they would give a full budget report in the future, but they weren’t prepared to do that at this meeting. [Though this was not presented or discussed at Tuesday's meeting, here's a breakdown of funding for the program in fiscal 2008 and 2009, as detailed in the city's capital improvement project appropriations report.]

A Tale of Two Websites

The commission talked about how to manage their two websites: 1) a page on the city of Ann Arbor’s website, and 2) a website designed specifically for AAPAC by a volunteer.

One of two AAPAC websites. The other one is on the city of Ann Arbors website at a2gov.org.

One of two AAPAC websites. The other one is on the city of Ann Arbor's website at a2gov.org.

Some commissioners were concerned that this created confusion. Jean Borger, the Percent for Art administrative coordinator, said the city suggested linking to the independent site from the city site. They’re constrained from doing anything outside of the template used by the city on its site. Borger recommended that they hire a web designer to redesign their own site.

Parker said the commission’s website committee should handle the project. Later in the meeting, Chamberlin said she’d like to put a deadline on the effort, because she feared it wouldn’t move forward. Parker said they’d ask for a report from the website committee at their next meeting.

Meetings, Parties, More Meetings

Downtown Development Authority: Parker said that she, Sims and Talcott had met with Sue McCormick, the city’s director of public services, and Susan Pollay of the Downtown Development Authority. There’s some confusion about how the commission and DDA should work together – DDA capital projects fall under the Percent for Art program – and the DDA has requested a joint meeting of the two groups to get a better understanding on how to proceed with projects funded via the DDA. April 21 or April 28 were two dates proposed for a lunchtime meeting – Parker said she’d get back to the commission after confirming a date with the DDA. The meeting would be open to the public.

Annual meeting/AAPAC open house: Parker said that feedback from people about the municipal center project had included the suggestion to have a public forum. She said the commission could hold one to invite suggestions for their annual plan, and that the library had a room open on April 29. She asked whether commissioners thought that was a good idea, and said she wanted to look forward, not just hash over mistakes.

Several commissioners expressed concern that the date was too soon, and that they wouldn’t have time to adequately prepare or notify the public. Zuellig said she thought the idea of an annual meeting was great, but suggested pushing it back to May.

Gendron said that if they were soliciting feedback about AAPAC’s annual plan, they’d better be prepared to modify their proposal to council based on that feedback. Curtis added that timing was important – he’d rather have a meeting in January or February to focus on their annual plan, which would give them time to accept input and be respectful of the community. Having it now, he said, “almost comes across as we’re doing it because of Dreiseitl.” Chamberlin also was concerned that they’d look defensive, and run the risk of seeming reactive and disingenuous if they took input when they don’t have the means of using it.

Sims said maybe they could use a meeting in the coming weeks as more of a launch, to tell people about what the commission does. Several others picked up on this idea. Curtis said it would give people a chance to see the faces behind the decisions, to know that they care about the community, too. Chamberlin added that it could be a way to talk about how decisions are made in an open, friendly venue. She also warned that they might be using a canon to shoot a flea – they’ve heard from the disenchanted, she said, but not necessarily from the enchanted. It was important to do something positive that gets out information about the commission.

Parker wanted to have a public forum before Dreiseitl comes to town, so that if someone is harboring ill will about the project, they can get it out of their system. Otherwise, they might come to the public reception for him “loaded for bear.”

After a fair amount of discussion, the commission settled on May 21 as the date for an informal open house for the public. Zuellig urged the group to publicize the event in ways other than just posting it on their website. Sims joked that Curtis wanted to have Harvey the photographer outside, or maybe have the Naked Mile finish line at the event.

Commissioners also agreed to plan for some kind of annual meeting in February.

Working session for planning: The commission also set a working session to focus on planning issues for Wednesday, April 29 at 5:30 p.m. The meeting, to be held at the Ann Arbor Art Center, is open to the public and will include time for public comments. Commissioner Jim Kern wondered why public comments were part of the meetings. “Are our meetings public now?” he queried. Parker told him that as a public commission, AAPAC meetings are public. When Kern noted that the city council holds some of its sessions behind closed doors, Parker said the council does so only under special circumstances, such as to discuss personnel issues.

Guidelines and Bylaws

Abby Elias of the city’s attorney’s office dropped by to talk to the commission about revisions she was making to the group’s guidelines and bylaws. She said that city council had asked for their office to review all the bylaws and come up with as uniform a structure as possible across all the city’s boards and commissions.

Abby Elias of the city attorneys office.

Abby Elias of the city attorney's office, at Tuesday's meeting of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission.

She’s doing the same with the commission’s guidelines. Those are, as the name suggests, a guide to show artists and the community what the commission is looking for, how projects will be selected and administered, among other things. Her job, Elias said, was to make sure the guidelines are consistent with the city’s existing procedures. She’s not going to second guess artistic concepts, she said. “I’m just a lawyer – which reminds me, today is Be Nice To Lawyers Day.”

Sims said there still seems to be discussion of what the commission’s role is, and that their role needs to be clear. Zuellig said that when she thinks of their mission, she sees three roles: 1) guiding art projects from idea to implementation, using the commission’s procedures, 2) planning what they want to do strategically, and 3) promoting public art through outreach and education.

Sims added that public perception is also an issue. Some people initially thought they could just come to the commission and tap a big pot of money. The commission needs to communicate what they can or can’t do.

Elias closed by saying. “I think you guys have a fair amount of work to do.”

Golden Paintbrush Awards

The commission had originally planned to vote on these annual awards at their Tuesday meeting, but decided they didn’t have enough information on all the nominations. Instead, they chose to email their votes to Jean Borger by Friday, April 16. The awards will be presented at a city council meeting in June.

Nominations included the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, the Prison Creative Art project, an eight-panel mosaic by Yulia Hanaasen at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, the mastodon mural at Slauson Middle School, the Urban Forest Project exhibition, a mural on the building behind the Ann Arbor Art Center, the Imagine/Align project at Nichols Arboretum (an installation by Susan Skarsgard of 20,000 daffodils), and Play Gallery videos airing on Michigan TV. Three people were nominated: Ellie Serras, former director of the Main Street Area Association; Shary Brown, executive director of the Street Art Fair; and Bob Kelch, UM executive vice president for medical affairs.

Gendron said she was uncomfortable mixing community art projects with professional work. She suggested establishing different categories for the awards. Parker said that in the past, they’ve tried to give out as many awards as possible. Gendron said that dilutes the value of the award, and after a while, people won’t pay attention to it. Zuellig noted that having categories could actually increase the number of entries and raise the level of awareness about the awards.

Commissioners discussed whether some of the nominations even qualified for the awards. They decided that the Street Art Fair and the Prison Creative Art project – both nominated by members of the public – didn’t qualify because the fair was art in a public place, not  public art, and the prisoner art was a program and traveling show, not something that encouraged public art in Ann Arbor. Zuellig said it was a cool program, and that perhaps they could have a category in future years for programs like this.

Parker raised a conflict-of-interest concern about the mural behind the Ann Arbor Art Center, which was nominated by Chamberlin, the art center’s president and an AAPAC commissioner. Parker said that according to the group’s bylaws, they shouldn’t consider any work that a commissioner is involved with. Chamberlin said she didn’t have anything to do with the mural, but setting that aside, why would anyone involved in the arts have any incentive to serve on the board, if doing so hurt the organization they worked for?

Curtis said Chamberlin could recuse herself from voting, but that he didn’t have any problem with the nomination. Chamberlin, who was reading from a draft of the bylaws [the ones being reviewed by Elias of the city attorney's office], said she could see how they might be interpreted as a conflict. The relevant parts (from the draft version) are:

Article V: Ethics and Conflicts of Interest

Section 3: A member of AAPAC shall not obtain for himself/herself or for any person with whom he/she has business or family ties, any financial or beneficial interest in a matter which may be affected by a decision of AAPAC. This restriction shall apply during the member’s tenure and for one year thereafter.

Chamberlin said the key word was “beneficial,” and in that case, it could be seen as a conflict. She said at some other time they should reexamine their bylaws, because if it causes a member’s organization not to receive recognition during their tenure, there’s disincentive to serve.

Moving to other nominations, Gendron wondered whether the Imagine/Align project was too old to be considered, since it was installed in 2004. Parker said they could give it the “How Did We Miss It?” award.

Commissioners present: Connie Brown, Jim Curtis, Marsha Chamberlin, Cathy Gendron, Jim Kern, Margaret Parker, Elaine Sims, Cheryl Zuellig. Others: Katherine Talcott, Jean Borger

Absent: Jan Onder

Next regular meeting: Tuesday, May 12 at 4:30 p.m. at city council chambers, 2nd floor, 100 N. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor.  In addition, a working session will be held on Wednesday, April 29 at 5:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor Art Center, 117 W. Liberty St. The date for a joint meeting between AAPAC and the DDA has not been confirmed. [confirm dates]


  1. By Alan Goldsmith
    April 17, 2009 at 7:33 am | permalink

    I”t’s not clear whether the commission will see his designs before he arrives, but they might try to vote on the project and take it to city council for approval while he’s here, she said, adding that details about his visit have yet to be finalized.”

    There you go. They don’t even know the design but are ready to vote and move it to the City Council. This is exactly the arrogance that has be the tradmark of this project and I’m guessing there could be a busload of protesters at this meeting when it takes place.

    Thanks again Ms. Parker and others who are behind this.

  2. By Alan Goldsmith
    April 17, 2009 at 7:39 am | permalink

    “Parker pointed to the commission’s guidelines, saying that the document outlined the procedures in detail. [That document is being reviewed by the city attorney’s office and is not posted on AAPAC’s website at this point.”

    So it hasn’t been reviewed by the city attorney’s office and it’s being used?

  3. By Julie Roth
    April 17, 2009 at 8:32 am | permalink

    OK, have you seen this guy’s work? Check out his website http://www.dreiseitl.de/. This is not just any random artist. He is world-renowned and respected, and has built astounding, dramatic, creative and beautiful waterscapes in world-class cities all over the place. I am sensitive to the need to hire local people to do as much as we can in the city…. but I do not believe there is a local equivalent in this situation. I know this is controversial, but I believe the people who chose Dreiseitl for this project have demonstrated enormous long-range vision. Ann Arbor will pull out of this slump, and we will have a spectacular art installation that will bring people to it, to look and touch and talk to one another. And the money is dedicated — it’s not being taken away from some other need.

  4. By Alan Goldsmith
    April 17, 2009 at 9:48 am | permalink

    This issue has never been about Dreiseitl, the artist. It’s about the flawed and arrogant process on how the selection was made. And while I support the Per Cent For Art program (but not being managed by the current AAAC membership, who have proven they are not up to the task of being open and honest about how the decision was made)there are plenty of other folks who wonder why $750K was spent for this art in particular. You are also wrong about this money being ‘dedicated’ like it’s being provided by some magic art fairy. Construction projects are being ‘taxes’ one per cent, it’s coming from the city of Ann Arbor taxpayers, plain and simple. There wasn’t even a process in place that was followed for anyone else to submit a proposal. How do you know there isn’t anyone local or in Michigan or even the Midwest? Was a request for submissions posted to the art world? Of course not.

    There are others not as art appreciating as I am who wonder why the roads are falling apart amdSenior programs are going to be cut with future budgets and money is being spent recklessly.

    A protest of Mr.Dreiseitl’s visit would be a perfect place to express that displeasure.

  5. By Julie Roth
    April 17, 2009 at 10:10 am | permalink

    Yes, I understand the 1% tax on construction projects — that money being “dedicated” to art in the city. That money, as it currently stands, cannot be used to fix roads or save programs.

    I don’t know the nitty-gritty details of the selection process for WHAT art gets approved. I don’t follow it that closely. But I AM happy with the outcome. I think the choice of Dreiseitl was a wise one.

  6. By Alan Goldsmith
    April 17, 2009 at 10:16 am | permalink

    If you have a chance to review how this process was handled, let me know if you think it was open and fair.

    Two different issues.

  7. April 17, 2009 at 10:35 am | permalink

    “…there are plenty of other folks who wonder why $750K was spent for this art in particular.”

    Only $70,000 has been spent, Alan. Interesting that you made essentially the same assumption of approval of the project that Parker did. How arrogant of you to make such a mistake. :-)

  8. By Alan Goldsmith
    April 17, 2009 at 12:11 pm | permalink

    Touche. You might have a bit more faith in human nature than I do on this issue. Lol.

  9. By Paul L. Bancel
    April 22, 2009 at 7:22 pm | permalink

    I hope that CTN gets the Arts Commission on the schedule soon. It will be some of the best fireworks since Safety Girl.