Crafting a Public Art Plan for Ann Arbor

Art commissioners discuss upcoming projects, events

Ann Arbor Public Art Commission (May 12, 2009): Members of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission spent much of their recent monthly meeting talking about their plan for the next year and projects they should tackle. They also discussed upcoming events, including AAPAC’s open house on May 21, a joint meeting with the DDA board on May 26, and the Golden Paintbrush awards on June 1.

Public comment

Miriam Mirna Korolkovas, who described herself as an artist and architect from Brazil, spoke to the commission to let them know how she appreciated the presence of art in Ann Arbor. A visiting artist at the University of Michigan who’s just ending her stay here, she said she particularly liked the integration of architecture, nature and sculptures throughout the city. Finally, she told the commissioners to be open to all artists. “Art doesn’t have a nation,” she said.


Mural proposed for Fourth & William parking structure: In her director’s report, AAPAC chair Margaret Parker said she spoke with Downtown Development Authority director Susan Pollay about a mural that’s been proposed to the DDA for the Fourth & William parking structure. Commissioners had been taken aback by an article in the Ann Arbor News that reported the proposal, which would be funded by the DDA, and wondered why they hadn’t been consulted about the project. The mural was proposed by Bob Dascola, Ellie Serras and mural artist Mary Thiefels at the DDA’s May 6 meeting.

Parker said Pollay told her that DDA grants would be good for only two years, and that time period is almost up for $50,000 in funding that had been available for public art. Dascola, Serras and Thiefels had told the DDA that AAPAC didn’t yet have procedures in place to authorize the project – that’s why they were approaching the DDA directly.

“They don’t realize how many projects we have looked at and considered, and how long that takes,” Parker said.

Parker noted that despite what the Ann Arbor News article reported, there was no mural yet “planned, designed or organized.” She said that this was something AAPAC members could discuss when they meet with the DDA board on May 26. That joint meeting, to be held at 11:30 a.m. in the DDA offices at 150 S. Fifth Ave., has been planned to talk about how the two groups can work together on projects funded by the DDA. The meeting is open to the public.

Mural on the Tios building:  Katherine Talcott, the city’s public art administrator, raised the topic of what, if anything, to do about the seascape mural by Zeke Mallory painted on the building that has housed Tios Mexican Café, on East Huron Street. The building bearing the artwork will be demolished by August by the city, which now owns that property adjacent to city hall. (Tios is moving to another location on East Liberty Street.) Commissioners suggested a number of approaches, including transporting the work elsewhere.

Jan Onder, AAPAC’s vice chair, questioned whether working to preserve the mural was in the commission’s best interests. She said AAPAC should consider its current capabilities, given the other projects it already has on its plate.

“We will miss it, but it’s not part of our task, what we’re charged to do in this area,” Onder said.

Marsha Chamberlin voiced concern that the commission, which has been criticized for its choice of German artist Herbert Dreiseitl to handle a major installation at the new municipal center, would be blamed for allowing the destruction of Mallory’s artwork, even though they had nothing to do with it. She advised her fellow commissioners to be careful how they handled the matter, since AAPAC is already battling problems with its image.

Commissioner Jim Curtis suggested that they arrange to have a letter or an article recognizing the work and the artist published in the Ann Arbor News. Talcott proposed having the city send out a letter explaining and acknowledging the demolition of the work.


Ceramic relief restoration: Commissioners discussed the condition of ceramic reliefs on the Fourth & Washington parking structure. Parker confirmed that the reliefs showed chipping and erosion due to outdoor exposure. She said that Barbara Levin Bergman, who donated the reliefs in honor of her husband, wants something done about this damage.

Bronze casting was one option to protect the reliefs, but it’s unclear who would pay for that – Parker said that Bergman had indicated she’d pay for some, but not all, of the cost. Another option would be moving the reliefs to a different, more protected site.

Onder said the commission should focus on new artists and artworks instead of spending time on preservation. ”We just don’t have the staff for it,” she said, later adding, “Art is long, but it’s not forever.”

Parker said that the artist who made the ceramic reliefs was from China and had said that similar pieces of art in that country are left to erode outdoors, suggesting that maybe these works are meant to decompose. However, she also said that AAPAC shouldn’t just shrug off maintenance projects. “Maintenance is a definite consideration that we must take head on,” Parker said.

Ultimately, Parker determined that she and Talcott would collaborate on a letter to Bergman discussing the various steps they might take. Elaine Sims suggested that since the artwork is in a parking structure, perhaps DDA funds could be used for restoration.

Kerrytown sculpture rededication: Later in the meeting, Chamberlin gave an update on the rededication of the Arch in Kerrytown’s Sculpture Park, which had been renovated several months ago. She wanted to know what the commission hoped to get out of a rededication ceremony. Parker said it was important that AAPAC call the work it had done on the sculpture to the public’s attention. “I think that’s a worthy thing to celebrate,” Parker said. The restoration cost nearly $30,000. 

Onder objected to focusing resources on the rededication, saying the sculpture had been there for decades and shouldn’t be a top priority. 

“I don’t think we can afford to not put forward a public face,” Parker said in response. “People tend to forget work has to be renovated or preserved.”

Commissioners discussed whether they could compromise by keeping the event low key – a simple ribbon cutting. In the end, they agreed to resolve the issue at their next meeting.

Annual Plan

Parker reminded AAPAC members that the commission’s annual plan must be ready to submit to the city council by June. She instructed each commissioner to come up with a list of projects they thought AAPAC should take on in the next year and to list the criteria they used to select those projects.

Parker mentioned that some of the commissioners had already compiled lists of possible public art installation sites and potential community projects, and they could use those lists as aids in creating their individual plans for the year. The commissioners will then discuss their ideas at their May 26 planning meeting. That meeting will be held at 5 p.m. in the second floor conference room of the JJR building, 110 Miller Ave.

“We need to start with saying what we think is most important — two or three things — and suggest the sites and start there,” Parker said.

Commissioner Jim Kern asked if they’d be broke once they paid for Dreiseitl’s project, which is budgeted for $700,000. Parker said they had about $300,000 remaining from this fiscal year, and about $400,000 for next year.

Although the projects in the annual plan don’t need to use up all of AAPAC’s funding, Parker encouraged the commissioners not to hold back too much money, since the city and its residents seem “quite eager” for more public art.

Committee Reorganization

Parker announced that three new committees had been created for planning, projects and public relations. The commissioners divided themselves among the groups with Cheryl Zuellig, Cathy Gendron and Parker on the planning committee; Connie Brown, Elaine Sims, Jim Curtis, Jim Kern and Jan Onder on projects; and Marsha Chamberlin and Cathy Gendron on public relations. Parker advised the members of each committee to meet either in person or by email as soon as possible to decide on their group’s purpose.

Website Issues

Parker addressed the issue of AAPAC’s dual web presence – she said the commission’s independent website and its space on the city’s web page should relate to each other. A link between the two pages would be useful for directing individuals interested in the commission who come across the page on the city’s site first, she said.

Parker commented that the city-hosted site was limited, using a design made up mostly of text. Administrative coordinator Jean Borger said the city wouldn’t allow AAPAC to modify that format. “They do not want us to expand that site,” Borger said.

Parker stated that it was important for the city site and the commission’s independent site to work together smoothly. She proposed that issues concerning the two websites should be handled by AAPAC’s PR committee. Jan Onder noted that Annie Wolock of Keystone Media has been maintaining AAPAC’s independent site free of charge.

Public Art Inventory

Borger gave the commission an update on the ongoing project of taking inventory of public art in Ann Arbor. So far, they have compiled a database on 75 works, and are within two to three months of being able to provide public access to some portion of the database. The project currently focuses only on city-owned art, primarily located in city hall. Parker suggested coordinating with the University of Michigan concerning art on campus and creating a website with a map showing the location of public art pieces throughout the city. It could be one of the tasks given to the PR committee, Parker suggested.

Dreiseitl and the Municipal Center

Parker noted that the public art installment at the municipal center, which has been AAPAC’s sole project over the past year, is still ongoing. The German artist commissioned for the project, Herbert Dreiseitl, will be coming to Ann Arbor on July 20. Talcott said she hopes to obtain drawings and models of Dreiseitl’s proposed work to display in a public space before then.

As discussed at AAPAC’s April 14 meeting, Dreiseitl will be presenting his proposals for three pieces to be installed at the municipal center, also known as the police/courts facility. He’ll be making separate presentations to AAPAC’s municipal center task force and the full commission, as well as to city council. In addition, AAPAC plans to host a public reception for Dreiseitl, probably in the afternoon. “It’s going to be a very intense day,” Talcott said.

Commissioner Cathy Gendron asked what would happen if he makes his presentation and they don’t like what he proposes. Talcott said they can ask him to make modifications. (The city is paying $77,000 for his initial design work – that’s what he’ll be presenting on July 20.)

Sims suggested having the public reception at the UM Museum of Art, which is closed on Mondays (July 20 is a Monday). She offered to contact UMMA to see if that’s an option. Parker said planning for the reception should be handled by the PR committee.

Events and awards

Golden Paintbrush awards: On June 1, this year’s Golden Paintbrush awards will be given out during the Ann Arbor city council meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. “As many commissioners as possible should be at that awards ceremony,” Parker said. The awardees are:

  • Shary Brown of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair
  • the mastodon mural at Slauson Middle School
  • the Urban Forest Project exhibition by Trent Busakowski
  • the eight-panel Great Lakes Ecosystem mosaic by Yulia Hanaasen at Matthaei Botanical Gardens
  • a mural by teens in the ArtMakers program, on the building behind the Ann Arbor Art Center 

AAPAC open house: AAPAC will hold an open house on May 21 from 5-7 p.m. at the Ann Arbor Art Center galleries, where people can learn more about the commission and offer their opinion on public art.

Chamberlin, who is president of the Art Center, had sent out notices about the event, but Parker told her that in the future, everything needs to be cleared by city staff first. “Nobody sends things out on their own,” Parker said. “When we didn’t have any money, that didn’t matter so much. Now it does.”

UM sculpture installation: Sims informed the commission that a sculpture by Ann Arbor native Douglas Hollis would be installed at the University of Michigan Hospital. The stainless steel sculpture — which was fabricated in St. Louis and later transported to Ann Arbor — is a memorial for members of UM’s Transplant Survival Flight team, who died in 2007 when their plane crashed in Lake Michigan. It will be dedicated on June 3, Sims said.

Bylaws and Guidelines

The commission’s last task at the meeting was to discuss and vote on drafts of bylaws and guidelines for its operation.

Guidelines: Sims pointed out that under the Article VI (Administration of projects), Section E (Selection of artists and/or works of art), the definitions of selection based on request for qualifications (RFQ) and request for proposal (RFP) were the same. The guidelines stated for both that responding artists “will send in their qualifications, examples of past completed artwork and a resume.” Sims pointed out that the description only fits RFQ.

Other commissioners found the language in the section about funding confusing. The guidelines were tabled due to typos and a need for corrections and clarification.

Bylaws: Brown found an error in Article VII (Meetings), Section 6, which erroneously stated, “Notice of each meeting shall be provided at least forty eight (480) hours prior to the scheduled starting time.”

The commissioners also discussed Article IV (Membership), Section 8, which states, “If a member misses more than three (3) regularly scheduled meetings in a twelve (12) month period, the Chair shall notify the Mayor and may recommend removal of the member.”

After Parker clarified that she interpreted the section to mean three unexcused absences and that expulsion from AAPAC was not guaranteed, the commissioners unanimously approved the bylaws.

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

Absent: Cheryl Zuellig

Next regular meeting: Tuesday, June 9 at 4:30 p.m. at city council chambers, 2nd floor, 100 N. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor. In addition, other public meetings include 1) a joint meeting with the DDA board on May 26 at 11:30 a.m. in the DDA offices at 150 S. Fifth Ave., and 2) a planning session on May 26 at 5 p.m. in the JJR second floor conference room, 100 Miller Ave. AAPAC also is hosting a public reception on May 21 from 5-7 p.m. at the Ann Arbor Art Center, 117 W. Liberty St. [confirm dates]

About the author: Helen Nevius, a student at Eastern Michigan University, is an intern with The Ann Arbor Chronicle. 


  1. May 18, 2009 at 9:44 am | permalink

    An excellent report! Thanks to Helen Nevius.

  2. By Helen Nevius
    May 18, 2009 at 12:30 pm | permalink

    Thanks, but it wouldn’t have been excellent without Mary Morgan’s help.