Art: Countdown to Dreiseitl

German artist to give proposal for municipal center on July 20
A button promoting public art, on the lapel of Cathy Gendron, a member of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission.

A button promoting public art, worn on the lapel of Cathy Gendron, a member of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission.

Ann Arbor Public Art Commission (July 14, 2009): A big chunk of Tuesday’s art commission meeting focused on the upcoming visit of German artist Herbert Dreitseitl, who’ll arrive in town this weekend. Where will he stay? When can the public see his designs for the municipal center? How can you score one of the buttons shown in this photo? Our report on Tuesday’s meeting will provide answers to all these questions, and more.

The meeting also introduced The Chronicle to a new vocabulary word – “scuppers” – and included a talk by Susan Pollay of the Downtown Development Authority. To find out which piece of public art she describes as a “sad little sculpture,” read on.

Director’s Report: Public Art Tours

Margaret Parker, AAPAC’s chair, said she’d just met with a group of travel writers and had accompanied them on a tour of public art on UM’s north campus. [The writers were hosted by the Ann Arbor Convention & Visitors Bureau, and were in the area for several days.] She said it highlighted to her the fact that people liked those kinds of tours, and that the sooner they could figure out how to set up tours for public art in Ann Arbor, the better.

Dreiseitl in Ann Arbor

AAPAC is paying Herbert Dreiseitl $77,000 to do preliminary design work for three installations at the municipal center, a project also known as the police/courts building. The commission has budgeted roughly $700,000 for the pieces, which are expected to incorporate water features into their design. The public’s first view of Dreiseitl’s designs – and AAPAC’s first view, for that matter – will come during his visit later this week.

He’ll arrive on Saturday evening, according to Katherine Talcott, the city’s administrator of the Percent for Art program. Jan Onder, an AAPAC commissioner, will be hosting him at her home during his stay.

Several meetings on Monday, July 20, will focus on Dreiseitl’s project. Here’s the tentative schedule:

  • 9-11 a.m.: Dreiseitl will present his designs to AAPAC’s municipal center task force, city staff, and architects for the municipal center. This meeting, held in city hall’s 2nd floor council chambers at 100 N. Fifth Ave., will be open to the public. The presentation from 9-9:45 a.m. will be followed by a Q&A.
  • 11:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m.: The task force meets to discuss Dreiseitl’s proposal.
  • 12:15-1:15 p.m.: The task force and AAPAC commissioners have lunch with Dreiseitl.
  • 1:30-2:30 p.m.: AAPAC meets to discuss the project.
  • 4-5:30 p.m.: A public reception will be held in the hallway outside of council chambers. Dreiseitl and members of AAPAC and the task force will be on hand to discuss the project. AAPAC will also be passing out public art buttons, as well as providing information about the city’s Percent for Art program.
  • 6-6:45 p.m.: Dreiseitl makes a presentation to city council. This meeting is also open to the public and will be broadcast on Community Television Network. It is scheduled prior to the start of council’s regular meeting, which begins at 7 p.m.
  • 8 p.m.: Margaret Parker and her husband, Mark Hodesh, will host a dinner at their home for Dreiseitl, AAPAC, the task force, city staff and municipal center architects.

At one point, there was the possibility that a city council vote on the project would occur that same day. But at Tuesday’s meeting, Parker said the task force will convene on July 29 to discuss Dreiseitl’s designs and to make a recommendation to AAPAC. Then, AAPAC will meet to discuss the recommendation, either at a special meeting or at their regular monthly meeting on Aug. 11. The commission will make its own recommendation, which will be passed on to city council for their approval.

If council signs off on the project, negotiations will begin between Dreiseitl and city staff, covering engineering concerns, risk management and legal issues. A contract will be drawn up based on the outcome of those negotiations, Parker said.

Other Municipal Center Art

Parker reported on a recent meeting of the municipal center task force, and gave an update on potential places available for additional public art within the site.

The large wall in the north courtyard could be good for sculpture, Parker said. There are also 12 bike racks that could be designed as public art, similar to the racks recently installed downtown incorporating the word “art” in purple letters. Parkers said the task force was inclined to focus on a large piece, however.

The building’s architects proposed three other places where AAPAC might consider installing public art, Parker said. These options include: 1) scuppers, a feature used to guide the flow of rainwater as it falls into the rain garden; 2) the floor in the atrium’s hallway, which runs from the back parking lot to the front of the building and will be open 24/7, and 3) recessed areas in the atrium’s walls. Parker said they would hold off on exploring this last option until they’d seen Dreiseitl’s proposal, since one of the three pieces he’s proposing would be installed in the atrium.

Projects in the Pipeline

Connie Brown gave an overview of all the projects that had been proposed to AAPAC, giving commissioners a status report on these projects and a general sense of how they’ll move forward – or not.

The projects committee divided the proposals they’ve received into three categories: 1) proposals submitted by artists or organizations soliciting funding, 2) proposals submitted by donors, and 3) proposals generated by AAPAC, either via the annual plan or in other ways. Brown organized her presentation around those three categories.

Proposals from artists or organizations

  • Local artist Mary Thiefels of Tree Town Murals has proposed a mural for the walkway next to Michigan Theater. Status: Awaiting her formal application.
  • The Ann Arbor Skatepark committee has approached AAPAC asking for help in funding and artist solicitation for a public art installation at the park, which is still in the planning stages. Status: Need additional conversations with skatepark organizers.
  • SoundFall is a programmable light and sound installation planned for the Maynard parking structure. The project has been in the works for several years, and is on hold. Commissioner Jim Kern reported that they’re now talking to a light artist in Boston who might get involved.
  • Village Green, the developers for a proposed residential/parking project at First & Washington called City Apartments, contacted AAPAC several months ago about a public art project for that development. Status: Unclear where the City Apartments project stands – need to contact the developers for an update.
  • Project S.N.A.P. has proposed doing a mosaic mural at an estimated cost of $10,000 for a 4-foot by 6-foot mural. Status: The project will be forwarded to AAPAC’s planning committee, which can recommend whether the project is feasible and if so, what site might be appropriate for it.
  • FestiFools, an arts organization that puts on a community parade each year as well as educational workshops, has asked for AAPAC funding of $25,000 per year for five years. The group’s main revenue source is the University of Michigan, which is cutting its funding to FestiFools by 15%, Brown reported. Status: The application will be forwarded to the planning committee, which will determine whether the project fits with AAPAC’s annual plan.

Proposals from donors

Two donors have approached AAPAC with specific projects:

  • The Nissan family has offered to fund a mural by the artist Yulia Hanenson. Status: Need to contact the family to see if their offer is still on the table.
  • The artist Garo Kazan wants to donate to the city a bronze horse sculpture that he made. Status: Waiting for him to submit a formal application, which would need to include the costs of a base and installation. When that information is provided, AAPAC would likely start a peer review process, to see if it’s a piece they’d like to add to the city’s collection.

AAPAC-generated projects

The main projects coming out of AAPAC are the work being commissioned from Dreiseitl, and projects for the remainder of the municipal center. In addition to those, Brown mentioned a north gateway project that’s been identified as a priority in AAPAC’s 2009-10 annual plan, and possible joint projects with UM and the DDA. Susan Pollay, the DDA’s executive director, was on the agenda to speak about possible DDA/AAPAC projects later in the meeting.

Commissioner Elaine Sims, who is also director of UM’s Gifts of Art Program, said there were two possible projects with the university – both in the very preliminary stages. One might involve a visiting artist from Finland, and the other a piece of public art in Nichols Arboretum to celebrate the opening of C.S. Mott’s Children’s Hospital, which overlooks the Arb.

Jan Onder, who serves on the projects committee, said they were trying to figure out how these projects fit into the goal of accessibility for all artists. That is, should people who bring projects to AAPAC always get priority? What about artists who haven’t heard about the city’s Percent for Art program? Connie Brown suggested that perhaps when someone brings an idea forward, the commission puts out an RFP for that project, to give other artists the chance to participate. Cathy Gendron cautioned that taking that approach could raise intellectual property concerns on the part of the artist who brought forward the original proposal.

Margaret Parker said she’d like to see the information that Brown presented put onto a spreadsheet, so that all commissioners could track the progress of various projects. Brown suggested putting it online, making it easy for commissioners to access and update.

Planning, PR


Planning committee

Elaine Sims, reporting on the planning committee, said they hoped to meet with Mayor John Hieftje to ask if they could expand the number of seats on the commission. There was a lot of work for the current nine-member group to handle, she said, even with the addition of a part-time administrator. The committee also proposed that it serve as the nominating committee for new commissioners, making recommendations to the mayor, who officially nominates commission members for city council approval. Sims asked for the full commission to vote in support of that.

Connie Brown said she’d like to see the administrator, Katherine Talcott, attend committee meetings, be involved in the nominating process and in general be more involved in the commission’s work. Talcott told the commission that she’d just seen a new job description that’s been written for her, which might affect her involvement. Margaret Parker noted that Talcott had a 20-hour-a-week job, and was limited to working on things that related only to the Percent for Art program. Sims suggested that Talcott could serve in an ex-officio capacity during meetings, but not as a voting member. There’d be a perceived conflict of interest if Talcott participated in nominating new commissioners, since she also reports to them.

Parker said that because the number of commissioners is set in the ordinance that formed AAPAC, it would be hard to expand the group.

Cathy Gendron asked whether they could add committee members who weren’t commissioners. “We need more bodies,” she said. The answer is yes, they can – but committee members need to be clear about their roles, Parker said. In the past, some committee members simply pitched their own projects.

The commission voted to approve having the planning committee – consisting of Sims, Parker and Cheryl Zuellig – also serve as the nominating committee.

Public relations committee

Cathy Gendron said the PR committee’s main focus had been on putting together the display for AAPAC’s table at the Townie Street Party on Monday, July 13, as well as preparation for Dreiseitl’s visit and public reception. In the future, they’re planning to do some public advocacy on behalf of AAPAC, arranging meetings with groups like the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

She said they needed to redesign AAPAC’s website, which would be a huge project. She was hoping to learn how to use Google shared documents, so that commissioners eventually could use that system to post and edit files and a calendar online. Gendron said it would be difficult to do a site redesign since there was no money budgeted for it, but Margaret Parker questioned that assumption, saying she thought there was a line item for the website in AAPAC’s budget .

Gendron also said the committee wanted to make sure they recognized volunteers appropriately, and noted that AAPAC hadn’t done anything special when two commissioners – Larry Cressman and Tim Rorvig – stepped down in December. After some discussion, commissioners decided to send Cressman and Rorvig a certificate of appreciation for their service.

The sculpture at Hanover Park at the corner of Packard and Division.

The sculpture "Arbor Sapientiae" by Ronald Bauer at Hanover Park at the corner of Packard and Division. This photo is taken looking southeast – Blimpy Burger is visible on the left, on the opposite side of Division.

Partnering with the DDA

Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, came to talk to commissioners as a follow-up to a joint meeting that AAPAC and DDA board members held in May. At the time, they talked a lot about the underground parking structure that the DDA is building next to the Ann Arbor District Library on Fifth Avenue. Though folks at the DDA find parking structures “remarkably sexy,” Pollay allowed that perhaps not everyone else did, and for that reason she wanted to talk about another DDA project that might be a better avenue for partnering with AAPAC.

That project is the Fifth & Division Improvements Plan, which began six years ago and is just now starting to be implemented. The idea is to transform the two major one-way thoroughfares of Fifth (going south) and Division (heading north) into more user-friendly areas, accommodating not just cars, but also bicyclists and pedestrians.

Pollay described several elements of the makeover, which will add parking, bike lanes, trees, seating and other features. The $6.1 million project includes $61,000 set aside for public art. “We can add trees and seating,” Pollay said. “But what more can we do to make this area special?”

One place where the DDA sees an opportunity is at Hanover Square, a city park at Division and Packard. The park is fairly nondescript, Pollay said, aside from a “falling book” sculpture. ”It’s a sad little sculpture,” she said. “Nobody visits the little sculpture.” Hundreds of people pass through the park – Blimpy Burger and the former Perry School, which houses UM offices, are located at the intersection – but there’s no reason to keep people at the park.

Part of the DDA’s plan for that area includes making that intersection a gateway into the downtown. They plan to make some kind of a vertical planter, which might be a way to incorporate a public art element, Pollay said. Another possibility would be to refurbish the sculpture.

The DDA had listened to feedback from AAPAC about the need for setting aside funds for maintenance and administration. They’d adjusted their set-asides to include 15% for maintenance and 15% for administration on each project, Pollay said.

“We can make the dollars available,” Pollay said, “but we don’t have the expertise.” That’s why they’re interested in partnering with AAPAC. She also noted that the DDA has long supported public art, citing DDA-funded projects at Sculpture Plaza and the Fourth & Washington parking structure. Partnering with AAPAC would be building on that historical commitment.

Her presentation was met with a round of applause from commissioners.

During discussion following the talk, Jan Onder urged Pollay to consider adding an artist to a project’s design process at an earlier stage. “Artists can help you meet your goals in ways you never thought possible,” Onder said.

Margaret Parker asked whether the DDA would consider forming a task force that would pull together people from diverse backgrounds to help identify which public art project would work at a particular site. “Absolutely,” Pollay said.

Factoring in the budget from the underground parking structure, there’s about $311,000 available for public art projects, Pollay said. That could be used in many different ways, and might include projects on existing structures “that aren’t the loveliest,” like the one at Fourth and William, or the Maynard parking structure.

Elaine Sims mentioned that at the previous DDA/AAPAC meeting, participants had gravitated toward photos of bus stops in other cities that incorporated public art – one with a swing, another that looked like the shell of a yellow school bus. Perhaps the DDA should think about having a unifying theme for its projects, she said. That might work well for gateway areas, to give them a distinctive feel and aesthetic.

Pollay said that one of the barriers to working together had been the percent set aside for maintenance and administration, and she asked what commissioners thought about the changes that the DDA had made in that regard. Parker said that was the percentage they’d recommended, “so I think we should say that is helpful and it does mean we want to try to help administer your projects.” The question, she said, is how exactly will that process work?

Pollay suggested having another meeting between the DDA and AAPAC, to identify one project they could work on together. Commissioners agreed to discuss it further at their August meeting.

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

Absent: Marsha Chamberlin, Cheryl Zuellig

Next regular meeting: Tuesday, Aug. 11 at 4:30 p.m. at city council chambers, 2nd floor, 100 N. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor. [confirm dates]


  1. By ROB
    July 16, 2009 at 6:37 pm | permalink

    How did it come to pass that almost $1,000,000 dollars of taxpayer money are being squandered on a pissing fountain for our already pricey new city hall building?? How many blocks of Afganistan-like city streets could be resurfaced with that much money??? Can Mr. Dreiseitl operate a paving machine? Perhaps he and the Mayor and and Council could lay a few blocks worth of asphalt while he’s here, so that the average Ann Arborite might obtain some tangible benefit from this boondoggle. This isn’t even the frosting on the cake – our “cake” being pretty small to begin with – it’s more like the little plastic things that hold the candles on the cake. Soooooooo typically A2 to spend more on the candles than on the cake!

  2. July 16, 2009 at 9:22 pm | permalink

    I wonder whether Arbor Sapientiae is a “sad little sculpture” because no one visits it. Perhaps it could be moved to a place where it has some company. I rather liked it, as seen in the photo.

  3. By Alan Goldsmith
    July 17, 2009 at 7:08 am | permalink

    1, It’s unfortunate the time for the ‘public reception’ on Monday is 4-5:30 pm, which excludes it from a great deal of the public who are working during the day, even though Herbert Dreiseitl seems to find plenty of time for social events (lunch, private dinner). If this is how you handle public relations, it’s a failure. It’s more evidence this project is just a social ego boosting event for members of the AAAC. But then, excluding the public from the process has been the issue since day one.

    2. I like the Arbor Sapientiae too.

  4. By Jack
    July 17, 2009 at 8:10 am | permalink

    Note to AAPAC. When showing Herbert Dreiseitl around the town this week:

    1. Avoid the Stadium Bridges. Mr. Dreiseitl might think Ann Arbor is some backwater Midwestern hick town that doesn’t know how to maintain infrastructure and not the artistic the Paris (eh, Berlin) of middle America we all know it to be.
    2. Since he’s here for three days or more, when taking the legendary artist out to dinner, make SURE you hit all the oh so chic local restaurants. It’s fine—the Per Cent for Art is picking up the tab. Avoid AT ALL COSTS places like Knights and Metzgers. We wouldn’t want him mingling with any real folks who don’t grasp what real art is.
    3. Make sure Dreiseitl DOES NOT read any back issues of the Ann Arbor News. The natives were pretty restless in those rude and tasteless letters to the editor and it would be a bit hard to explain.
    4. Since this was all decided for the most part when he visited last September, we all know this is a just for show. But be sure to thank the artist for his small contribution to Mayor Hiefje future political career. Heading the DEQ might be out but this mayor for life thing isn’t working and this splashy waste of tax dollars might, just MIGHT be a calling card for a spot in the Obama administration or some cushy environment leadership job. When that happens, Dreiseitl and the after the election removal vote for Argo Dam will probably be the things that did the trick.
    5. On Saturday, keep him locked up and away from the Art Fair. Lord knows he might be offended by ‘art on a stick’ and take his art project and go home.

  5. By Shannon
    July 17, 2009 at 9:56 am | permalink

    Were there really no qualified local artists to propose an installation at the municipal center? I am in favor of public art, but I’m also in favor of keeping local tax dollars in our local economy, or at least in our state!

  6. By Julie
    July 17, 2009 at 9:56 am | permalink

    Wow. Such hostility.

    I guess I’ll stick my neck out here and say that I love that we’re doing this. I think taking 1% of the cost of large construction projects and dedicating it to public art is a forward-thinking, worthy concept. I think it looks past the short-term crisis we face, and creates long-term investment in our city. Perhaps the program would not have gained enough support to be implemented during the current economic times. But the fact that it is already here demonstrates that vision. We will get out of this economic crisis. And our city will be more dynamic, and more attractive to those who visit and those who are deciding to live here.

    I don’t debate our need for $$, for the Stadium bridge, and all our other budget shortfalls. But I don’t see these things as mutually exclusive.

  7. By Hospadaruk
    July 17, 2009 at 1:29 pm | permalink

    “…anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering, suffering leads to the Dark Side.” ~ Yoda

    I like bumpy roads and I like art. That is sooooo typically Ann Arbor, that’s why I live here. I also like that sad little sculpture, it used to be in the traffic island at State and Liberty I think…

  8. By Julie
    July 17, 2009 at 2:05 pm | permalink

    Nope. There are no local artists who can create what this guy can create. Have you seen his work? Ann Arbor is thinking big with this one.

  9. By Alan Goldmith
    July 17, 2009 at 2:14 pm | permalink

    In one of his FOIA emails council member Leigh Greden calls the way this project was handled a ‘disaster’. On this issue he’s right.

  10. By mr dairy
    July 17, 2009 at 9:14 pm | permalink

    I guess we should be happy it isn’t a big aquarium or the green equivalent of Auto World

  11. By Adrienne
    July 19, 2009 at 4:28 pm | permalink

    I’m with Julie. Onward and upward with the Arts in A2. There is a budget set aside, let’s use it. And it seems it is used with serious consideration by the AAPAC.