Ann Arbor Public Art Commission (Aug. 11, 2009): The art commission made no decision at its monthly meeting on whether to recommend German artist Herbert Dreiseitl’s proposed art installations at the new municipal center, saying they need more details, including cost estimates. However, they debated another aspect of the center’s public art: Whether to put out a nationwide call for artists to compete for additional art installations there. Some commissioners spoke in favor of supporting local artists instead, and others were concerned about spending another $225,000 on municipal center art – in addition to nearly $800,000 budgeted for Dreiseitl’s work.
Municipal Center Project
AAPAC administrator Katherine Talcott said she thought German artist Herbert Dreiseitl’s visit to Ann Arbor was “very successful.” Dreiseitl, whom the commission has recruited to create three public art installations at the city’s new municipal center, presented his designs for the artwork to AAPAC members, city council and the public on July 20.
Approximately 65 people showed up for Dreiseitl’s public reception that day, according to Talcott. She said she didn’t receive any negative comments, except for one individual who advised that they “tweak the design.”
“That kind of represented a more positive outlook from the community,” Talcott said of the public turnout and reaction. [The commission has previously come under fire for the project, with critics citing both its cost and the selection of an artist who isn't from this area.]
Talcott said that she’s following up with the center’s architects, the Ann Arbor firm Quinn Evans. She said Dreiseitl also needs to produce a more refined version of his design, including cost estimates and a more specific plan for the two installations inside the center on walls in the atrium, and in the lobby of the courts and police building.
Talcott also said she wanted to get a sense of when the task force for the municipal center public art would give its recommendation and approval of Dreiseitl’s design to AAPAC, and when the commission would in turn pass on a recommendation to city council. The recommendations are especially important for the indoor atrium and lobby pieces, Talcott said, since they will also require approval from the architects working on the building.
“I’d like to have it OKed by AAPAC in September,” Talcott said. She also asked if AAPAC could issue their approval for the “general aesthetic” of Dreiseitl’s design.
“I know he does want to hear that kind of overall, general aesthetic approval,” Talcott said. “I think he just needs to hear that we’re approving it.”
AAPAC commissioner Cheryl Zuellig said she thought it would be important for AAPAC to know Dreiseitl’s fees and any other costs (such as sewer hookups) associated with the project before they give their approval. The commission has already paid Dreiseitl $77,000 for preliminary design work and has budgeted roughly $700,000 more for the completed artwork.
Commissioner Marsha Chamberlin agreed with Zuellig. “We need to know all these components if we’re going to approve this project,” Chamberlin said. “What I’d like to see to approve this project is a whole costing out.”
AAPAC chair Margaret Parker said that Dreiseitl had asked for 30 days after his visit to come up with a budget for the project and create a more detailed plan for his interior artwork. Hopefully, he’ll have that done by Aug. 26, she said, when the municipal center task force will hold its next meeting. Then, the task force can make a recommendation to AAPAC, which meets next on Sept. 8. In turn, AAPAC can make its recommendation, and the city council then can vote on the project. Parker said she hoped they could achieve city authorization by Sept. 11.
Other municipal center art
Aside from Dreiseitl’s proposed work, Parker reported that the municipal center task force has discussed three other possible public art sites in the building.
One is on the north courtyard’s west stairwell wall, which Parker described as five stories tall. She said it faces a parking lot, which might be used for events or gatherings. According to a handout summarizing the task force’s Aug. 6 meeting, this artwork would be visible from Ann Street east of the structure and by pedestrians entering the center from the north.
Another site is a 5-foot by 5-foot area facing Ann Street. This piece would be visible from the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Ann Street as well as from Division and Ann streets.
Third, Parker said the task force had discussed relocating mosaic panels – which originally decorated the entrance to city hall – created by the late Gerome Kamrowski. They proposed separating the panels and placing them in front of the elevator doors inside the new building.
Some of the commissioners objected to splitting up the Kamrowski panels, arguing that the panels should be viewed as one work of art.
“It would not be consistent with the design of the piece…it was designed as one piece,” Chamberlin said.
Commissioner Jan Onder countered that each panel had its own signature, indicating that the artist intended to display them separately.
Parker concluded that the task force needed to do more research to come to a decision regarding the panels. She suggested getting in touch with the artist’s widow or other relatives to find out how Kamrowski wanted the panels displayed.
Budget and mission
Parker said the task force estimated that these additional municipal center projects would cost $225,000. The task force proposed sending an invitation out to artists across the U.S. for the two sites near the north courtyard. They would scope out interested parties using a Request for Qualifications method, asking the artists to submit their credentials. A small group of those who applied would then form proposals, one of which would be selected by a jury.
The task force came up with a mission statement to guide the artists, articulated on the handout outlining the task force’s latest meeting: “The public art should demonstrate how this building pulls the community together. Artists may design for either and/or both sites.”
AAPAC commissioners took issue with both the task force’s proposed mission statement and its suggested budget. Some questioned whether the task force should have its mission statement approved by AAPAC at large before they could proceed further with the projects.
Commissioner Connie Brown said that AAPAC should have a say in the mission statement, providing a “bigger oversight” for the task force.
Chamberlin added that the task force also shouldn’t be able to move forward until AAPAC decides how it will allocate funds. She questioned whether it was a good decision to spend more money on the municipal center. “I’m not sure if we’re going to put more money into these projects,” she said.
Others thought that art at the municipal center was a sound investment.
“I don’t have a hang-up with having two more pieces of art in the municipal center,” commissioner Cheryl Zuellig said. “Ann Arbor has a long way to go before we get too much art.”
Onder agreed with her that more art in the municipal center would benefit the community. “I would like to have more art in this block for people to discover,” Onder said of the center. “This is our nucleus.”
However, Zuellig expressed doubt that $225,000 would be sufficient to fund two pieces large enough to be visible from the street.
Brown proposed more interaction between AAPAC and the task force in order to address these concerns. She said the commissioners need to know the criteria that led to the task force’s decisions. They could add an approval step in the process of deciding on locations and missions for projects.
Commissioner Elaine Sims said they should come up with a template with a standard set of questions that the task force could use when reporting to AAPAC on a project.
Commissioners agreed that the task force would not have to report on all of their meetings to AAPAC. They would only have to report to AAPAC when they’d reached a “critical juncture” in a project.
Artist selection: Local or national?
Parker explained that the task force had decided to look throughout the U.S. for artists for the two north courtyard projects. They also decided that instead of sending out Requests for Proposals (RFPs), which would include designs, they would first send out Requests for Qualifications (RFQs). “The discussion around the Requests for Qualifications is that better artists will follow it because they want to be paid for design,” Parker said.
Other commissioners disagreed with looking on a national level.
“I personally feel that this is an opportunity to select local artists,” Zuellig said. She added that it should be someone who understands “our culture, our vernacular and our traditions” in Ann Arbor. “I’m sorry, but if you grew up in Australia, you’re not going to understand Ann Arbor or this community.”
Talcott argued that – like Dreiseitl – a non-local artist could still relate to the city without claiming it as their home. “Any smart artist is going to be able to apply themselves to that kind of language,” she said.
Onder agreed with Talcott. “To me, a sense of community is beyond a particular community,” Onder said. “It’s deeper than that.”
Parker proposed adding questions to the RFQ concerning how the applicants are connected to the area and how they can reflect the mission statement for the municipal center in their work. She also said she would relay the commissioners’ other suggestions back to the task force.
Connie Brown reported that the projects committee had, so far, collated a spreadsheet listing potential projects and information including artist names and proposed locations. The committee – which also includes commissioners Jim Kern and Jan Onder – has also created a schedule for upcoming Downtown Development Authority (DDA) projects and set up a meeting with the Arts Alliance for “information sharing between the organizations,” according to the committee’s typed report.
Three projects are currently being passed on to the master planning committee for comment, Brown said. These include Project S.N.A.P.’s 4-foot by 6-foot mural (which would cost approximately $10,000); funding of $25,000 per year for five years for FestiFools, an arts organization that holds an annual parade and educational workshops; and a bronze horse sculpture donated by artist Garo Kazan.
The commissioners debated which committee – projects or planning – was responsible for organizing a jury of peers to review these projects, as well as which committee should determine a site for the artwork.
Onder proposed using a jury of peers to approve the artwork and then passing the project on to a site group, just in case there isn’t an appropriate location for the art. “You may think the quality is fine, but there’s absolutely no site,” she said.
Zuellig questioned whether, for example, the bronze horse would need a task force. Onder responded that not all projects need one.
Talcott said that as the administrator, she should help organize the peer review jury.
Zuellig proposed that projects should first be evaluated by the projects committee, then planning, and then presented to AAPAC as a whole. After that, the project would go to the peer jury for evaluation.
Parker stated that all members of AAPAC would be responsible for putting together a site committee.
Commissioner Cathy Gendron, who serves on the committee with Marsha Chamberlin, reported that she had reviewed and tested GoogleSites for AAPAC members’ use and communication. She said she was prepared to start setting sites up, whenever the administrators had time to help.
AAPAC members considered whether or not to hold a rededication ceremony for the Kerrytown Sculpture Park’s Arch, a sculpture AAPAC renovated roughly a year and a half ago, in partnership with the DDA.
Parker was in favor of holding an event, saying it would provide publicity for the commission. “It’s also a connection to the DDA, because the DDA paid for it,” she said.
Brown countered that putting time and effort into a dedication ceremony at this point might not be the best use of AAPAC’s resources. “Maybe it’s an opportunity that’s lost, and we should focus on things that are up and coming.”
Sims pointed out that the commission had been talking about an event for the Arch for a year already, and it still hadn’t happened.
Ultimately, the commission voted to discontinue their efforts to organize a rededication for the Arch, with 4 in favor of the motion and 3 opposed.
Commissioners discussed AAPAC’s website, a topic carried over from earlier meetings. In addition to a site that was designed by a volunteer, the commission is part of the city’s web page. AAPAC administrative coordinator Jean Borger pointed out the limits of the city’s site, noting that AAPAC couldn’t post anything besides their minutes – adding extra information would take staff time they didn’t have.
Parker said AAPAC might want to put out a brochure again to provide information to the community. However, some commissioners argued that the website should be up-to-date first. Gendron said her first priority would be working on the site before developing a brochure.
Zuellig spoke for the planning committee, reporting that she, Sims and Parker had met with Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje on July 17.
“There was discussion about how much time it takes to complete what we’re doing here as a commission,” Zuellig said. “It sounds like, from a communication standpoint, it was worthwhile.”
Zuellig said they found out that the commission can add more members, but only after the city council votes to change the Percent for Art program ordinance concerning AAPAC. [AAPAC allocates money generated through the Percent for Art program, which captures 1% of the cost of a public building project, with a cap of $250,000 per project.] Zuellig advised against an ordinance change, saying that it “may have unintended consequences that we don’t want to deal with.”
Sims suggested that instead of changing the ordinance, AAPAC could just take on more working members who aren’t actually commissioners.
Zuellig also mentioned that the planning committee would draft a guide for new commission members this month and submit it to AAPAC as a whole in September.
According to the committee’s written report, their ongoing tasks include requesting clarification on public art matters with the city, including the “ability to have art easments on private property, the definition of the word ‘public’ in the ordinance, funding ability and source for project-specific management.”
The planning committee also aims to help the projects group come up with a diagram illustrating the city’s review and approval processes for public art.
As for upcoming tasks, the committee’s report states that its members will meet with Sue McCormick, Ann Arbor’s public services area administrator, in part to come up with a strategy to “accomplish what we can with the staff time we have available and to determine what tasks (i.e. project management) should be put under the jurisdiction of the art/design team.”
Finally, the planning committee members discussed holding a commission training workshop in the fall. Commissioners determined that they wanted to hold the training session sometime in October; the location is to be determined.
Budget summary concerns
Looking over a handout which gave an overview of AAPAC’s expenditures so far for 2009, commissioners has some questions about the roughly $22,566 paid to Quinn Evans architects.
Parker explained that the architects were paid for the time they spent meeting with AAPAC. Commissioner Jan Onder expressed concern about the expense.
“For every dime we spend here, we’re not spending it on our work,” Onder said.
Onder went on to say that the substantial sum spent on the meetings with the architects might have arisen from AAPAC’s joining in on the new municipal center project relatively late in its development. Other commissioners agreed and added that more price negotiation with the architectural firm might have remedied this concern.
“Just because we came in late to this project is no reason for us not to get projected prices,” Marsha Chamberlin said.
Commissioner Elaine Sims added that they should “know what we’re negotiating next time.”
Connie Brown, who has been a liaison between AAPAC and the Downtown Development Authority, identified three projects that the two groups could collaborate on. She suggested that commissioners read over her report and consider taking action at their next meeting.
One is a public art piece in Hanover Park, at the corner of Packard and Division. Brown’s written report stated that there’s an area designated for a sculpture in the park. She judged that the timing for the project would allow AAPAC enough time to do RFPs and contract with an artist. Katherine Talcott brought up the possibility of AAPAC taking on the landscaping for the area surrounding the sculpture in the park.
Another possible collaboration involves road intersections that are set to be stamped with the city logo, as part of the DDA’s Fifth and Division streetscape project. Brown said the DDA is open to having a design by an artist stamped on the curbs instead. This work will probably take place in the spring, she said.
Third, the DDA will be replacing curbs and planters later this year. Brown wrote that AAPAC could send out RFPs looking for artists to embed items in the curbs or color 8-foot sections of them. “There’s a variety of things that could happen there,” Brown said of the work on the curbs.
Brown also wrote that AAPAC could create a series of art pieces to link the city streets together.
Finally, AAPAC has a two-month window of opportunity to create public art in the new library underground parking structure, which is yet to be constructed. The commission would have to work with the architect in order to incorporate their plans for a piece of artwork into his drawings.
“There would not be an artist chosen at this time, but the ‘what if’ moment where we could see if there is an opportunity for something here,” Brown’s report stated. According to Brown, the commission would have to act by October 2009.
Commissioners had some questions concerning the expenses for these projects. Brown said she had met with DDA Executive Director Susan Pollay and discussed cost. At this time, “we’re not saying we pay for it or we don’t pay for it,” Brown said. She said AAPAC could decide to throw in some Percent for Art funds to help.
Overall, Brown suggested that the AAPAC members simply brainstorm about the projects she’d listed for now and make decisions about further participation later. She said she would speak again with Pollay.
Commissioners present: Connie Brown, Marsha Chamberlin, Cheryl Zuellig, Cathy Gendron, Elaine Sims, Margaret Parker, Jan Onder, Jim Kern. Others: Katherine Talcott, Jean Borger
Absent: Jim Curtis
Next regular meeting: Tuesday, Sept. 8 at 4:30 p.m.. Note: All future AAPAC meetings will be held at a new location – the 7th floor conference room of the City Center Building, 220 E. Huron St.
About the author: Helen Nevius, a student at Eastern Michigan University, is an intern with The Ann Arbor Chronicle.