Key Art Vote Coming Up Quickly

Commission sets special meeting for municipal center project
A model of the water sculpture by German artist Herman Dreiseitl, proposed for the new municipal center, is displayed outside of council chambers on the second floor of city hall.

A small-scale model of the water sculpture by German artist Herman Dreiseitl, proposed for the new municipal center, is displayed on a table outside of council chambers on the second floor of city hall. (Photo by the writer.)

Ann Arbor Public Art Commission (Oct. 13, 2009): In a move that came as a surprise to some commissioners, the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission was asked at its Tuesday meeting to schedule a special session this Friday to vote on the Herbert Dreiseitl art project.  The project is  a three-piece installation planned for the new municipal center, which includes a large waterscape sculpture in the building’s outdoor plaza.

However, the city still doesn’t have a final budget or final designs from the German artist – those will likely be provided by Thursday afternoon, according to Katherine Talcott, the city’s public art administrator. It’s also possible that the Friday meeting will be postponed, if information isn’t provided in time. The meeting, which is open to the public, is tentatively set for noon at the City Center’s 7th floor conference room, 220 E. Huron St. [Editor's note: At around 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 15, the city clerk's office contacted The Chronicle with the news that the Friday meeting would be rescheduled. UPDATE, Oct. 16, 2 p.m.: A special meeting of the municipal center task force has been scheduled for Monday, Oct. 19 from 1-2:30 p.m. at the City Center's 7th floor conference room, 220 E. Huron St. Also on Monday, a special meeting of the Public Art Commission is set for 5:30 p.m. at the same location.]

Why Hold a Special Meeting?

The Dreiseitl project has been in the works for over a year, and is AAPAC’s largest undertaking with an estimated price tag of more than $800,000, funded through the city’s Percent for Art program. That amount includes a $72,000 check for initial design work that the artist received last week when he was in town for additional talks with city staff, architects and others associated with the municipal center project. [Previous Chronicle coverage of Dreiseitl's designs: "A River of Blue Light"]

On Tuesday, Margaret Parker, AAPAC’s chair, told the commission that the task force charged with guiding public art projects at the municipal center met last week. The task force had intended to make a recommendation to AAPAC about Dreiseitl’s work, she said, but because the budget hadn’t been finalized, the task force couldn’t vote. Certain construction elements – such as pouring concrete in the courts building – are ready to proceed, Parker said, but will have to be held back until a decision is made about the Dreiseitl installation. Continued delays could mean that change-of-work orders will be required, she added, and that costs money.

Parker said that Dreiseitl hadn’t yet chosen all of the subcontractors he’d need. But the task force and AAPAC need to know if he can come in under a $750,000 cap for the three installations – the water sculpture on the outdoor plaza, and two smaller pieces inside the courts building. She said it might be the case that he can only do two installations – or even just one – for that amount, describing discussions with Dreiseitl as “ongoing.”

This is the current budget that AAPAC has received for the project, totaling $720,000:

  1. Water basin: precast concrete = $57,000
  2. Water elements: rotating, stainless steel = $21,000
  3. Outdoor sculpture: element base = $57,000
  4. Indoor sculptures (2) = $75,000
  5. Sculpture: configuration, spotlight, lighting, water supply, lighting control, programming = $225,000
  6. Water technology, basin, drain, filter, water treatment, control = $120,000
  7. Contingencies = $40,000
  8. Artistic design and supervision = $55,000
  9. Design development, construction documentation, services during construction = $70,000
  10. Change orders = to be discussed

The project will be paid for out of the city’s Percent for Art program, which also pays for Talcott’s part-time salary. However, Talcott has been working additional hours to handle the Dreiseitl project – those extra hours are being paid for out of the city’s water and sewer fund, she told commissioners on Tuesday.

In commenting on Dreiseitl’s preliminary budget, commissioner Cheryl Zuellig pointed out that “change orders” amount – still to be determined – had the potential to be large.

Depending on whether a final budget is ready, the task force also plans to meet on Friday, immediately prior to AAPAC’s meeting. The task force will make a recommendation to AAPAC. Then AAPAC must vote on the Dreiseitl project as well. Sue McCormick, the city’s director of public services, has asked that the task force and AAPAC make their recommendations by Monday, Oct. 19. Talcott said McCormick wants to take the recommendation to city council for a vote at their Nov. 16 meeting, and it would take a month to prepare for that.

Zuellig asked whether AAPAC would get a design presentation at Friday’s meeting. Parker told commissioners that Dreiseitl had made design changes, which she could only describe, but not show – because they did not have the new designs in hand. Instead of using a steel background for the wall installations in the courts building, he now plans to use glass. And rather than embedding the small blue lights into the glass surface, he plans to hang them from the ceiling, like raindrops. An image of the Huron River watershed will be etched into the glass.

For the second wall installation, the drawing of plant life will be done in silver paint incised into white plaster. Some lights will hang down from the ceiling, while others will be embedded into the roots in the drawing.

Commissioners pushed to get information as soon as possible before Friday’s meeting. “This is a very short period of time and very short notice for us,” Zuellig said. She suggested that the staff prepare two motions in advance – one approving Dreiseitl’s work, the other rejecting it – so that they would have both options ready at the meeting.

“This is a really big deal, and we want to have done our due diligence,” said Marsha Chamberlin.

Working with the DDA

At last month’s AAPAC meeting, commissioner Connie Brown was absent but had submitted a report on possible Downtown Development Authority projects that the commission could collaborate on. Brown is a liaison between AAPAC and the DDA, which also sets aside funds for public art from its construction projects.

On Tuesday, Brown began by saying she hoped to get feedback from commissioners about whether they were interested in pursuing any of these projects, or if they had other ideas for collaborating with the DDA. One of the projects she’d originally listed – the underground parking structure on Fifth Avenue, which broke ground last week – is no longer really an option, since the project is well underway, she said.

Other projects are:

  • Division Street and Fifth Avenue sidewalk, curb and street improvements: This might include planters, stamping designs into the concrete or embedding art into curbs and sidewalks in other ways. Work is being done on Division Street now; AAPAC would need to make a decision about getting involved by the end of December. Work on Fifth Avenue is slated for next year.
  • Hanover Park: Located at the corner of Division and Packard, this park contains a metal sculpture of stacked books –”Arbor Sapientiae” by Ronald Bauer – that will likely be relocated. The DDA has built a concrete ring in the park that could act as the base for a sculpture, or for plantings.
  • Ongoing curb and street repair: Like the Division and Fifth work, projects could include planters, stamping designs into the concrete or embedding tile or other material into curbs.

Cheryl Zuellig said that although it might be too late to incorporate art into the underground part of the parking structure, the city had issued a request for proposals and would be choosing a development to go on top of the structure – that might be an opportunity for AAPAC to get involved, she said.

Zuellig also questioned what the procedure would be for AAPAC’s involvement in any of the projects that Brown listed. Many of them were already in progress, like the Division Street improvements and Hanover Park. If AAPAC was going to be integrated, it really needed to be part of the design team, she said.

Brown responded by saying that AAPAC could set up a process with the DDA and figure out how early to get involved, but it didn’t make sense to do that until AAPAC decided that this kind of partnership was worth pursuing. After that general decision had been made, she said, they could choose a point-person on AAPAC to work out the details and bring back a more specific proposal for the projects they wanted to pursue.

One possibility would be to start with a simple project – like embellishing curbcuts – and use that as a trial before committing to additional collaboration, Brown said.

Margaret Parker said that typically, months of discussion lead up to decisions about what projects to select. She felt like the design had already been pinpointed, without the discussion. “What I see is, ‘Here’s a flowerpot!’” she said.

Brown noted that the DDA had been working on these projects for a long time, but that AAPAC had only recently gotten involved – that’s why it seemed like the process was well underway. If that’s not acceptable, the commission can decide not to participate in any of these current projects, Brown said, but rather to get involved when new DDA projects begin.

Parker asked if commissioners could tell the DDA that they’d like to do one “knock-out” piece of art on the development that goes atop the Fifth Avenue parking structure. If so, they’d need to start talking to developers soon, she added.

Jim Curtis pointed out that the development on top of the parking structure is going to be a very complex project, and probably won’t be built for many years. AAPAC shouldn’t just focus on those large, long-term projects, but should also look for short- and intermediate-term projects to showcase public art, he said. The DDA is being very generous in offering to work with AAPAC, he said. “Yes, it is a pot, I agree – it’s not the whole program. But a pot is better than nothing.”

The commission eventually reached consensus on pursuing a joint AAPAC-DDA project in Hanover Park, and in exploring opportunities for partnering on the Fifth Avenue and Division streetscapes. Commissioners also agreed to let the DDA know that they’d be interested in working on a public art installation for the top of the Fifth Avenue underground parking structure.

Status Update: FestiFools, Project S.N.A.P., Horse Sculpture

Cheryl Zuellig gave a report from the planning committee, and the commission took action on three projects.


The organizers of FestiFools, an annual parade of large puppets down Main Street that emphasizes community involvement in the creation of public art, had asked AAPAC for a five-year commitment of $25,000 each year, for a total of $125,000. Zuellig reported that the planning committee had several comments: 1) As performance art, FestiFools is not permanent, and reaches only a limited audience over a limited period, compared to permanent installations; 2) AAPAC hasn’t determined what its role might be in supporting performance art, so it’s not a high priority at this point; 3) the project type wasn’t identified in AAPAC’s 2010 annual plan; 4) FestiFools gets funding from other sources, and will continue the project even without the support of AAPAC; and 5) the amount requested is higher than what’s allotted for unspecified projects in the annual plan.

The committee did not recommend that the FestiFools proposal be moved to the peer review stage. However, Zuellig said, performance art is an important part of the community’s experience, so the committee proposed awarding a one-time, $5,000 amount to FestiFools for the 2010 fiscal year. The committee recommended certain conditions apply, including that the money be used for puppet-making materials, not administrative overhead, and that AAPAC is mentioned in any promotional materials for the project. The award is also contingent on city council approval.

Jim Curtis suggested adding a condition that the puppets be displayed for some period after the parade, in a public venue. Several commissioners praised the project, saying it drew people to the downtown area.

Outcome: The commission voted unanimously to approve the $5,000 one-time funding.

Project S.N.A.P.

The youth group Project S.N.A.P. (Share, Nurture, Act, Preserve) is interested in creating a community mosaic project, with support from AAPAC. Zuellig said the committee felt there weren’t sufficient details to move ahead with this project, and suggested that AAPAC table the proposal and ask organizers to provide additional information, including a proposed size, type of materials, design and budget. Another suggestion is for the project to align itself with a local community group that might be interested in creating a mosaic mural.

Outcome: The commission voted unanimously to table the proposal, and to ask Project S.N.A.P. for a more fully developed proposal.

Bronze Horse Sculpture

Local artist Garo Kazan has offered to donate his large bronze sculpture of a horse to the city. Zuellig said that accepting such a donation was consistent with AAPAC’s mission and its annual plan, and that the piece would be permanent, suitable for locating in an outside venue, and of a size that would be easily visible to pedestrians. One consideration, she said, is that AAPAC would have to earmark funding for its installation, in addition to choosing a location. The planning committee recommended moving the project to a peer review stage. If the proposal is approved during peer review, AAPAC would have to do a structural assessment of the work before it goes to city council for final approval, Zuellig said.

Jim Curtis said that if there was a suitable location near a city parking structure or surface lot, the DDA might be interested in partnering on the cost. He reported that Jan Onder had suggested an area along Ashley as a possible location, where in the past there had been a blacksmiths, carriage factory and livery. Onder added to Curtis’ remarks by specifying the berm next to the surface lot at Ashley and Huron, facing Huron as a possible location.

Outcome: The commission voted unanimously to move the project to peer review.

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

Absent: Jim Kern, Elaine Sims

Next regular meeting: Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 4:30 p.m., 7th floor conference room of the City Center Building, 220 E. Huron St. [confirm date]


  1. By johnboy
    October 15, 2009 at 4:22 am | permalink

    And remember, the Mayor says we don’t have enough money to keep open Mack Pool or the Senior Center. Maybe the Mayor, in his loving, kind heart, can find enough money to buy swimsuits for the seniors so they can frolic in the fountain.

  2. October 15, 2009 at 10:01 am | permalink

    I can’t resist posting what “bunnyabbott” said on “Can we have a giant gushing vagina [at the new parking structure] to go along with the recycled water penis by the German artist at the city building?”

  3. By suswhit
    October 15, 2009 at 10:39 am | permalink

    oh. dagnabit. Thanksalot. Now if this stupid thing gets built it will forever be a “recycled water penis.” How tall is “the member” anyway? The scale of the “park” area looks sort of off — it’s not really that far from the edge of the building to the street.

    And an honest question…will the water feature be turned off when temps are below freezing?

  4. By Alan Goldsmith
    October 15, 2009 at 10:57 am | permalink

    Let me get this straight:

    1. We still don’t have a final budget or design yet.
    2. The ‘meeting’ is, once again, set at a time when the public would not be easily able to attend (noon).
    3. Dreiseitl picked up his check for ‘design work’ last week but that didn’t include a cost breakdown.
    4. The lack of a budget and workable design could mean costly ‘change-of-work orders, with no estimate what this might mean with the final cost.
    5. Dreiseitl hasn’t chosen all his subcontractors yet which means, without a budget, no one knows if this will come under the $750K budget cap.
    6. Because of the lack of clarity, instead of doing three installations, the artist might one do two or even ONE installation because of the cost.
    7. Ms. Talcott, who was selected to manage the Percent for Art program is unable to handle this project with her half time position and is now being paid from the city’s water and sewer fund with no oversight, budget or process in place to oversee the expenditures.
    8. Design changes were made but Ms. Parker ‘did not have the new designs in hand’.
    9. The approval process is once again being rushed with little input from the public.
    10. Art funds ($5K) will be spent on puppet parades.
    11. The next ‘regular’ meeting time of 4:30 pm is exclusionary for most of the general public.
    This entire fiasco is quickly moving from incompetence to a criminal mismanagement of tax dollars. Everyone involved, from the Mayor and the City Council who voted and championed this project, to the AAPAC, who have operated this commission like a bunch of drunken art majors on a trust fund, should be totally ashamed.

  5. By Alan Goldsmith
    October 15, 2009 at 11:00 am | permalink

    My comments were about the process, not the art. But maybe the AAPAC can do a study of the legendary Ypsi ‘water tower’ and incorporate something similar into the project. That way it would be a world class laughing stock and not just a Michigan laughing stock.

    I sugguest we name it after the Mayor while we’re at it.

  6. October 15, 2009 at 11:43 am | permalink

    Ah Ha! The sculpture is a plot to make the men in Ann Arbor feel inadequate! Dave’s comment is right on, a female oriented sculpture at the parking structure is needed for balance.

    #4 & 5: I agree with Allan that the budgeting and cost control is a serious matter. Once upon a time I was an executive in Purchasing. We’d get low balled all of the time with vendors betting the at the change orders would put the money in the bank. They usually did.

  7. October 15, 2009 at 12:08 pm | permalink

    Some time ago, a local artist called the thing the “world’s largest urinal”. 8-)

  8. By Alan Goldsmith
    October 15, 2009 at 12:21 pm | permalink

    Dreiseitl appears to be an artist. Unfortunately, the word ‘con’ comes to mind.

    This is going to end up being ONE work, and the costs are going to top $1 Million. Mark my word. But it will probably take more FOIA requests to ‘follow the money’.

  9. By suswhit
    October 15, 2009 at 6:09 pm | permalink

    I think Alan is right about the $1M and one project. And I think the “world’s largest urinal” is going to turn out to be not very big and not functioning half the year when it is below freezing.

  10. October 15, 2009 at 11:12 pm | permalink

    Ref #9: At least we men will feel a bit less inadequate–both in size and frequency.

  11. By suswhit
    October 16, 2009 at 8:59 am | permalink

    …well, it is, afterall, hard to function when the “temps are frigid” (wink,wink)….

  12. By mr dairy
    October 16, 2009 at 12:19 pm | permalink

    This whole thing stinks, just like a giant urinal.

    When will people figure out that here in the midwest, we value function over form. Like functioning roads and bridges.

  13. By AntiRedRidersNo1
    October 16, 2009 at 2:10 pm | permalink

    Finally, an admission that Ann Arbor is nothing more than a group of cheap provincial hicks.

  14. By Mary Morgan
    October 16, 2009 at 2:19 pm | permalink

    We’ve updated the article to reflect two special meetings that have been scheduled: A special meeting of the municipal center task force has been scheduled for Monday, Oct. 19 from 1-2:30 p.m. at the City Center’s 7th floor conference room, 220 E. Huron St. Also on Monday, a special meeting of the Public Art Commission is set for 5:30 p.m. at the same location.

  15. October 16, 2009 at 3:22 pm | permalink

    What is the “municipal center task force” and to what building does it refer?

  16. By Mary Morgan
    October 16, 2009 at 3:44 pm | permalink

    The “municipal center task force” is the task force that was formed by AAPAC to make recommendations on public art at the municipal center. Their recommendations are then considered by AAPAC, which makes its own recommendations to city council. The building is also referred to as the new police/courts building, under construction next to city hall.

  17. By yet another
    October 16, 2009 at 8:03 pm | permalink

    Maybe this shows my age: it looks a lot like an oversized, surrealist, 70s-era computer punch card — as one might have been portrayed in Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory, placed alongside the flowing, bending watches (though with less warp, and assuming Dali could envision such a card back in 1930). On the other hand, a punch card would shape itself a bit like this after you accidentally spilled some water on it. On the third hand, I do like the idea of a computer card large enough to provide you a steady, gentle morning shower while standing under it.

    And as I’ve written elsewhere, this $1 million wonder ideally belongs not at city hall, but down at First & William, in the temporary downtown parking lot slated to become a $3 million patch of Greenway. Combining these two financially indulgent projects into one would create a monument to the misdirected spending priorities of both the Council’s political majority as well as their best-organized opponents. Plus, the giant computer card would look terrific while artfully directing high Allen Creek floodway waters following an enormous rainstorm.

  18. October 16, 2009 at 10:19 pm | permalink

    Hollerith cards were around before there were computers; here’s a photo of a reader from the 1930s.

  19. October 16, 2009 at 10:34 pm | permalink

    Though the article Ed links to doesn’t mention it, Hollerith based his cards on the punched cards used to control Jacquard textile looms, which were developed in the early 1800s. A former client of mine, a rug manufacturer in South Carolina, still had a few of these looms in operation in the late 1990′s. Unfortunately, I did not get a hold of one their cards after they took the machines out of production and replaced them with computer-controlled looms.

  20. By yet another
    October 18, 2009 at 4:04 pm | permalink

    Edward and Tom — Thanks for the clarification on punch card ancestry. Didn’t know the lineage went that far back, having assumed it was all post-WWII. It’s interesting that the 1890 census gave Hollerith his big break, with the subsequent manufacturing venture going on to become IBM. Reading those links also recalled the mid-century axiom, “Do Not Bend, Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate” — which might make appropriate text for a plaque next to the Dreiseitl sculpture. With Jacquard’s 200-year-old loom in mind, the word “spindle” in this phrase may have originally referenced an occupational hazard faced by punch cards when employed in textile production. Apparently, as noted in Wikipedia, his loom was based in part on a model from the early 18th century which relied on paper tape — a related technology also later appearing in computers some 250 years later.

  21. By Cosmonican
    October 18, 2009 at 5:01 pm | permalink

    Hate to point out that the conceptual view I have missed so far is the one showing what happens after some prankster unloads a bottle of dishwashing soap into the fountain. Big clumps of soap bubbles on down to Main Street and beyond? Maybe the holes up at the top of the sculpture will give the bubbles some lift.

  22. By Rod Johnson
    October 18, 2009 at 10:19 pm | permalink

    It happens on Ingalls Plaza from time to time. Usually civilization manages to continue somehow.

  23. By Alan Goldsmith
    October 19, 2009 at 7:04 am | permalink

    Don’t worry. The city will no doubt have a couple of officers guarding the fountain. AND we can pay for this by raising the water rates again. We’re already doing that with some of the costs for the build out already.