AAPAC Plans Response on Public Art

Ann Arbor art commission strategizes on proposed funding cut

Ann Arbor Public Art Commission (Dec. 8, 2009): One day after Ann Arbor city council voted to temporarily cut in half a program that funds public art projects, the commission that oversees that funding strategized over how to respond.

Jim Kern, outgoing public art commissioner, gets a hug from Margaret Parker, the commission's chair, after Tuesday night's meeting. The Ann Arbor Public Art Commission is recruiting replacements for Kern and Jan Onder, who is also leaving AAPAC at the end of the month. (Photo by the writer.)

Jim Kern, outgoing public art commissioner, gets a hug from Margaret Parker, the commission's chair, after Tuesday night's meeting. The Ann Arbor Public Art Commission is recruiting replacements for Kern and Jan Onder, who is also leaving AAPAC at the end of the month. (Photo by the writer.)

They hope to rally others in the community to attend a public hearing at the Dec. 21 city council meeting, when councilmembers will take a final vote on the three-year funding cut.

Several commissioners expressed concern that some councilmembers didn’t seem to understand how the city’s Percent for Art program works.

Since it was formed in 2007, the program has set aside 1% of any city-funded capital improvement project, to be used for public art. The proposal initially approved by council on Monday would cut that funding to a half percent.

Also at the Dec. 21 council meeting, a vote is expected on the program’s first major project: a water sculpture by German artist Herbert Dreiseitl, proposed as an outdoor installation at the new municipal center next to city hall.

A Half Percent for Art?

Margaret Parker, chair of the public art commission, gave a report from Monday night’s city council meeting, which she attended. The proposal that council passed on first reading, she said, would cut the set-aside for public art from 1% to 0.5% – it would not take away money already allocated to the program.

According to a budget summary handed out at Tuesday’s commission meeting, the public art fund has an available balance of $1,323,560 – though a large portion of that is earmarked for a sculpture by German artist Herbert Dreiseitl, which hasn’t yet been approved by council. After a three-year period, the funding for public art will automatically return to 1%, Parker said.

The reason for this proposal, Parker said, is that the city budget is in “terrible trouble.” With dramatic cuts being planned – as much as 30% through fiscal 2012 – there was a sense that public art should do its part. [See Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor City Budget: Cuts Begin Now"]

Parker said that mayor John Hieftje and other city councilmembers have asked the commission to support the cut as a way to save the program from being eliminated entirely. At Monday’s council meeting, eight of the 11 councilmembers supported the cut, with two members – Tony Derezinski and Stephen Rapundalo, both representing Ward 2 – voting against it. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) was absent.

Despite the outcome, commissioner Jan Onder said it was quite moving to hear councilmembers speak about their support for public art. “There was just real pain in their voices and in what they said,” she reported. Some councilmembers brought up how important public art was as an economic stimulus, and how it played a crucial role in the Cool Cities initiative.

Katherine Talcott, the city’s public art administrator, noted that Tamara Real – president of the Arts Alliance – also had spoken eloquently during the council meeting’s public commentary time, in support of public art. Real reminded councilmembers that artists were also part of the community and the local economy, Talcott said.

Several commissioners pointed to economic benefits of public art. Parker gave the example of the recent ArtPrize competition in Grand Rapids, which drew thousands of people to the city. [See Chronicle coverage: "In Search of Ann Arbor Artists: A Sojourn"] Onder also mentioned that the Ann Arbor Convention & Visitors Bureau is starting to market this area as a winter destination, “so the more visual things we have, the better,” she said.

Onder reported that there was some discussion at the council meeting about how much of the public art allocation has come out of the city’s general fund – none of it has, she clarified. Also, the program caps public art funding that comes from any single capital improvement project to $250,000.

Commissioner Cheryl Zuellig asked what the half percent would be used for, if it’s not going into the Percent for Art program. If that money is going back into the capital improvement projects, Zuellig said, “it’s saying we can build 100 more feet of road.”

“Or three inches,” Parker quipped.

Currently, the percent for art comes out of a project’s contingency fund, which is typically 10% of the total project, Parker said. The half percent would likely remain in the contingency fund, she said. Zuellig, a landscape architect who also serves on the Ypsilanti planning commission, said she doesn’t recall ever seeing a project that ended up with anything left over in its contingency fund. Unless there’s a political reason not to spend it, she said, if it’s in the budget, it gets spent.

Funding for public art would likely decline even without the half-percent cut, Parker said, because the city will be curbing its capital improvement projects, which affects how much money gets set aside for the Percent for Art program. There would likely be about $500,000 available under the Percent for Art program next year, based on planned capital improvements. Cut to a half percent, that amount would be $250,000.

Commissioner Cathy Gendron said it seemed like a goodwill gesture to accept the half-percent cut, but she was concerned that it set a precedent and would make it easier to cut funding in the future as well. She noted that in three years, there would likely be different people on council, possibly not as supportive of public art.

Marsha Chamberlin asked whether any other city programs were targeted for cuts at the council meeting. “I’m trying to figure out why it rose to this level so fast,” she said. [Though the issue has not received significant discussion at council until recently, councilmember Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) first raised the idea of cutting the Percent for Art program in February 2009, at a Sunday night council caucus. See Chronicle coverage: "Discontent Emerges at Caucus."]

Talcott said that city employees had received an email last week from city administrator Roger Fraser outlining the dire budget situation, and that she expected to receive additional information later this week, which she said she’d share with commissioners. “So it’s not just this commission,” she said. “It’s across the board.”

Parker also noted that council had engaged in a heated budget discussion at its Nov. 16 meeting, where the Percent for Art program had been a “kicking boy” for a couple of councilmembers, she said. [The council discussion she referred to related to a capital improvement project at West Park. See Chronicle coverage: "Council discusses budget, public art, Huron River and more"]

Much of the discussion during the commission’s Tuesday meeting focused on how to respond at the next council meeting on Dec. 21. Parker said she plans to speak at the meeting’s public hearing, and to tell councilmembers that the beauty of the Percent for Art program is that it adjusts to difficult times. That’s because it’s tied directly to the amount of capital improvement funding, she said.

The public hearing is an opportunity to talk about how the program works, Parker said, and why it’s important to support funding for public art. She said that Hieftje and Sue McCormick, the city’s director of public services, both suggested that the arts community get as many people as they can to come to the public hearing in support of public art, the Percent for Art program and the Dreiseitl project.

Parker noted that council had been scheduled to vote on funding for Dreiseitl’s work at the Dec. 7 meeting, but that vote was postponed until Dec. 21. [This is not the first time the vote has been pushed back. Previous Chronicle coverage: "City Council Vote on Dreiseitl Delayed"]

Zuellig asked whether they could prepare a statement or joint response, so that commissioners would be speaking with one voice. Chamberlin suggested preparing a fact sheet to distribute to councilmembers and the public. Parker said that McCormick was already working on one.

Talcott reported that the Arts Alliance was having its annual holiday party on Dec. 21, and that Tamara Real had volunteered to recruit people from that event and organize a “performative reaction” for the council’s public hearing.

Chamberlin said it was also important to get people to speak “who aren’t already wearing the colors.” They should include people who are well-known in the community, people from all walks of life and all parts of the city, who are advocates for the arts, she said. One specific example she cited was David Canter, former head of the Pfizer research operation in Ann Arbor. “These things that look like spontaneous rallies are seldom spontaneous,” Chamberlin said.

Onder volunteered to draft a position statement, to be emailed to commissioners before the Dec. 21 council meeting.

Washtenaw Avenue Corridor

Margaret Parker, chair of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission, had brought a print copy of AnnArbor.com to the meeting to show commissioners an article about the Washtenaw Avenue Talent Center, a project on which AAPAC commissioner Cheryl Zuellig serves.

Zuellig told commissioners that the effort is part of the broader Ann Arbor Region Success initiative. She’s on a steering committee that’s looking at ways to improve the stretch of Washtenaw Avenue, roughly between Arborland to the west over to the water tower in Ypsilanti. It’s an “extremely vehicular-oriented” road, she noted, that passes through four jurisdictions – Ann Arbor, Pittsfield Township, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. The steering committee met for the first time last month, and is just beginning what Zuellig described as a multi-year effort.

Commissioners discussed how this section of Washtenaw Avenue was a “gateway” area to Ann Arbor, and as such would be a good place for a public art project. Zuellig said there was opportunity for a project if AATA builds a new transit stop across the street from Arborland – the transit authority previously had a bus stop located in the shopping center’s parking lot, but earlier this year Arborland’s owners asked AATA to remove that stop.

Working with the DDA

Commissioner Cathy Gendron reported that she and fellow commissioner Connie Brown had met with Susan Pollay, executive director of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, to talk about possible collaborations between AAPAC and the DDA. Their discussion focused on incorporating art into the DDA’s streetscape project along Fifth Avenue. The next step is to meet with the DDA’s project manager, Gendron said.

Margaret Parker said that AAPAC could help the DDA select art for its capital improvement projects, for a fee. Or if the DDA didn’t want to pay a fee, she said, perhaps part of the DDA’s funding for a project could be used to pay for staff costs associated with organizing a juried competition. AAPAC should suggest a process to the DDA for how this might work, Parker said.

Gendron agreed to add a financial component to her future discussions with the DDA.

Outreach Efforts

Marsha Chamberlin, reporting on the work of the public relations committee, asked commissioners for feedback on outreach events. The committee had discussed holding a panel discussion on the general topic of public art, but given the budget situation, she said, “that seems like a joke.”

Katherine Talcott, the city’s public art administrator, suggested considering a more interactive event, possibly a video display that could be set up as a temporary installation at a public place, like city hall. Jan Onder promoted the idea of doing a segment on the Community Television Network’s “Access Soapbox” show. She said that when she owned the downtown shop Generations, she was involved in the Main Street Area Association and they’d gotten great exposure from doing a 5-minute Soapbox segment, which is regularly rebroadcast.

Another possibility, Chamberlin said, was to get on the speaking circuit for groups like Rotary and Kiwanis. The commission could develop a PowerPoint presentation with images of public art they’d collected from other cities, she said. Zuellig noted that this kind of presentation could be tailored, depending on the group – talking to business people, she said, the message could highlight the role of public art in economic development.

Margaret Parker said it would be important to include information about the Herbert Dreiseitl sculpture as well. “We desperately need to get that project out there,” she said. “People don’t understand it.”

Public Comment

At the beginning of the meeting, the commission heard from Hannah Wagner, a University of Michigan student who is hoping to bring more public art to UM’s central campus. Most of the public art is located on north campus, she said, and for non-artists who don’t have classes on north campus, there’s far less opportunity to encounter art unless they actively seek it out. She’s working with another student, Rachel Sherman, to form a new student organization that she described as an extension of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission for central campus. “We’re an idea, at this point,” she said. They hope to start a mural painting project in the dorms next semester.

Commissioners had several suggestions, primarily pointing her toward other art programs at UM, including Arts on Earth, Arts at Michigan and the School of Art & Design. Commissioner Elaine Sims, director of the Gifts of Art program at the UM Health System, also offered to meet with the students.

Margaret Parker, AAPAC’s chair, noted that the cultural planning process for Washtenaw County had cited the importance of involving the younger generation. She said it was fantastic that the students weren’t just interested in public art, but were also interested in AAPAC’s process. “That is truly amazing. I think we should try to use you, by god!”

Changing of the Guard

This was the final meeting for two commissioners – Jan Onder and Jim Kern – whose terms end this year. A cake from Zingerman’s was ordered for the occasion. Cheryl Zuellig – who chairs the planning committee, which is handling nominations to replace Onder and Kern – said they hadn’t had much success in finding candidates.

Margaret Parker reported that she had talked to Jeff Meyers, characterizing him as very excited about the possibility of serving on the commission. Meyers is managing editor of the online magazines Concentrate and Metromode, and serves on the Ann Arbor Cable Commission. Parker also described him as a “young guy,” which Zuellig said fit the characteristics they were looking for in candidates. Some commissioners also mentioned they were impressed with an article he’d written this summer, “What Is Ann Arbor’s Artistic Identity?

Several other names were floated, including Carl Hueter, a local artist and architect who designed the interior and facade for Performance Network, according to Kern.

Though the commission makes recommendations, it’s the mayor’s role to appoint new commissioners, with approval from city council.

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

Absent: Connie Brown, Jim Curtis

Next regular meeting: Tuesday, Jan. 12 at 4:30 p.m., 7th floor conference room of the City Center Building, 220 E. Huron St. [confirm date]


  1. By Alan Goldsmith
    December 11, 2009 at 12:37 pm | permalink

    Perhaps the AAPAC folks who plan to attend the Christmas week Council meeting will run into a few of the firefighters who are facing the budget ax.

  2. By a2why
    December 11, 2009 at 2:21 pm | permalink

    I’m so tired of hearing the same people making the same tired complaints about the public art fund. Nothing will get done that way. Look, if we can’t divert the fund to help alleviate the budget issues, why can’t we figure out other ways to benefit our city? I’m currently VERY disappointed that the funds are being allocated to an international artist no matter how renowned he might be. Why not create a contest open to local artists? Or better yet, a contest for local art/architecture majors or high school art students. Have local art experts pick the top 10 and have the winning design chosen by the public via a vote. The students will have something cool to stick into their portfolios. Create prizes in the form of scholarships to help out struggling Michigan families. And employ a local firm to build it. City council can then claim that the fund winds up helping out the community in a time of economic distress. Why can’t we do that?

  3. December 11, 2009 at 4:16 pm | permalink

    Mary — I think you wrote the world’s longest paragraph in the Half Percent for Art section.

  4. By ROB
    December 11, 2009 at 4:22 pm | permalink

    AAPAC just doesn’t seem to get it. “Public Art” is a luxury, not a basic service or a necessity – especially in the middle of the worst economic situation since the great depression. This budget situation will persist even if the rest of the country has some measure of recovery, because Michigan’s economic problems are structural, not cyclical – and will likely remain so for years, if not decades. Under these circumstances, and given the neglect of basic services over the past several years, the 1% TAX (which is what it really is) for art is not only unwarranted, it is irresponsible. Not to mention the fact that Count Dreiseitl’s million dollar creation is fugly, in the opinion of many.

  5. December 11, 2009 at 4:50 pm | permalink

    I agree that it is a tax, especially because many of the dollars are coming from our sewer and water main installations, which are paid for by user fees which keep going up. A dollar diverted is a dollar billed to the users. It amounts to a tax that was not approved by the voters. Likewise, the road dollars they are mocking were not on the ballot measure that the voters approved. I think the commission members are being insensitive, considering all the other cuts the city will be enduring.

  6. By Cosmonican
    December 11, 2009 at 5:02 pm | permalink

    What about the rest of the money in this art pot? Is anyone going about selecting and buying artworks by local artists and student artists for framing and display in city offices and public spaces? Or when we visit the new city hall will it be decorated with cheap lithos cut from magazines, worth less than the frames?

    Small amounts of this fund should be spent this way, I hate to see it reserved for monumental odes to egos and politicians. When these small prints and drawings and watercolors do end up in the city art collection, they should receive some public mention and photos online.

  7. By Mary Morgan
    December 11, 2009 at 5:10 pm | permalink

    Re. [3] “longest paragraph” – yikes, no kidding. It sure looks like a lot more words when all of the paragraph returns are stripped out, eh? Thanks for flagging that glitch – hopefully it’s now more readable.

  8. By mr dairy
    December 11, 2009 at 5:18 pm | permalink

    Hah! Let them pave 3″ of road! Let’s get all the art people to go to city hall!

    I pay my utilities bill thinking that I want Ann Arbor to have a working utilities system. Not buy a fountain in front a government building (now that’s REALLY creative!) on a main thoroughfare, that a few art elites think is something that will get those tech kids to work and live here.

    AAPAC = clueless.

  9. By UM88
    December 11, 2009 at 5:25 pm | permalink

    I hope that the legacy costs of a functioning piece of art are considered. Those costs are taken from the general fund to pay for city maintenance staff that will most likely spend a significant amount of labor, materials and equipment to maintain such a complex piece. Time to troubleshoot pumps, filters, pipes, drains, unclog screens, leaks, graffiti removal, vandalism. Equipment needed such as compressors to properly drain it before freezing weather.

    Perhaps once art is designed, constructed, and installed a 3% allocation of the project cost should be placed back into the city General fund (from the percent for art fund) for the amount of time city employees will be out there working on it. They for sure will be. Where else will those legacy maintenance funds come from? Parks Millage? General fund?

    Council and administrators need to seriously think of that.

    There are already projects constructed every year that have significant maintenance funds. Every one drains more funds from the Parks maintenance millage and the general fund.

  10. By suswhit
    December 11, 2009 at 6:53 pm | permalink

    I find the very concept of the Dreiseitl project incredibly frustrating. Diverting river water to show how important and precious river water is to our lives. Doh. In a climate where the sculpture will be inoperable 50% of the time. Doh. Next to a busy road that is a thoroughfare for trucks. Doh.
    But the comments by members of the commission are even more frustrating. It appears that they have taken a potentially great idea and blown it. When they comment about the ways other communities are encouraging the arts with public dollars apparently they do not see the difference in what those communities are doing and the fiasco at city hall.

    from annarbor.com:
    “Other cities in Michigan have made different kinds of investments in the arts to the great benefit of their entire communities,” Parker said. “Jackson created a huge redevelopment project around the Armory Arts Village, an artist live-work space that attracts people to move to Jackson from around the country. Grand Rapids just spent close to $1 million on a two-and-a-half week art event, ArtPrize, that brought more than a 1,000 artists from around the world to their city and hundreds of thousands of visitors to their city.”

    “Parker also noted Kalamazoo has an arts building that houses four floors of arts organizations, cafes, studio and practice spaces, and Ypsilanti has plans for an arts incubator where young artists can get their start.”

    Yes, and do you see the difference between what they have done and what you are doing? Ann Arbor chooses to spend nearly a million dollars on one water fountain/sculpture. It will be on a busy road next to a building that very few visitors ever have reason to enter (unless they want to pay their parking ticket in person before they leave A2.) It has required multiple trips for the esteemed artist — not from Ann Arbor or from Michigan or even the US but from Germany. So lets think about this. No local artist(s) chosen for the HUGE financial expenditure. No artists community created by this effort. No crowds of thousands of visitors and 1,000 artists in town to participate in an event. No redevelopment of a dilapidated property. No studios or incubators for young artists. Or old artists, for that matter. Nope. They chose to build a single project next to a hugely overdone expansion of city hall. For who to enjoy? I’m not planning on having a picnic next to Huron St, are you?
    So instead of taking all that money and making heroes of themselves for contributing to local artists or for creating a vibrant art community or for bringing visitors to town with a great new idea like a competition they’ve turned the tide against arts funding so dramatically that the whole concept of money for public art is threatened. All that money could have gone a long way to support local artists struggling in this economy….what a shame that this is the direction they chose.

  11. December 11, 2009 at 7:43 pm | permalink

    Wasn’t ArtPrize the result of a private donation?

  12. By Dave Askins
    December 11, 2009 at 8:40 pm | permalink

    Re: [11] Yes, from the Chronicle’s report on our expedition out to Grand Rapids:

    Mention of DeVos Place is perhaps an appropriate time to note that the DeVos family is underwriting ArtPrize through the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation. Their son Rick DeVos is leading the effort. The family is best known as owners of Amway, which is based on the outskirts of Grand Rapids and was founded by Rick DeVos’ grandfather.

  13. By David Diephuis
    December 11, 2009 at 9:17 pm | permalink

    Here’s a link to the ArtPrize website (a event in Grand Rapids, MI)

    Although I have little direct knowledge of ArtPrize, it seems that Rick DeVos, grandson of an Amwway founder, was the creator and driving force. ArtPrize offered $449,000 in prize money with the winning artist receiving a quarter of a million dollars. Rick’s grandparent’s foundation was the lead sponsor among many foundations, businesses, etc. that contributed to the event. Grand Rapids provided some of the venues (parks, buildings) and probably provided many ancillary services (police, transportation, and others I would guess). Actual cash contributed by Grand Rapids—-I don’t know. Most sources reviewed ArtPrize as a success, particularly in terms of “buzz” and visitors to Grand Rapids.

  14. By mr dairy
    December 11, 2009 at 9:37 pm | permalink

    Regardless of Rich Devos funding, and that is just a distraction argument, the million dollar Driesetl fountain is the result of ivory tower elitists who refuse to or have the capacity to be truly creative. The decision for this expenditure of tax dollars is sooooo wrong for sooooo many reasons.

    A centralized committee of governmental appointees who are completely out of touch with what the essence of creativity is and obviously lack the forward thinking to inspire a creative culture, somehow, SOMEHOW came to lead something as important and costly to the taxpayers as this failed enterprise.

    This entire fiasco truly represents what is wrong with the alleged cultural, social and political leaders of Ann Arbor.

    Instead of appointing fossilized remnants of a dead creative past, the mayor and council should be appointing cutting edge artists and community creative types to lead the 1/2 % for art!

  15. By U2
    December 12, 2009 at 9:54 am | permalink

    I totally agree with UM88, has anyone asked where the maintenance dollars will come from? Years ago, some members of this same group installed a solar dragon fountain at Fuller Pool and when the thing broke it was staff at the pool and operations staff (paid by the general fund)who had to have it fixed. If/when this new city hall fountain uses water, then will a water bill be generated and who will pay for that? Will this be added to the water bill at city hall (paid by the general fund)? Yes, and when the darn thing needs repair’ who will do that. No one has thought to ask those questions, as these projects have long term costs.

  16. By Cornell88
    December 13, 2009 at 10:12 am | permalink

    When will the AAPAC finally “get it” that many A2 citizens actually support public art vigorously, but find the Driesetl project not only wasteful (a city hall fountain: boring, expensive, and only interactive half the time…) but downright DISRESPECTFUL and totally unsupportive of our local artists and economy? When will someone speak publically, on record, and simply tell Ms. Parker and AAPAC that THIS project was, and continues to be, a colossal mistake! How much basklash against ALL public art to you need to see, to understand how deeply this committee has offended the general public, by telling us , repeatedly, we are dumb and “just don’t understand” an international icon or an ugly, expensive project? Mr. Driesetl has acted with disrespect and arrogance toward our little town(we can’t even get ahold of him, all work is late, etc…).

    Ms. Parker has only herself to blame for the cut in funding…she and AAPAC are simply NOT LISTENING to us! And they continue to make public, on record, comments about the public not being expert enough on public art to have meaningful opinions. Part of public relations is to LISTEN, not just speak. I am outraged that, even now, she continues to blame the problems with the Driesetl project, and now the funding cut, on people who don’t “understand”, as stated inteh article above.

    It’s time for Council to stop giving her so much time to continue offending A2 citizens, on council record… If Council really does support puplic art and is grieved over the state of this project, and the public backlash against ANY funding for public art, it is time to simply state the obvious. AAPAC has done a very, very, very bad job with public relations. It’s leaders just continue to put the public down as misinformed or basically stupid. There is vast support for public art here, yes, even from us misinformed, unsophisticated, everyday citizens. AAPAC should have switched gears months ago. Council members should have made it absolutely clear to the commitee that taxpayer support for the 1% public art fund included the primary thought that it would support LOCAL artists, or at least regional ones. Ths project, and all others by AAPAC, are doomed to failure if you keep telling A2 citizens how stupid we are when it comes to art!

  17. By Rod Johnson
    December 13, 2009 at 11:50 am | permalink

    Just want to +1 Cornell88′s and Suswhit’s comments. I support public art, support the 1%, but feel the Dreiseitl piece is a monumental botch. AAPAC folks, why can’t you see that sticking to your guns on Dreiseitl is hurting your larger cause? You’re undermining the 1% For Art concept’s credibility by using it in such an unimaginative and poorly thought through way.

  18. By Marvin Face
    December 13, 2009 at 9:59 pm | permalink

    I have said several times elsewhere that I am absolutely behind the 1% for art but also absolutely against the Dreiseitl piece (of s#*t). Just wanted to go on record here along with Cornell88,Rod, et al.

  19. By Rod Johnson
    December 13, 2009 at 11:54 pm | permalink

    *high fives Marvin* Think anyone’s listening?

  20. December 14, 2009 at 9:11 am | permalink


  21. By a2why
    December 14, 2009 at 6:42 pm | permalink

    Yes yes!, I completely agree. I’m not against the public art fund but why do they insist on Dreiseitl? The mayor has said ‘these buckets are locked up’ for art. Why can’t we make this bucket useful for LOCAL art then?

  22. By Tom Hollyer
    December 14, 2009 at 8:16 pm | permalink

    A2Why, because we all weren’t loud enough when the proposal first surfaced. It is amazing that with the Think Local First campaign and all the emphasis of late on local products, local food, etc., this completely got away.

  23. By David Lewis
    December 14, 2009 at 9:47 pm | permalink

    Like many here I support public art and a large piece of art for this site but would rather see something else.

    As I followed it, AAPAC wanted something to compliment the environmental excellence of the building and the storm-hwater theme emerged. So far so good. The AAPAC committee is made up of local people, local artists, business people, a UM art specialist, etc., most of whom have been toiling away on this committee for years. They worked with a sub-committee of more local people from downtown, an environmental group, and unaffiliated citizens. All good.

    Then under time pressure they chose a renowned artist to work with this theme. I am OK with that too. I guess I just don’t like the piece and maybe that is the problem others have. But I wonder if the same proposal had been made by a local artist would the whole community embrace it?

    I have heard it said several times that in almost every case when a community of people is considering a large ($$$$) installation there is a lot of controversy. I can understand that. My wife loves stuff I can’t stand. I wonder if this controversy is any greater than has occurred in other communities going through the same thing?

    As it is A2 will have a piece by a very respected artist and 80% of the money will stay local for the fabrication and installation but the artist himself is not local.

    But I wonder, this is art, since when is art conceived by someone from another country a bad thing simply because it is not local?

    The fantastic, state tax dollar supported, UM Art Museum is full of foreign art and if you have not seen the current exhibit of Impressionist paintings, get over there, it is not something to be missed. Should we shun this art?

    Aside from not being done by one of the GREAT painters or not being something that appeals to you personally, why is this art by a foreign artist so offensive to some of you? Because the artist is not local? If so, does that mean you are against all foreign art being paid for with tax dollars?

  24. By Marvin Face
    December 14, 2009 at 10:34 pm | permalink


    In my mind, it has nothing whatsoever to do with a “foreign” artist. In fact, I have seen Dreiseitl’s work elsewhere and it is quite good. At times it is transcendant.

    I have three basic issues. One is with the process (or lack thereof) and the subsequent covering of tracks by Parker. The artist was hand selected and when there was an outcry, she said they looked at other artists when in fact this was not true.

    The second issue is that this could have been done by a local or regional artist who has yet to make themselves a name. This could have been an amazing opportunity for someone to pour their entire creative energy into making something within their own City or State and build a career. I have no issue with picking someone foreign and established other than it is “safe”.

    My third issue is with the piece that has been designed. I think it is completely uninspired. Dreiseitl is used to designing with budgets many times what he is getting for this work so this is very low on his priority list. His energy and attention has obviously been directed elsewhere. We get something he spent 15 minutes on and then gave to a staff member to flesh out. He whiffed.

    I like art. I just don’t fall for the notion that fame=good.

  25. By Suswhit
    December 15, 2009 at 9:52 am | permalink

    For me it’s not just that the artist isn’t local. (Though, if you are going to do just ONE project with ONE artist, then I’d say that artist ought to be pretty darn special and it doesn’t appear that this one cares all that much about the project he’s doing for Ann Arbor.) It’s that this money could have been used for multiple projects. And it’s not just 1% funds from the gigantic ill-timed-superstructure-dwarfing-city-hall paying for this single installation but accumulated funds. It’s simply a slap in the face to read about council debating which city services should be slashed while they construct a monument to themselves. The addition of a million dollar water feature at the entrance says nothing so loud as “let them eat cake.” And, by the way, my pedestrian understanding of a rain garden is that it utilizes and manages runoff. How does piping in clean, treated water for a fountain fit with the ideals of a rain garden? I try to wrap my head around how this thing will improve Ann Arbor and I just can’t do it. Will it improve the mood of people coming to court or to pay their taxes or to find out where their car got towed?

    I wonder if the biggest problem isn’t that these people were toiling in a vacuum. If you disregard any other contributing factors, a sculpture outside of the new city hall seems like a pleasant idea. But it’s not that simple. The new city hall is controversial and expensive, council’s ethics have been in question for a while with the email scandal, scripted meetings and the “secret” convention center among other things. The city is laying off public safety personnel because the budget is a disaster. When times are good, hiring an internationally renown artist might be prestigious, during an economic meltdown it seems fairly callous. We live in Michigan, which is frozen half the year. The city lost the Tech Center many years ago and to my knowledge has no burgeoning (affordable) place for artists to work. Water is no longer plentiful and clean. It’s a precious commodity not to be wasted.

    Oh, what do I know? I can only say that when I see the drawings for this thing it makes me bristle. Not so much that the artist isn’t local but that the powers that be decided that this new pot of money (or bucket as you will) for “public” art should go towards a grand statement at the new entrance to city hall.

    I long ago said more than my share about this issue. Whatever happens, happens.

  26. December 15, 2009 at 10:30 am | permalink

    Yes, I think suswhit has put her finger on a number of important points, including this one: how does this project benefit local artists and the climate in which they try to survive, create, communicate with the community, etc.? If we believe (as I do) that a local art scene is important, how do we foster that? This does not seem to contribute to it at all.

  27. By David Lewis
    December 15, 2009 at 10:41 am | permalink

    Suswit: Hmm… The sculpture is part of the stormwater cleansing, recycling system of the LEED Gold building. It does not use piped in clean water but water that lands the roof.

    The new building has been argued to death but just so you know, it isn’t a new city hall it’s a courthouse and police station. The city’s lease was not renewed at the county court house so they had to move the courts, the police will be in there too so will the customer service center where you can pay your water bill, taxes, pick up a compost bin, etc. Lots of people will go to this building. The rent the city saves by moving out of the county court house and other office space makes the bond payments. The impact on the city budget is only $275,000 per year.

    I have never heard anyone argue the police have not needed space for decades. I hate to admit it here but I like the building now that the look is emerging. I like the fact it is putting so many people to work in a bad economy, shades of Obama. The construction around town is putting a lot of money into the local economy.

    The money in the arts program has to be used for projects closely related to the source. It is part of the project. The art as to be on city property, funds that come from parks improvements will be used for art in the parks, etc. It could not be used to build space for artists or to put on a program like Grand Rapids did. It is for art in place, traditional if you will, projects. I totally agree, the next projects should all use local artists. No argument from me and I wish this one did too but this is where the (all local) committee wanted to go.

    I don’t see spending the money on art as an affront to anyone, none of the money came from the general fund and if the council spent the streets millage money to pay salaries in the FD they would be breaking the law. I guess you are objecting to the perception created by spending money on art when jobs are being cut rather than the more complicated but correct reality.

    Marvin: A big part of the core of your objection still seems to be that the artist is not local. As I said a few posts ago, controversy over the art in a big installation is normal, art is something that can be argued over for years, its part of the fun. Obviously some people (the locals on the committees) like this piece.

  28. By suswhit
    December 15, 2009 at 11:14 am | permalink

    fyi from here [link]
    “Another major line item is for “water technology,” at $125,000. Clein told commissioners that this would include water filters, pipes leading back to the building’s mechanical room, two to three pumps, and possibly a system for treatment of the water, if necessary.”
    Do you really think this thing will operate with dirty water that has run off a nearby building? On the other hand, a rain garden uses the ground and plants to naturally filter water.

  29. By David Lewis
    December 15, 2009 at 11:58 am | permalink

    It would be difficult to achieve LEED status if the building did not clean and process the storm water that comes off the roof and the site. The sculpture is part of the storm water control system of the building. The committee wanted the art to follow the environmental theme of the building and city.

  30. By Marvin Face
    December 15, 2009 at 12:36 pm | permalink

    Yes David, One third of my objection is that the artist is not local. The people who like this piece are enamored with the name Dreiseitl and anything he would have produced would be “genius, just GENIUS!” My guess is that they like collecting “names” rather than having successful art.

    You are right that part of the fun is debating the merits of the work. I’m having fun right now because sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying.

  31. By mr dairy
    December 16, 2009 at 9:29 am | permalink

    I was talking to an AAPAC committee member the other day and they expressed their opinion that when the AAPAC was formed and the 1% was begun, the committee had no clear direction or directive from council or the Mayor. They had a pile of money and there was a rush to get something at the new City Hall, err Police and Courts addition.

    There was little discussion or debate on much of anything including other ideas or discussion of local artists or much of an effort to seek clear guidance from council, Mayor or input from anyone else but the committee and art insiders. With a growing bucket of money and visions of something big, they rushed forward with their plans.

  32. By Alan Goldsmith
    December 16, 2009 at 10:54 am | permalink

    “…the committee had no clear direction or directive from council or the Mayor. They had a pile of money and there was a rush to get something at the new City Hall…”

    When in doubt, don’t get any guidance just spend and spend until the plug is pulled. Got it.

  33. By David Lewis
    December 16, 2009 at 4:36 pm | permalink

    The arts committee had been in place for years and they had a long lead up before the funding finally became available so they shouldn’t say they didn’t have time.

    The committee had time and experience and most of them were there for quite a few years. I appreciate that the council did not try to steer them in a direction other than to provide public art.

  34. By suswhit
    December 16, 2009 at 5:20 pm | permalink

    “It would be difficult to achieve LEED status if the building did not clean and process the storm water that comes off the roof and the site. The sculpture is part of the storm water control system of the building. The committee wanted the art to follow the environmental theme of the building and city.”
    If this argument held any water (ha ha ha – I’m so funny) then that line item would be in the budget for the building, not the budget for the “public” art. Or wait, maybe council is fudging where the money comes from for their new castle…err I mean police courts addition by moving the storm water treatment costs into the art budget….you never know with council these days….

  35. December 16, 2009 at 6:40 pm | permalink

    The ordinance specifically prohibits use of storm water construction funds for art (though $6,000 from the street tree planting for FY 2011-2012 is budgeted for art) but the program did receive $450,000 approx. in FY 2008 from water utilities and sewer. (Footing drain disconnection program alone gave $50,000.) No plan to use those water sources as far as I know.

  36. By suswhit
    December 16, 2009 at 6:58 pm | permalink

    But what about the reverse – using art money to pay for stormwater treatment? (Thus lessening the perceived cost of the new buildng?)

  37. By mr dairy
    December 18, 2009 at 11:31 am | permalink

    I guess I’m glad that council didn’t try to “steer” them either. Nor wouldn’t you have thought or am I just thinking wishfully that there would have been lots of public discussion to find out what the long term goals and objectives would be other than to spend a big ball of money on a fountain in front of a public building?

    What this does show is that the AAPAC thought that they had all the answers. They didn’t seek sufficient input from sources other than their clique, and/or they dismissed any input that seemed counter to the committee’s vision.

    Ann Arbor is a wannabe arts community. It might have the arts, but it lacks the community.

    The AAPAC needs to build the community first then let the creativity flower.