Ann Arbor Art Commission Plans for 2010

Still no word from Dreiseitl, but other projects move ahead

Ann Arbor Public Art Commission meeting (Jan. 12, 2010): A portion of AAPAC’s first meeting of the year was spent looking back at 2009 – and their success in December defeating a challenge to the Percent for Art program.

This winter seating for the West Park band shell will be gone by April, when renovations – including new seating built into the hill in front of the stage – will begin.

This winter seating will be gone by April, when renovations – including new seating built into the hill in front of the band shell – will begin in West Park. (Photos by the writer. The builder of the snow structures is unknown.)

But while reporting on city council’s vote against cutting public art funding to a half-percent, AAPAC chair Margaret Parker wasn’t feeling complacent: “I think we can expect a similar [challenge] to happen in the future.”

The commission discussed several other projects, including the status of the Herbert Dreiseitl sculpture recently approved by city council. He has not yet responded to queries asking him to modify two additional pieces of art – it’s unclear if those pieces, originally planned for the interior of the new municipal center, will move forward.

Percent for Art, Dreiseitl Project

AAPAC chair Margaret Parker began the meeting by reviewing the outcome of the Dec. 21, 2009 Ann Arbor city council meeting.  At that meeting, councilmembers voted on a resolution that would have cut the Percent for Art program to a half-percent for three years, then reverted back to a full percent. Parker said she and eight others spoke in favor of keeping the full percent, and one person from the public spoke against it. The resolution failed on a 7 to 2 vote, with only councilmembers Stephen Kunselman and Sandi Smith supporting it. Commissioner Elaine Sims, who also spoke at the council meeting, said councilmembers indicated that the public commentary made a difference in their votes.

Also considered at the Dec. 21 city council meeting was a resolution approving a $111,400 contract with Quinn Evans, the municipal center’s architect, for design documentation and procurement of bids to fabricate and install an outdoor sculpture proposed by Herbert Dreiseitl. Only Kunselman voted against this, Parker reported. [See Chronicle coverage: "Council: Art Key to Ann Arbor’s Identity"]

The total project budget is $737,820 for this outdoor sculpture, which will be designed to incorporate stormwater runoff. Katherine Talcott, the city’s public art administrator, said she’s working with Bill Wheeler, project manager for the municipal center, and Abigail Elias from the city attorney’s office to hammer out the Quinn Evans contract.

Originally, AAPAC had commissioned and paid for Dreiseitl to design three pieces, though only the one main outdoor work has been approved. There’s still some question about the status of the two Dreiseitl wall installations inside the new building. Talcott reported that the German artist has been in Singapore for several months, and hasn’t responded to queries from the city asking for revised designs and cost estimates.

The AAPAC task force on public art at the municipal center site will meet on Friday, Jan. 15 to discuss other art installations at the site, Parker said. There are spots for possible public art pieces in the north courtyard area off of Ann Street, as well as on a large outside wall on the building, facing east. And if Dreiseitl’s pieces aren’t used for the two inside locations, the task force will need to figure out what will go there. “We do have to get going on it,” Parker said.

West Park, Fuller Road Station, Bronze Horse Statue

Commissioners discussed several projects in various stages of development: public art for West Park and the Fuller Road Station, and a bronze horse sculpture that an artist wants to donate to the city.

In reporting on work by AAPAC’s projects committee, Connie Brown said she had talked with Amy Kuras, a city park planner, who is working on renovations to West Park. The project’s timeline had been accelerated and would likely begin in April 2010, to be completed throughout the summer. Kuras wanted to know whether AAPAC could work within that timeline to include a public art component, which would be funded through the Percent for Art program. [At city council's Nov. 16, 2009 meeting, an agenda item to authorize those West Park capital improvements prompted a lengthy discussion among councilmembers about how the Percent for Art program works.]

Brown recommended that AAPAC issue a request for qualifications (RFQ) for artwork that would be part of poured concrete seat walls, to be dug into the hillside across from the West Park bandshell. If they decide to do this project, they’d have to move quickly, she said, with the artist, design, contract and budget in place by May. City staff need to determine how much money would be available – funds would come either from the parks or stormwater budgets, said Katherine Talcott, the city’s public art administrator.

Some commissioners expressed concerns about the process, the short timeline and the type of materials that might be used. “To me it seems like another thing thrown to us with a tight timeline,” Elaine Sims said, asking how it fit into AAPAC’s budget and annual plan.

Margaret Parker pointed out that it had taken a year to do the request for proposals (RFP) for the artwork in the Fourth & Washington parking structure. City departments need to give AAPAC more advance notice for this kind of project, she said.

Noting that there were maintenance issues associated with outdoor concrete work, Sims suggested the project could be more of an aesthetic, with the funds spent on beautiful materials for the seating, rather than on an art installation. Several other commissioners agreed with the decorative approach.

Talcott said she was meeting with Sue McCormick, the city’s public services area administrator (to whom Talcott reports), and would clarify the process for moving forward, including whether the RFQ needs to get council approval.

Talcott then reported on another city project in which AAPAC might play a role: the Fuller Road Station. The project manager, David Dykman, had contacted her and they planned to meet formally soon. It was good that someone from another city project is reaching out, she said. The station is being developed by the city and the University of Michigan, and is envisioned in two phases. Initially, it will entail a large parking structure, with the hopes of eventually building a new Amtrak station on the site, which is located near the UM medical complex. [See Chronicle coverage: "Council OKs Recycling, Transit, Shelter"]

Talcott also reported that she was setting up a review panel to evaluate the proposed donation of a large bronze horse sculpture by local artist Garo Kazan. She hasn’t yet received confirmations from people who’ve been invited to be on the panel.

Funding Rules: What AAPAC Can and Can’t Do

The commission discussed several topics that related to constraints on how Percent for Art funds can be spent.

The city attorney’s office had clarified, Margaret Parker said, that AAPAC could not use funding for temporary art projects, such as FestiFools, an annual parade of towering puppets that takes place every April on Main Street. FestiFools’ organizers had originally asked AAPAC for a five-year commitment of $25,000 each year. At AAPAC’s Oct. 13, 2009 meeting, commissioners rejected that proposal but voted to approve one-time funding of $5,000.

Parker asked that Jean Borger draft a letter to notify FestiFools of the decision. Several commissioners wanted to make sure to communicate that they supported the project in spirit, despite the funding constraints.

Katherine Talcott suggested that if AAPAC wanted to fund temporary projects like FestiFools, they should consider raising money from private donors. Later in the meeting, Parker asked whether the commission wanted to form a fundraising committee for that purpose. They ultimately decided to table the idea until their strategic planning retreat.

Parker also reported that AAPAC can’t award grants using Percent for Art funds – the commission had previously discussed this as a possibility.

Cathy Gendron works on a presentation of public art websites from other cities.

Prior to Tuesday's meeting of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission, comissioner Cathy Gendron worked on a presentation of public art websites from other cities.

The issue of city rules came up again during a report from the public relations committee, which had been working on AAPAC’s website. The committee – Cathy Gendron and Marsha Chamberlin – had been hoping to redesign the AAPAC website, which is separate from its page on the city’s website. However, city officials have told them that no Percent for Art funds can be used on website design, so they’re focusing their energy on how to revamp the city web page. “It won’t be elegant – or anything like we envisioned,” Gendron said.

However, there are some elements that they can incorporate into the site, Gendron said. She showed commissioners examples of public art websites in other cities that they might emulate. Cleveland’s public art website has an artist registry, for example. Gendron said the Ann Arbor area Arts Alliance is developing something similar, and AAPAC might be able to combine efforts with them. Another example is a Google map with markers showing the locations of public art – this might be possible on the city site, Gendron said.

AAPAC could also consider starting a blog or a Facebook page, she said, showing a Chicago public art blog as an example. This would be a way for people who aren’t city employees (including commissioners) to post things online, she said, because only city employees can load items onto the city’s website.

Strategic Planning

The commission discussed the need for a strategic planning retreat, which would focus on a one- to three-year timeframe. Margaret Parker wanted to bring in someone from the city’s planning staff to talk about how AAPAC can be better integrated into the city’s planning process. They need to know about projects years in advance, she said, citing the rebuilding of the East Stadium bridges as an example of something they should be included in. Parker mentioned Connie Pulcipher as a city planner who might be available for the retreat.

Marsha Chamberlin asked whether they needed a professional facilitator instead. The issue of how soon AAPAC hears about projects isn’t strategic, she said – it’s a matter of communication. Other commissioners weighed in, saying that perhaps a city planner could participate in a retreat that would be facilitated by a professional. Fran Alexander of Alexander Resources Consulting and Dannemiller Tyson Associates were both mentioned as options.

Parker said they’d need to do an RFP for the facilitator, and Katherine Talcott cautioned that they couldn’t spend more than $1,000. No date was set for the retreat, but the goal is to shoot for a full day in mid-February, depending on schedules and the availability of a facilitator.

Public Forum?

In reporting on the work of the public relations committee, Marsha Chamberlin and Cathy Gendron said they hadn’t moved forward on planning a public forum, as called for in AAPAC’s annual plan. Gendron noted that the last forum, held in May 2009, had been sparsely attended. About 30 people showed up for the event at the Ann Arbor Art Center. It wasn’t clear what the point would be, Chamberlin said – would it be to educate people about public art in general, or about the role of AAPAC, or to seek feedback? She also wondered how they could make it engaging so that people would want to attend.

Jeff Meyers, who attended Tuesday’s meeting though he hasn’t yet been officially appointed to AAPAC, suggested that the event could connect with the whole arts and creative community, letting them know how the funding process works and how they can get involved. Ultimately, he said, people want to know what the Percent for Art program means for their bottom line, both creatively and financially.

Margaret Parker said she felt like last year’s attendance of 30 people was a lot. She identified several things they could do at a public forum: review current AAPAC projects, educate people about public art, explain AAPAC’s process, and solicit feedback and suggestions.

Chamberlin proposed that she and Gendron meet again to put together a detailed plan and come up with a proposed date. Others suggested holding it in conjunction with other upcoming arts-related events, such as the Ann Arbor Film Festival in March or FestiFools in April.

Election of Officers

The final item of business was the election of officers. Margaret Parker, has served as chair since the commission was formed, and before that for several years led the group’s previous incarnation, the Commission for Art in Public Places.  She announced that 2010 would be her last year as AAPAC chair.

She asked for volunteers to be vice chair, with the assumption that the vice chair this year would assume the chair’s position in 2011. Jim Curtis said he couldn’t do it, because he’ll be involved in launching the Main Street Business Improvement Zone, a new downtown tax assessment district. [See Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor Main Street BIZ Clears Hurdle."] Several people suggested Connie Brown, who demurred, citing her workload as head of AAPAC’s projects committee. All other commissioners declined as well.

“That will not do,” Parker said. “I’m not going to do it all by myself anymore.” The issue was unresolved, with Parker joking that she’d bring it up at each meeting until someone stepped up.

Elaine Sims said part of the problem is that AAPAC needs more than nine commissioners. Brown noted that at this point, they don’t even have nine – Jeff Meyers has not yet been appointed, and another seat remains unfilled. Meyers is expected to be nominated and appointed at the city council’s next meeting, on Jan. 18.

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

Absent: Cheryl Zuellig

Next regular meeting: Tuesday, Feb. 9 at 4:30 p.m., 7th floor conference room of the City Center Building, 220 E. Huron St. [confirm date]


  1. By Bob Martel
    January 13, 2010 at 5:23 pm | permalink

    Before everyone starts to bash spending money on public art in these tough times, let’s not throw out everything that makes Ann Arbor special because of a short term (in the big picture) budget crunch. Otherwise, we might as well all go and live in Livonia!

  2. By Alan Goldsmith
    January 14, 2010 at 12:04 pm | permalink

    I love this class based thing of insulting Livonia. Lord knows we want to keep Ann Arbor the very special place it is, which includes arrognace and looking down on other cultural backwaters. Nice touch.

    And FINALLY the city, after taxpayers have complained for over a year, has come up with legal guidelines for spending funds. What a concept! No parades of towering puppents, no funds for their own ‘elegant’ webpage, no funds for ‘grants’ to board member friends and associates. And now the group needs a ‘facilitator’ and suggests “funds spent on beautiful materials for the seating, rather than on an art installation”?

    Three positive points though. Kudos to Ms. Simm questioning yet another rush to judgement and tight deadline for the West Park project, for the addition of Jeff Meyers to the mix, and the fact there will be (hopefully) a new chair after 2010.

  3. By Alan Goldsmith
    January 14, 2010 at 2:21 pm | permalink

    Herbert Dreiseitl missing? Who could have seen THAT one coming? Maybe AAPAC can put his picture on the side of a milk carton now that he’s made fools of everyone who thought he took this little nickle and dime project seriously. Guess he sees Ann Arbor in the same light in which Ann Arbor views…Livonia.

  4. By Bob Martel
    January 14, 2010 at 6:30 pm | permalink

    Alan, I debated for quite awhile whether to use Livonia for the counterpoint in my comment vs. Troy, which is another pet peeve of mine as far as sterile communities go, but I finally settled on Livonia. Sorry to have offended you. However, if you look up the demographics of both Livonia and Ann Arbor on Wikipedia, you’ll find that the median annual family income of each are within about $1,000 of each other (about $70k), so I’m not sure on what your “class” comment is based.

  5. By ROB
    January 14, 2010 at 8:35 pm | permalink

    The problem is, Bob, that the budget crunch isn’t “short term” or cyclical in nature – it is a secular change that will likely persist for decades, if not generations. This has come about over the past thirty or so years, as Michigan has lost jobs, people, wealth, and influence. Ann Arbor isn’t immune from this contagion, as local leaders are just beginning to discover. Believe me, in a couple of years, the city will be so desperate for money they will repeal this whole Art Percent nonsense as quickly as they passed it. I understand that some are looking to challenge it legally, as well. As for the Dreiseitl fountain – talk about a square peg in a round hole… flashing lights and all – does it vibrate, too?!?

  6. By mr dairy
    January 15, 2010 at 9:19 am | permalink

    Allen Creek is Ann Arbor’s fountain.

  7. By David
    January 15, 2010 at 1:21 pm | permalink


  8. By Karen Sidney
    January 15, 2010 at 1:25 pm | permalink

    The mayor pointed to Seattle as one of the cities that had a percent for art program. What he didn’t mention is that Seattle got sued over the way they handled the program and the general fund had to reimburse the electric utility fund over $1 million dollars to settle the case. What got the Seattle program in trouble is that they took money from the utilities fund and spent it on art projects that had nothing to do with providing power to residents. That’s not unlike what is going on with the Dreiseitl project. It’s pretty hard to see how this project is related to providing sanitary sewer service or keeping roads and bridges in good repair.

  9. January 15, 2010 at 4:47 pm | permalink

    The stubborn blindness and tone-deafness of the supporters of this program amaze me. It has nothing to do with keeping the soul and heart of Ann Arbor or of making Ann Arbor a place where the arts can thrive. Instead it is a tax (and surely illegal) on needed services at a time when city finances are desperate, to pay for very limited show pieces. The inability to pay for FestiFools highlights how little this program has to do with the real creative springs in this town. The symbolism is bad too, with the “let them eat cake” appearance of misuse of public funds tied with the show pieces that have little real public appeal. Is it good for art to put up objects for ridicule?

    I’d like to point out that the art on Fourth and Washington was paid for by private donations. It is also much more accessible than the current proposals.

    The horse statue sounds lovely.

  10. By mr dairy
    January 15, 2010 at 5:43 pm | permalink

    Ann Arbor is a wannabe arts community. For the elite few it’s about the art and their own importance and not the community. The AAPAC treats us unwashed plebes like a bunch of ingrates for not “getting it”.

    Festifools is a creative community event. It inspires local creative people regardless of their name or credentials. It has grown every year since its inception. It involves people and brings them together. This is a prime example of how art can inspire and build community.

    Putting a fountain, no matter how high minded, in front of a public building is about as creative as making oatmeal in a microwave. Once the Urinal is in place how many people will stop on Huron St and contemplate it? Or even fathom it’s message without written instructions?

    Festifools has demonstrated the ability to inspire and bring people together. It’s an annual event that gets more publicity for Ann arbor every year. I bet that Festifools will be appreciated by more people than the Urinal ever could hope.

    This is the difference between “art” and being an arts community.

    We already have an inspirational source for how important water is to our community. It’s called the Allen Creek. Yet we keep it hidden in a pipe while we spend millions for yet another fountain in front of yet another government building.

  11. By Rod Johnson
    January 15, 2010 at 6:44 pm | permalink

    Mmm…. oatmeal.

  12. By Rod Johnson
    January 15, 2010 at 6:45 pm | permalink

    Sorry, distracted there. Just wanted to add my voice to the support for Festifools. Bring back the Ozone Parade!

  13. By Christopher
    January 23, 2010 at 11:26 am | permalink

    I think these people who are in charge of choosing public art for Ann Arbor are trying to impose (on the community) what the committee considers to be a high level of … taste? sophistication? status? elegance, which is a word one of the committee people used in this article?

    I’d prefer they back it off a few notches and do things where typical Ann Arbor people would say “that’s great,” or “I really like that,” or “that’s beautiful.” Without having to be TOLD how significant the piece of art is.

    I’ve been in cities (and corporate headquarters, and museums, and sometimes malls) where that is the reaction. I want Ann Arbor to be one of those places.

    I’ve also been in cities (etc) where the reaction is “I guess that’s a significant piece of art in somebody’s mind somewhere” or even “we just passed public art? Where? Wasn’t that just an architect’s self-indulgent ‘statement’?” The Dreiseitl project is, in my opinion, going to end up one of those.

    I don’t think that “something that most townspeople like or appreciate” is inevitably the same as low-brow, but I think the committee believes so. What a waste.

  14. By Christopher
    January 23, 2010 at 11:31 am | permalink

    Further comment … who says “public forum” has to be a physical meeting? Meetings are soooo 20th century. Get the information out to people with the Internet and public TV. Life is too short to go somewhere to a meeting.

    I wish they’d stop obsessing about having an elegant and completely redesigned web site. If you’re spending a lot of time making computer-based presentations just for a meeting of 30 people, then put it on the web and don’t grieve about it not being pretty enough that other cities will admire it. If you’re spending time making computer-based presentations on the topic of other cities’ lovely Internet web sites about public art, then you need to rethink your priorities. Check how sites like the are stimulating big, productive public discussions that just wouldn’t happen if the forum was an ephemeral physical meeting.