Artists Sought for West Park Project

Ann Arbor art commission to issue request for qualifications

At a special meeting of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission on Thursday, commissioners moved ahead on a project to incorporate art into upcoming renovation work at West Park.

AAPAC is issuing a request for qualifications (RFQ) to solicit artists to work on three curving, concrete seat walls that will be built into the hill opposite West Park’s band shell. With a budget for the artist in the range of $8,000 to $10,000, the project is the first work solicited under the city’s Percent for Art program since the water sculpture for the new municipal center, which has a budget of $737,820.

The water sculpture’s design was done by a German artist, Herbert Dreiseitl. The West Park RFQ specifies a Michigan artist.

Project Details: Art in Concrete

AAPAC commissioners originally discussed the project at their Jan. 12 meeting, but at that time there were insufficient details to take action. Because of a tight timeline linked to the start of West Park renovations in April, a special meeting was called on Jan. 21 to review a draft of the RFQ and approve the process of soliciting artists. Four of the seven commissioners attended, as did Jeff Meyers, whose appointment as a new commissioner isn’t yet official. He participated in discussions, but did not vote.

The RFQ describes the seat walls as a concrete “canvas” on which artwork will be installed. The three curving walls will be 120 feet, 90 feet and 60 feet long, stepping down the hillside and ending in a small plaza made of concrete pavers and field stones. There will be 18 inches of concrete on the top and front face of the walls, with about 15 feet of grass between each level. The work needs to be “highly vandal resistant,” according to the RFQ, and applied so that the art doesn’t interfere with seating.

The RFP asks that the artwork complement the park’s natural environment, which includes native plants, a stream and wildlife habitat.

In addition to funds from the Percent for Art program, parks planner Amy Kuras told commissioners that the renovation budget for the seats includes the cost for custom concrete forms, which could accommodate mosaics or other materials. The contractor, Site Development Inc. of Madison Heights, didn’t break out the amount of the custom forms from the overall cost of the seats, she said – it would depend on the design. Once the artist is selected, Kuras said she’d set up a meeting with the contractor and the company that will be doing the custom forms, to work out details.

Artist Selection Process

Commissioner Connie Brown, who’s spearheading the effort as head of AAPAC’s projects committee, walked the others through the RFQ and proposed timeline, saying they were following the city’s standard RFQ process.

Proposed Project Timeline

  • Jan. 22: RFQ issued for Michigan artists.
  • Tuesday, Feb. 2: Amy Kuras, parks planner, to lead a walk-through of West Park for anyone who’s planning to respond to the RFQ.
  • Friday, Feb. 12: Deadline for RFQ response.
  • Feb. 16-26: Review panel meets to pick three finalists.
  • March 1-5: Interviews take place and artist selected.
  • Monday, March 15: Artist meets with review panel to discuss the approach to the project. Detailed timeline for the project to be set.
  • Monday, May 3: Design and budget completed by artist.
  • April-August: West Park renovations occur. Art to be installed sometime after May.

A review panel hasn’t yet been selected – at Thursday’s meeting, Katherine Talcott, the city’s public art administrator, said she’d be putting that panel together. Kuras suggested including Shannon Gibb-Randall, a local landscape architect who lives in the West Park area.

The panel will be selecting an artist based on these criteria: 1) the quality of presentation and artistic merit, 2) the strength of past artworks, 3) the artist’s experience working in public settings, 4) the artist’s experience fabricating and installing artwork, and 5) a proven ability to work effectively in a team.

Proposed Budget

The West Park renovations are being funded by $213,218 from the park maintenance and capital projects millage and $1.374 million from the city’s stormwater fund, through a low-interest loan from the State Revolving Fund (SRF) program. Kuras said that 40% of the loan might be forgiven through a federal stimulus program. [See Chronicle coverage: "West Park Improvements Get Fast-Tracked" and "More to Meeting Than Downtown Planning"]

The Percent for Art program has been accumulating money from other projects funded through the parks millage – about $20,000 is available for art in the parks, said Margaret Parker, AAPAC’s chair.

How much of that $20,000 would be used for the seat walls was a subject of some discussion at Thursday’s meeting. The originally proposed budget of $10,000 included 10% for maintenance and 8% for administrative overhead – meaning that $8,200 would be available for the artist. Parker wanted to increase the budget so that the artist would receive the full $10,000, and an additional $1,800 would be set aside for maintenance and administration.

Connie Brown said she was concerned about increasing the amount, saying that this particular project might not warrant it. There’d be other opportunities for public art in the parks, she said: “I don’t know if this is a $12,000 item.”

Kuras reminded commissioners that additional funding for the custom forms was in the renovation budget.

Parker suggested that they put a cap of $12,000 on the project, then check with Sue McCormick, the city’s director of public services, “and ask her how she wants to do it.” Commissioners agreed to word the RFQ so that the amount of the budget available to the artist was a range between $8,000 and $10,000 – not including maintenance and administration.

Outcome: The four commissioners present voted to approve the RFQ, timeline and selection process.

As manager of the renovation project, Kuras will be accepting the RFQs. Artists are asked to submit a letter of interest, resumé, up to 20 images of past artwork and three references. Kuras can be contacted at

Present: Commissioners Connie Brown, Jim Curtis, Cathy Gendron, Margaret Parker. Others: Katherine Talcott, Jean Borger, Jeff Meyers

Absent: Marsha Chamberlin, Elaine Sims, 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 Ruth Kraut
    January 24, 2010 at 8:56 pm | permalink

    I sure hope they choose a Michigan artist.

  2. By Rod Johnson
    January 24, 2010 at 9:59 pm | permalink

    Ruth, according to the article, “The West Park RFQ specifies a Michigan artist.” Is there some reason to think this wouldn’t happen?

  3. By Ruth Kraut
    January 25, 2010 at 10:15 am | permalink

    Rod, No reason–I missed that in my first reading of the article!

  4. By Rod Johnson
    January 26, 2010 at 8:26 am | permalink

    Oh good, I thought you might have some inside information that they might be considering circumventing that somehow!