Art Commission Plans Survey, Public Event

Also: Dreiseitl redux, and art consultant for Fuller Station

Ann Arbor Public Art Commission (Feb. 9, 2010): In a three-hour meeting that included some heated exchanges, members of AAPAC reviewed public art projects in various stages of development, including those for West Park, Fuller Road Station, Hanover Park and the new municipal building.

An update on Herbert Dreiseitl’s work for the municipal building revealed that two interior pieces – originally part of three pieces proposed for the site, but set aside because they came in over budget – are being reconsidered. Dreiseitl plans to resubmit a design and pricing for the two interior pieces later this month, and is expected to return to Ann Arbor in mid-April to work on the already-approved outdoor sculpture in the building’s front plaza.

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, AAPAC members debated how best to get input from the public, with some members questioning the effectiveness of repeating an event that last year drew 30 people.

Herbert Dreiseitl Project Update

Margaret Parker, AAPAC chair, gave a report from the Jan. 15, 2010 meeting of the municipal center task force, a group formed to handle the public art components at the complex, which includes the new police/courts building.

Katherine Talcott, the city’s public arts administrator, reported that she’d recently talked with Ken Clein, a principal with Quinn Evans Architects, the Ann Arbor firm that’s designing the municipal center and acting as project manager for Dreiseitl’s installations. Clein told her that Dreiseitl is “extremely excited” that his water sculpture was approved by city council. The city attorney’s office is now drafting a contract with Quinn Evans for the work, Talcott said. Dreiseitl will be coming to Ann Arbor in mid-April to flesh out design details, interview potential fabricators and confirm pricing.

AAPAC will likely need to hold a special meeting to deal with the revised designs, Talcott said.

Parker reported that Sue McCormick, the city’s public services administrator, was supportive of funding the two additional interior pieces by Dreiseitl. Talcott added that council members were supportive of those pieces, too. From Parker’s written report on the municipal center task force:

Sue McCormick explained that most city projects begin with a concept and an estimated budget. As it becomes more concrete, the budget estimate goes up or down, usually up. So the fact that the two interior projects are going over the amount that was set aside for his project is not unexpected. We now need to decide what changes to the concept we are willing to accept. Sue felt that the three designs work together beautifully and it would be a shame to do anything less. Dreiseitl should not be faulted because his project came in just as construction was going to bid. He has worked in good faith.

Parker noted that the Dreiseitl project had originally been capped at $750,000, but that there was an additional $225,000 available for public art at the municipal center. This could be used for Dreiseitl’s interior pieces, or for additional work by other artists in the north courtyard of the complex. Dreiseitl’s last estimate for the interior work was $58,843 for a piece in the lobby and $47,491 for one in the atrium – that amount “is not insurmountable,” Parker said.

If needed, other money is available as well, she said, including Percent for Art money from the city’s street and water funds. However, those funds would come with certain restrictions, she said. For example, art that’s paid for out of the various water funds would require a water-related connection – this might work for the interior pieces, Parker said, since they are based on images of the Huron River watershed.

According to a budget summary passed out at Tuesday’s meeting, $276,208 is available for public art from the city’s street millage, with another $281,233 from the water fund. The highest available balance in the Percent for Art program – $537,362 – comes from the sewer fund.

Connie Brown said there were some larger questions to consider. For example, if money from the water fund was used for art in the municipal center, that funding wouldn’t be available for art projects elsewhere, she said. Cheryl Zuellig said that it was still a question whether AAPAC wanted to fund all of these projects at the municipal center: “That has not been a discussion or an agreement yet.” She said it was good to know that McCormick is supportive, but they needed to see Dreiseitl’s designs before moving forward.

Jeff Meyers, who was recently appointed to AAPAC, weighed in on the budget issue, saying that AAPAC needs to decide whether budgets are truly ceilings on a project’s cost, or if they’re willing to compromise other future projects by going over budget.

Parker reported that the municipal center task force is asking that a request for qualifications (RFQ) be written, though not yet issued, for artwork in the north courtyard. There was general discussion about the need to be proactive, in part by generating a database of artists and their qualifications. That way, when projects arise, there will be a pre-vetted pool of talent that AAPAC can tap quickly.

Art in West Park

Connie Brown reported that responses to a request for qualifications (RFQ) for a public art project in West Park were due this Friday, with an interview date for finalists set for March 4. AAPAC will be asked to vote on selecting an artist at their March 9 meeting. The project, tied to city renovations at West Park, would be for artwork incorporated into three curving, concrete seat walls that will be built into the hill opposite the park’s band shell. [See Chronicle coverage: "Artists Sought for West Park Project"]

Cheryl Zuellig said she hoped that AAPAC would approve a draft of planning and selection criteria that night, so that it can get into the hands of the selection committee for the West Park project. [It wasn't – see below.] Margaret Parker pointed out that a selection process was laid out in detail in AAPAC’s guidelines.

Zuellig also requested that information about the artists be made available to AAPAC for review before the March 9 meeting. Jeff Meyers asked what would happen if the commission didn’t like any of the choices. Katherine Talcott clarified that there was no commitment to selecting anyone.

Responding to a question about whether the artist would be providing a design for the work, Brown said that they were asking artists for a concept and general approach, not a specific design. Once selected, the artist would have until May 3 to complete the design and budget, which would be subject to AAPAC approval.

Meyers asked what would happen if AAPAC doesn’t like the final design. Brown said it would be similar to what happened with Dreiseitl’s project – they could ask for revisions, or turn it down. One possibility is to write a contract dividing the work into phases, she said, so that an artist would be paid for design work, even if the project wasn’t ultimately approved.

Elaine Sims wondered if they could select two artists to move ahead with design work, based on the early concepts. Brown said they could, but she wondered if it would be worth it for a project this size. The budget for the artist on the West Park project is set for between $8,000 to $10,000.

At one point, Parker asked how much of Talcott’s time is being spent on this project, and whether she’s being paid out of the parks budget for her work on the West Park project, rather than being paid out of Percent for Art funds. Talcott noted that her contract renewal with the city, for a period through June 30, will be coming up for a city council vote at their Feb. 16 meeting.

Zuellig observed that the issue of administrative staff time came up a lot. She was concerned that several city-initiated projects had come up in the last few months – none of them anticipated in AAPAC’s annual plan – and that there’d been no discussion about how that affected administrative resources. Talcott suggested that AAPAC’s planning committee, which Zuellig leads, should have a meeting with Sue McCormick on the issue.

Meyers said there seemed to be a lot of ambiguity about the city’s expectations for AAPAC. This is a commission with little institutional history, he noted. If the process creates surprises, as it seems to now, they’ll forever be in a reactive mode, he said.

Talcott said she kept track of her hours, and how much time she spent on various projects. That’s important, Parker said, so that if an entity like the Downtown Development Authority asked Talcott to supervise a review panel, for example, she’d be able to tell them how much time it would take and how much she would charge them for that work.

Fuller Road Station: An Art Consultant?

Connie Brown reported that the city of Ann Arbor has asked to develop a request for qualifications (RFQ) for someone to represent the arts as a consultant for the Fuller Road Station, a project being undertaken jointly by the University of Michigan and the city. The first phase will be a large parking structure, built on city-owned property, with the plan of eventually building a transit station there for commuter rail.

The arts consultant would work with the project’s architect, landscape architect and others to incorporate art during the design process, both on the site and in the structure. There are several outstanding questions, Brown said, including how much money is available – it would not come from Percent for Art funds.

Katherine Talcott said the project’s budget would have a set-aside for this position. She didn’t yet know what that amount would be.

Commissioners discussed the role of this person. Cheryl Zuellig said the RFQ needed to be clear that they were looking for a consultant, not an artist. Talcott said the terminology was important, and suggested the term “envisioner” as a possibility, to indicate that they would be coming up with an overall plan for public art at the site. The approach could set a precedent for future projects, she said.

Jeff Meyers asked what role AAPAC was being asked to play. In addition to the RFQ, Talcott said, she would be serving on a Fuller Station public art committee, and two commissioners would be asked to serve as well.

There was some discussion about the role of the consultant – would the RFQ make clear that the consultant couldn’t be picked to also provide art for the site? Margaret Parker, AAPAC’s chair, said that in some cities, like Seattle, art consultants were actually guaranteed that their artwork would be included in the project. It would be important to clarify that one way or another, Zuellig said, because it would affect the decision about who was hired.

Zuellig noted that the firm she works for, JJR, is involved in the city’s design team for the project. However, there’s also a UM design team, she said, which is handling the construction of the large parking structure – is the RFQ for both design teams? That’s unclear, Talcott said.

Elaine Sims pointed out that the university has its own public art committee, and that it would be important to coordinate with them.

Connie Brown described the project as “question-laden, but also opportunity-laden.” Jim Curtis suggested raising these questions with the city staff, and asking them to communicate with the UM project team.

Working with the DDA: Hanover Park

As part of the projects committee, Marsha Chamberlin reported on a meeting that several AAPAC commissioners had with Susan Pollay and Mike Bergren of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, to discuss collaborating on public art projects related to work by the DDA.

Currently, the DDA has $60,000 in its funds for public art, an amount that includes about $10,000 for administrative expenses. The funding is earmarked for artwork on South Division, between Packard and Liberty, as part of the Fifth and Division street improvement project. Additional funds will likely be available, Chamberlin said, related to the Library Lot underground parking project on Fifth Avenue.

Because the street improvement project is well underway, it’s unlikely that AAPAC can be included in current plans for incorporating art into the sidewalks and curbs, as had been previously discussed. Instead, the projects committee recommended a project in Hanover Park, located at the northwest corner of Packard and Division. [The possibility of this project has been discussed at several previous AAPAC meetings, dating back to a presentation that Pollay gave at AAPAC's July 2009 meeting.] The DDA has built a large, circular dais in the park, a suitable spot  to place a sculpture, Chamberlin said.

Jim Curtis noted that this would be a gateway project – a characterization that AAPAC chair Margaret Parker disputed. She said that AAPAC had already identified gateways for the city, and this spot wasn’t on that list. However, she conceded that it was a high-visibility location.

Elaine Sims asked what would happen to the existing sculpture there. [The piece is titled "Arbor Sapientiae," by Ronald Bauer.] Curtis said it would likely be relocated – Abby Elias of the city attorney’s office had indicated there was storage space available at the Wheeler service center on Stone School Road, he said. Sims pointed out that in fact, AAPAC was getting two projects – putting in place a new sculpture, and taking care of the old one. Cheryl Zuellig pointed out that the artist who created the existing sculpture would need to be notified.

Commissioners then engaged in a discussion about process. Zuellig said that at this point, the proposal needs to be vetted by the planning committee, which she chairs. Asked by Chamberlin to clarify, Zuellig said that the role of the planning committee is to vet all proposals, making sure they are consistent with AAPAC’s mission and annual plan. “It’s just a check, to make sure we’re not chasing our tails,” she said.

Chamberlin expressed concern that AAPAC has been doing a “mating dance” with the DDA for several months. She felt that the projects committee had been charged to move forward with this partnership, and now they were backing off again by sending it to another committee. Parker said that AAPAC was just following its process, and that one of the challenges in dealing with the DDA was a matter of timing. “The DDA doesn’t realize how much time it takes for public art to evolve,” she said.

Chamberlin said that the DDA respects AAPAC’s work, but that it has its own timelines. Zuellig said the timeline for the Hanover project seemed reasonable – Parker described it as “very short.” [The timeline presented by Chamberlin calls for an RFP to be issued in mid-April, with proposals due by July 1 and artists selected by Sept. 1.] Curtis said he wanted to underscore the fact that the DDA very much wanted to work with AAPAC.

Zuelling then questioned whether $50,000 would be enough for a project at that location. She said she didn’t want to end up putting a cheesy piece there, just because they couldn’t fund something appropriate. Curtis stressed that there would likely be more funds available from the DDA, if that were necessary.

Getting Public Input: A Debate

During her report on work by the public relations committee, Marsha Chamberlin said that she and fellow commissioner Cathy Gendron were still struggling with how to make a community event interesting enough to attract more people than the one held last year, which drew about 30 people. It wasn’t clear how to make it of value, she said. [See Chronicle coverage of the May 21, 2009 event: "The Where and Why of Ann Arbor's Art"]

AAPAC chair Margaret Parker said the event was part of AAPAC’s annual plan. “It’s something we have to do – we can’t not do it,” she said. Parker suggested doing something similar to last year’s event, holding it at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library. They could talk about the public art projects that are in the works, she said, and ask people for feedback.

There was some discussion about having an arts-related lecture as part of the event, given that part of AAPAC’s mission is to educate. But Parker disagreed with that approach, saying it should be a time to communicate with the public and get input on the group’s annual plan. She said that a turnout of 30 people last year was “great,” adding that they weren’t going for numbers – it was more important to be able to say that they’d provided the opportunity for input. She reminded commissioners that they’d been castigated over the past year for not getting enough input about AAPAC’s work.

Parker also said that an annual public meeting was part of the Percent for Arts ordinance, a point that Chamberlin disputed. [The ordinance, passed by Ann Arbor city council in November of 2007, calls for AAPAC to "promote awareness of public art" and as part of AAPAC's annual report to city council, to report on its "efforts to promote awareness of public art."]

Chamberlin said she and Gendron didn’t object to holding an event, but they hadn’t been able to come up with a way to make it relevent and therefore likely to draw interest from the community. She said she wanted to energize people, not have an event with just 30 people sitting around with wine and cheese. At last year’s meeting, they were preaching to the choir, she said: “We didn’t have many John Q. Publics there.” Chamberlin also expressed frustration, saying that this was the third AAPAC meeting at which she’d raised the issue, and there still hadn’t been any ideas floated that “will light people on fire.”

When Parker asked whether Chamberlin was saying that it hadn’t been worth holding something for those 30 people who showed up last year, Chamberlin said it wasn’t appropriate even to suggest that. Her point, Chamberlin added, was that it was important to draw a larger group.

Katherine Talcott suggested throwing a public art party, and Cheryl Zuellig said if people weren’t coming to the event it might be because they weren’t interested or, she joked, that “you haven’t fed them enough.”

Jim Curtis said it was important to stop and reflect on the fact that all commissioners are working very hard, and are doing a great job. As a business owner, he said he constantly juggles needs and wants. He’s all in favor of having an event, but “perhaps the biggest thing we can do to promote art is to produce art.” The best way to demonstrate what they’re doing is to have projects that are publicly visible, he said.

Zuellig said it wasn’t just about communicating what AAPAC was doing – the public also wants to be heard. An event is just one of many ways to get feedback, she said.

Chamberlin contended that a meeting might fulfill the requirement – but not the spirit – of seeking public input. She proposed using SurveyMonkey, an online survey tool, as another way to get feedback. Zuellig agreed, saying a five-question survey could be useful. Chamberlin suggested sending it out via the email lists for local groups like the Arts Alliance, the Ann Arbor Art Center – where she serves as president – as well as posting it on the website for the city of Ann Arbor and finding other ways of distribution.

Then, she said, they could hold an event and deliver the survey results at that venue.

Guidelines, Selection Criteria Tabled

Some commissioners had difficulty accessing updated copies of AAPAC’s guidelines prior to Tuesday’s meeting, so discussion and a vote on approval was tabled until next month. Elaine Sims asked how they should handle any changes, which prompted AAPAC chair Margaret Parker to say, “If you feel you need to perfect this, it could take another two years.” She was alluding to the length of time that the guidelines have been awaiting approval by the city attorney’s office, which has finally signed off on this version. If changes are made now, it goes back to the attorney’s office, she said, then returns to AAPAC for approval before being sent for a vote at city council.

Katherine Talcott, the city’s public arts administrator, clarified that AAPAC’s bylaws had been vetted by the city attorney’s office and passed by AAPAC, but that the city council hadn’t yet voted on those.

Also tabled later in the meeting were two drafts proposed by the planning committee: 1) planning and selection criteria, to use in prioritizing projects, and 2) an annual plan process, outlining general dates throughout the year for AAPAC activities, such as submission of its annual plan. Cheryl Zuellig, chair of the planning committee, urged commissioners to review the documents and be prepared for discussion and a vote next month. She noted that action had been tabled the previous month as well.

Strategic Planning, Organizational Planning – or Both?

The commission had a lengthy discussion about a proposed retreat, and whether they needed to do strategic planning or get help with their organizational processes, specifically as it relates to AAPAC’s interface with city staff. Several commissioners suggested that both types of planning are needed. Parker, who has already contacted three local consultants about the issue, said there were two additional people she would talk with as well. The group also agreed that AAPAC’s planning committee would discuss further the idea of a retreat .

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

Absent: Cathy Gendron

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


  1. By Christopher
    February 11, 2010 at 1:59 pm | permalink

    Thank you Marsha Chamberlain for saying that the in-person meeting idea fulfills the requirement but not the spirit of public input.

    Thank you Mary Morgan for this lucid and thorough writeup of the meeting.

    I haven’t talked to anyone yet who is in any way excited about the public art projects being worked on, or who is looking forward to the results. If the Dreisetl project, for example, has true potential for being something we end up liking when we see it or proud of, then somebody needs to do a better job of presenting it. What I’ve seen so far has been boring and mostly a symbol of the big-money world of public art and politics.

  2. By mr dairy
    February 11, 2010 at 2:15 pm | permalink

    “What I’ve seen so far has been boring and mostly a symbol of the big-money world of public art and politics.”


  3. By Alan Goldsmith
    February 11, 2010 at 3:36 pm | permalink

    “Parker reported that Sue McCormick, the city’s public services administrator, was supportive of funding the two additional interior pieces by Dreiseitl. Talcott added that council members were supportive of those pieces, too.”

    Then you might want to get this rushed through the approval process before the August Democratic Party primary.

  4. February 11, 2010 at 5:04 pm | permalink

    In Bordeaux, France, there is a wonderful water park, le Miroir d’eau, located in Place de la Bourse, that is inspired by Venice’s St. Mark’s Square. It has natural flooding in winter, is 3.000 square meters in size, and contains a thin layer of water with a mist effect when the water disappears. The whole point of this, however, is that the fountain is set along the Garonne River against a backdrop of 18th century restored burgher houses and surrounded by numerous side gardens with low maintenance, native plants. If this water park/fountain were not in this particularly lovely historic setting, I don’t think that it would make the impression it does nor attract the delighted use that it garners. To me as well as to many others, the beauty of the object lies in the context of its setting.

  5. By [Name]
    February 11, 2010 at 6:37 pm | permalink

    Editor’s note: This comment, which was a short all-caps rant, has been deleted.

  6. By John Floyd
    February 11, 2010 at 11:19 pm | permalink

    One way to get the public’s attention on the Public Art program is to focus on what could be done with the money if it were available for other purposes. That is, if bonds were only sold to cover the cost of the primary construction object, what could the city do with the resulting funds? Or, are there other things the city could do with the 1% of construction funds, e.g. start squirreling money away to rebuild Stadium Bridge.

    As long as the commission is not willing to hear and act on the idea that the public may not agree with what they want to do, then there is no point for people to talk to the commission. Not everyone holds that, being asked to tweak what someone else intends to do anyway, constitutes “seeking public feedback”.

    Public art can be fun, but everything has its place. The idea of “1% for public art” allows for no discretion regarding the timing (during a tax-revenue recession?), the amount spent, or the intrinsic appropriateness of the projects (sewer-related art every time a line is re-built?). The impulse to ape Seattle, which apparently has swept over our governing class like typhus, is leading to silliness – and makes the governing class deaf to citizens. Maybe there is a reason that “John Q. Public” is not on fire about public art in this context.

  7. By Alan Goldsmith
    February 12, 2010 at 6:27 am | permalink

    If this is what ‘makes Ann Arbor ANN ARBOR’ then Ann Arbor needs to reinvent itself. And this is no longer just a group of local art insiders and their love of Big Money Art World projects. The current city council, except for two members, have bought into this ideal and they should be the ones held responsible. The AAPAC does need new leadership and if they group can’t attract more than 30 people to an open house meeting, with all of the art lovers and groups in this town, it’s yet another indication of how out of touch they are with what this city really wants. This group has learned nothing from the Dreiseitl fiasco.

  8. By mr dairy
    February 12, 2010 at 10:06 am | permalink

    The relationship between the AAPAC and City Council is a great example of the blind leading the blind.

  9. By mr dairy
    February 12, 2010 at 10:07 am | permalink

    No offense meant to anyone who is blind, of course.

  10. By mr dairy
    February 12, 2010 at 10:36 am | permalink

    If the AAPAC wants more than 30 people to come to their PR party, they should go to council and ask for a few million more for another fountain by a foreign artist expressly designed for the Valiant Project. Then they should go to the blogs and really talk it up.

    I would love to attend an AAPAC party and bring my own “artwork”. Sorry I missed it last year, but it was probably invitation only and on a very short notice to avoid the riff raff.

  11. February 12, 2010 at 1:57 pm | permalink

    From the section heading, my initial impression was that the means of “Getting Public Input” was to hold “A Debate” as an event. Wrong impression, obviously, but I wonder if that idea might be worth considering.

  12. February 12, 2010 at 2:01 pm | permalink

    On second thought, no point in widening any divisions that already exist. If I had an idea for how to move toward consensus, I’d suggest it. Even so, I don’t anticipate that a single event would be sufficient for that.

  13. By Rod Johnson
    February 12, 2010 at 7:06 pm | permalink

    I thought it was Madison we were supposed to be aping.