Public Art Projects Move Forward

Online survey still seeks responses; open house set for June 23

Ann Arbor Public Art Commission meeting (May 11, 2010): The Ann Arbor Public Art Commission touched on several projects at their monthly meeting on Tuesday, including plans for a June 23 open house, responses to an online survey, and the decision not to accept a bronze horse sculpture that’s been offered as a gift to the city.

Sun Dragon sculpture at Fuller Pool

The partially dismantled Sun Dragon sculpture at Fuller Pool – it's the colored plastic on the roof that extends (in red) toward the pool. Previously, it extended to the end of the beam that juts out over the pool. City maintenance workers took it apart to repair the beam, which had rotted, and some parts of the sculpture broke. (Photo by the writer.)

The group discussed another sculpture – the Sun Dragon, designed by AAPAC chair Margaret Parker and located at Fuller Pool – which was damaged during recent repair work. The hope is to restore the piece before the pool opens on May 29.

Parker reported that Herbert Dreiseitl was in town last month and used bamboo poles to build a temporary full-scale mock-up of the large water sculpture that’s commissioned for the exterior of the new police/courts building on Fifth and Huron. But the German artist still hasn’t provided additional information regarding two interior pieces for the building, prompting one commissioner to ask, “He’s lost interest, maybe?”

And in reporting on a potential new member to the commission – Lee Doyle, who’s director of the UM Film Office – commissioner Elaine Sims noted that Pierce Brosnan will be making art in public (shooting a film) outside the Law Quad on the afternoon of May 18. The actor is part of the cast for Salvation Boulevard, which is already in town shooting at various sites on campus.

Much of the meeting dealt with more prosaic topics, however: governance, planning and PR.

Planning Issues: Won’t Someone Please Be Chair?

As head of the planning committee, Cheryl Zuellig reminded commissioners of the annual planning meeting they’d be having the following evening, to review their work for the past year and look ahead to fiscal 2011.

AAPAC is still seeking nominations for new commissioners. AAPAC will make recommendations to the mayor, who is responsible for nominating commissioners, who must then be confirmed by the city council.

Elaine Sims said she’s talked with Lee Doyle, who is chief of staff for the University of Michigan Office of the Vice President for Communications and a member of the President’s Advisory Committee for Public Art. Doyle is also a founder of the university’s Arts on Earth program, and oversees the UM Film Office. “I think she’s a strong candidate,” Sims said. [Doyle was featured in a recent Concentrate article about film industry activity in this area.]

Connie Brown asked how they would handle a situation if there were too many nominations. Marsha Chamberlin suggested getting people involved at the committee level.

Jim Curtis pointed to the lengthy period between discussing the candidates and selecting them, noting that it takes several months. He wondered if that process could be accelerated. Margaret Parker, saying it was often difficult to reach people, added “we’re doing the best we can.”

Zuellig also discussed a proposal to add two new positions to the board’s leadership structure. In addition to the board chair, the positions of chair-elect and past chair would “help spread the joy of those responsibilities,” she said. Parker, who’s served as board chair since AAPAC was formed and has been pushing for someone else to take on that role, also suggested having the chair’s term limited to one year, “so it wouldn’t be like a life …”

“… sentence?” joked Cathy Gendron.

Chamberlin, who’s also president of the Ann Arbor Art Center, said the board of that nonprofit has found that one-year terms are too short. She also said it would be helpful to know exactly what the board chair’s duties are. Parker said she was compiling a list.

Commissioners agreed to discuss it at an upcoming organizational session, which will be facilitated by Connie Pulcipher of the city’s systems planning staff. Pulcipher attended Tuesday’s AAPAC meeting, and explained that she’d be interviewing each commissioner privately in preparation for the session, which will likely be held in late June or July.

Pulcipher said she’d be collecting information about what commissioners see as issues or opportunities for AAPAC, what works well, what could be improved, and how AAPAC works with city staff and the public, among other things. She said her report will be a summary of responses, and that comments won’t be attributed.

Projects: West Park, Fuller Road Station, Ann Arbor Skatepark

From the projects committee, Connie Brown updated commissioners on the status of several efforts. The design hasn’t been finalized for the West Park public art project, being done in conjunction with major renovations underway there by the city’s parks staff. A contract with the artist – Traven Pelletier of Lotus Gardenscapes – was recently signed.

The general concept for the work had been described at AAPAC’s March 9, 2010 meeting:

The artist’s conceptual proposal for the site includes creating two metal “trees” at each end of the top tier of the concrete seating area. Each tree would have a circular trunk made from recycled metal, about 8-10 inches at its base and standing about 10 feet tall. Branches near the top of the trunks would also be made from recycled metal. The trees would either be painted or left natural to weather. In addition, large boulders would be incorporated into the seat walls, as well as around the base of each tree. The artist would also help the parks staff place additional fieldstone boulders in the area between the seats and the bandshell, for seating and aesthetic purposes.

Brown also reported that the projects committee is forming a task force to work on the proposed Fuller Road Station. The group would help select public art for the building, which will initially be a large parking structure and bus station on the south side of Fuller Road, just east of East Medical Center Drive.

And as she reported at last month’s AAPAC meeting, they aren’t currently working on a public art component for the Ann Arbor Skatepark, since it’s not a city-funded project. Brown went to the group’s public design workshop in April, where skatepark designer Wally Hollyday presented several conceptual designs. Marsha Chamberlin said the final conceptual design for the skatepark will be unveiled on May 22 at an event held at the Ann Arbor Art Center.

Unresolved Questions in Working with the DDA

As they’ve done at other meetings over the past several months, commissioners discussed AAPAC’s working relationship with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, which also funds public art. Connie Brown reported that she and Jim Curtis have drafted a letter outlining what tasks AAPAC can do for the DDA. They haven’t sent the letter yet, she said.

Curtis said they’re still waiting to hear back from DDA executive director Susan Pollay, whom they’d met with several months ago. She was going to talk to her board members, he said, but he’s unsure if that’s happened. So he and Brown decided to come up with a list of items to send to the DDA, outlining how they might work together.

Margaret Parker expressed concern over who would pay for some of these tasks, or who would provide the volunteer time. There was also the issue of the DDA “pre-selecting” a project, she said. At Hanover Park, on the northwest corner of Packard and Division, the DDA has built a a circular dais that’s about 25 feet in diameter, enclosed by a seat wall, with an empty center that’s suitable for a sculpture or plantings. They’ve asked AAPAC to help select a piece of public art for that site.

Curtis explained that the DDA wants AAPAC to take the lead – that’s why he and Brown made a list of what tasks AAPAC can do. He said he didn’t think it should take as long as it has to move forward.

Several commissioners said they thought there should be more clarity regarding who pays for administrative work, which tasks will be handled by volunteers, and whether those volunteers would be commissioners or others from the community. They agreed to discuss it further at a planning session the following night.

Gift Selection Panel: Thanks, But No Thanks

Jim Curtis reported that about 14 months ago, AAPAC was approached by an artist who wanted to donate a sculpture to the city. Over the past year, commissioners have debated what to do, he said. [Though during Tuesday's meeting the sculptor was not mentioned by name, in previous meetings he was identified as Garo Kazan, who proposed donating a large bronze sculpture of a horse.]

A peer review committee was formed earlier this year, Curtis said, which included two University of Michigan representatives, one private sector designer, a community advocate and a city employee who’s an engineer. They were given AAPAC’s gift selection guidelines and went to view the sculpture. On April 29, the committee met and discussed the gift. Ultimately, Curtis said, the committee was appreciative of the offer, but decided unanimously not to accept the gift. He noted that although he and Katherine Talcott, the city’s public art administrator, facilitated the group, neither of them voted.

The committee’s concerns centered on aesthetics, maintenance and liability, Curtis reported. They were worried that the piece might be vandalized, and that liability would be an issue if people climbed on it.

Cheryl Zuellig cautioned that there needed to be a public record of the reasons for rejecting the artwork, and those reasons should be tied to AAPAC’s bylaws. They need to be consistent and transparent in making these decisions. She also wondered whether maintenance and vandalism issues for this piece would differ from any other – all public art would have those concerns, to some extent, she noted. If those were always a concern, then you could end up rejecting everything. She and other commissioners thanked Curtis for his work on the project.

Fuller Pool’s “Sun Dragon” Damaged

Margaret Parker reported that maintenance workers at Fuller Pool had damaged the Sun Dragon – an outdoor sculpture attached to the pool’s shower, which uses water that’s heated with solar energy. A wooden beam, which supported both the sculpture and a pipe carrying the heated water, had rotted. When maintenance workers removed part of the sculpture to repair the beam, parts of the artwork were broken. “They chopped the head right off,” said Parker, the artist who designed the Sun Dragon in 2003.

The pool manager, Dan McGuire, wasn’t aware that AAPAC should be contacted before doing any repair work that involves public art, Parker said. The situation highlights the need to coordinate with city staff, she said, and to come up with an overall maintenance plan for the city’s public art works.

Cathy Gendron asked where the funding for repairs would come from. There’s not yet an estimate from the fabricator, Parker said. It could be paid for out of a maintenance fund for public art that’s held by the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, she said – there’s a balance of about $18,000 in that. Or it could be paid for from the parks budget. “The funding question is something that has to be answered,” Parker said.

The pool is still closed for the winter season – it reopens May 29. The staff hopes to complete repairs before then.

Dreiseitl Update

Margaret Parker reported that Herbert Dreiseitl came to Ann Arbor on April 16-17 and worked with staff of Quinn Evans Architects, the Ann Arbor firm that the city has contracted to be project manager for the police/courts building, also known as the municipal center. They did a full-size mock-up of the large water sculpture that the city has commissioned the German artist to create – the mock-up was made of bamboo poles, Parker said, adding that the sculpture as mocked up seemed larger than it did in Dreiseitl’s drawings.

There are still unanswered questions regarding two interior pieces, she said – they still don’t have a new pricing estimate, for example. That prompted commissioner Cheryl Zuellig to observe, “He’s lost interest, maybe?” Parker replied that they chose someone who has an international reputation, so of course he’s very busy. They expect to have answers in early June.

Jim Curtis said he’s starting to feel a little uncomfortable about it, but Connie Brown noted that they hadn’t accepted the proposal for the interior pieces. Parker pointed out that Dreiseitl is communicating more with Quinn Evans at this stage. “Many questions are being answered,” she said.

Public Relations: Survey, Open House, Website

An online survey soliciting input on public art had yielded 236 responses as of Tuesday, reported Marsha Chamberlin, a member of the public relations committee. She’s working on other ways to promote it before they close it at the end of May.

There are seven nominations for the annual Golden Paintbrush awards, which recognize contributions to public art. Cathy Gendron, who’s also on the PR committee, asked that commissioners look at the nominations and vote by May 21st. They’ll plan to give out a maximum of five awards, but could give fewer, she said. Winners will be presented with the awards at a June meeting of the Ann Arbor city council.

An open house is scheduled for Wednesday, June 23, to highlight the commission’s work and seek public input. There was some discussion about the time of the event – a room in the library is reserved for 7-9 p.m., but several commissioners thought that was too late. Margaret Parker said she’d try to move the time to 6-8 p.m.

The event will be organized around a speaker, Gendron said. Commissioner Jeff Meyers, who didn’t attend Tuesday’s meeting, is trying to confirm Chrisstina Hamilton, director of visitors’ programs for the UM School of Art & Design, as the speaker.

Gendron described the event as a time for networking, and said she wants it to be fun and engaging, giving people the opportunity to talk with commissioners and ask questions. They plan to use the map that was posted at last year’s open house – people used it to indicate locations where they’d like to see public art. AAPAC also plans to convey results of its online survey at the event. Cheryl Zuellig suggested providing a way for people who attend the open house to take the survey, if they haven’t already.

Gendron gave an update on AAPAC’s website and Facebook page. The Facebook page hasn’t launched yet, and commissioners discussed what kind of information to include and how to update it. For Facebook posts, Chamberlin described how they handle it at the Ann Arbor Art Center. Each day is assigned to a different person on staff, who is responsible for posting on that day. It works well, she said, and doesn’t burden any one individual.

After AAPAC is set up on Facebook, Gendron said, she’ll start working on their presence on the new Arts Alliance website. They’ll also be moving ahead with changes to AAPAC’s page on the city’s website, and will eventually be taking down their secondary site, which was designed by Annie Wolock of Keystone Media. Wolock attended Tuesday’s meeting and was introduced as a new member of the PR committee.

Commissioners present: Connie Brown, Marsha Chamberlin, Jim Curtis, Cathy Gendron, Margaret Parker, Elaine Sims, Cheryl Zuellig.

Absent: Jeff Meyers

Next regular meeting: Tuesday, June 8 at 4:30 p.m., 7th floor conference room of the City Center Building, 220 E. Huron St. [confirm date]


  1. By Tom Whitaker
    May 15, 2010 at 12:15 am | permalink

    Hanover Square, which has been there from the earliest days of the City, is a city park several blocks outside the DDA boundary. So, how about starting with the Parks Advisory Commission in terms of what should be done in this city park? Not AAPAC or the DDA.

    As a nearby resident, I would prefer to see a planting that helps buffer the park from the busy intersection of Packard/Division/Madison. While you’re at it, how about turning down the wattage on those new streetlights at that corner, too? Despite what the new DDA sign across the street says, and what all those new (and barely used) parking meters along Division tell you, Hanover Square is NOT downtown.

  2. By Alan Goldsmith
    May 15, 2010 at 7:15 am | permalink

    “There are still unanswered questions regarding two interior pieces, she said – they still don’t have a new pricing estimate, for example. That prompted commissioner Cheryl Zuellig to observe, “He’s lost interest, maybe?” Parker replied that they chose someone who has an international reputation, so of course he’s very busy. They expect to have answers in early June.”

    Now that the check has cleared, Mr. German artist a VERY busy man, so busy he can’t return phone calls. And ‘international’ reputation indeed. I’m guessing he returns the Chinese government phone calls a bit more quickly.

  3. By Rod Johnson
    May 15, 2010 at 9:27 am | permalink

    I hope everyone here has filled out the survey. Note that although the form element for free-form comments, where you can air all your gripes and suggestions, seems to be a one-line text box about 60 characters wide (not exactly a warm invitation to comment), you can actually put a fair amount of text in. The survey seems to be very focused on concrete goals and locations, and avoids asking questions about process, which is I think where they need to hear feedback… but that little text box can hold a lot of process feedback.

  4. May 16, 2010 at 11:30 am | permalink

    “The pool manager, Dan McGuire, wasn’t aware that AAPAC should be contacted before doing any repair work that involves public art, Parker said.”

    Mary, do you know the reason behind the contact requirement that Parker referred to?

  5. By Mary Morgan
    May 16, 2010 at 11:42 am | permalink

    Steve, I believe it’s because AAPAC is responsible for overseeing maintenance of city-owned public art. For example, AAPAC coordinated the restoration of the Arch at the Kerrytown Sculpture Park. Their bylaws state that AAPAC must provide an annual report to city council – one of the required items in that report is an update on maintenance. From the bylaws:

    (ii) A maintenance report on each work of public art presently under City management detailing maintenance costs for the preceding fiscal year, anticipated maintenance costs for the next fiscal year, and any significant future maintenance concerns, including prioritized recommendations for the maintenance, repair or renovation of particular works;

    There’s also a section on maintenance in AAPAC’s guidelines:

    VII. Maintenance and Conservation

    The City of Ann Arbor will own all works of art created or acquired with Public Art Funds. Every public art project funded with Public Art Funds will reserve (10%) of the proposed budget for long term maintenance and conservation of the work(s) of art unless a different amount is required for a particular work of art.

    Artists selected to create and provide permanent and temporary works of art will specify the maintenance that will be required for the work of art and submit a maintenance schedule as part of their contract with the City of Ann Arbor. If the work of art is a gift of a pre-existing work of art, the donor will be asked to specify, if possible, the maintenance that will be required for the work of art and to submit a maintenance schedule. If known the contract should provide that the artist(s) will be responsible for the first full year of project, including all corrections and/or repairs of the work(s) of art.

    If the work of art is a gift of pre-existing work of art, the City and the donor will determine the maintenance responsibilities of the City and the donor during the period of time ending one year after the date the work is successfully installed.

    For all, the City will be responsible for the maintenance of the work of art and follow up with the specifications and schedule, submitted by the artist/donor.

    AAPAC will advise the City Council in the annual Public Art Plan:
    • When the services of a professional conservator are required to evaluate the status of the public collection.
    • The City will, in consultation with AAPAC, decide any and all remedies necessary to restore the works to their desired condition.

    Should maintenance or conservation be necessary, the City will:
    • Follow the recommendations and instructions of the professional conservator.
    • Inform AAPAC of these recommendations in writing.
    • Consult the artist(s) or the estate of the artist prior to executing these recommendations of allocating any monies accrued to the Public Arts for this purpose.

  6. By Tricia
    May 18, 2010 at 11:49 am | permalink

    I can’t believe there were no jokes about looking a gift horse sculpture in the mouth!

    Concerning the sun dragon: I wonder if the pool manager even realized it was considered “public art”?

  7. By Lenadams Dorris
    May 26, 2010 at 10:25 am | permalink

    Has anyone besides the committee seen the horse sculpture? Are there any pictures anywhere? It seems a fine opportunity to see whether or not to trust their judgement! :-)