Ann Arbor Public Art Commission meeting (Aug. 10, 2010): Ten minutes past the starting time of Tuesday’s art commission meeting, a fourth commissioner walked in – and a quorum was reached. “So this is the jolly crew!” AAPAC chair Margaret Parker declared.
“It’s August,” commissioner Cathy Gendron noted. “August is always like this.”
The four commissioners were joined by Ken Clein of Quinn Evans Architects, who came to give an update on the large water sculpture commissioned from German artist Herbert Dreiseitl, to be located outside the city’s new municipal center. Clein also provided a revised, lower budget for a proposed interior piece by Dreiseitl – a work that commissioners ultimately voted to reject. At last month’s meeting, they had voted against another interior Dreiseitl piece as well.
Instead, AAPAC is directing its task force for the municipal center to revisit other public art options, with a proposed budget of $250,000. That’s in addition to the cost for Dreiseitl’s water sculpture and related expenses, which are approaching $1 million.
Municipal Center Public Art
Ken Clein of Quinn Evans Architects, project manager for the public art component of the municipal center, attended Tuesday’s meeting and gave an update on both the exterior water sculpture and a proposed interior installation – both designed by the German artist Herbert Dreiseitl.
Update on Dreiseitl Water Sculpture
Clein said that the city got three responses to its request for statements of qualifications from potential fabricators of the sculpture. One company was eliminated because its submission was incomplete. The other two are now completing the next step – responding to a request for proposals (RFP). They’ve been provided designs, and are putting together a detailed document about how they would construct the sculpture, and how much it would cost. Those RFPs had been originally due on Aug. 11, but both companies requested more time, so the deadline was extended until Aug. 26, Clein said. When both proposals are evaluated, the project team will make a recommendation to city council on which one to accept.
Cathy Gendron asked how soon construction would begin. The installation is scheduled to start next spring, Clein said, so they’ll be working toward that goal. One of the bigger challenges is dealing with the infrastructure needed for the work, he said, including underground electrical conduits for the sculpture’s LED lights and two water lines that will lead back to the building’s pump room. Right now, Clein said, they’re working on revised designs to give to Clark Construction, the project’s contractor, for the work. They’re also revising some of the lighting on the plaza where the sculpture will be located. Dreitseitl felt the light poles conflicted with his piece, so they’re removing two poles and installing lights on the building’s wall instead.
Elaine Sims asked whether the fabricators were given a cap for their budget. [City council has already approved $737,820 for the work, plus $77,000 for design fees.] Clein said they didn’t set a cap – they’re hoping for a true read of what the project would cost, he said, adding that they obviously hope it comes in under budget. He said that while they love the design, there are several unresolved issues that they’ve asked the fabricators to address. It’s possible that they’ll suggest design changes that might save money, he said. Neither of the companies asked about a budget, he said.
Update on Dreiseitl’s Interior Etching
Clein then moved to the topic of Dreiseitl’s artwork for the lobby of the police/courts building. AAPAC had tabled action on the item at their July meeting, asking for a revised, lower budget. The new version, with a projected budget of $70,818, did not include a lighted element that had been part of the previous proposal.
The piece was intended to be a stylized representation of the Huron River watershed, etched into large blue glass panels that will be adhered to the wall. Those panels – and others that will be on the wall, but not etched – are being prepped at the fabricator’s shop, Clein said, and are scheduled to be installed in the next 15-30 days. City officials have instructed Quinn Evans and Clark Construction not to delay installation, Clein reported.
Though normally the etching is done prior to installation – when the panels are laid flat – the fabricator originally had indicated that they could etch the glass after it was installed. But after seeing the size and complexity of the design, the panel fabricators felt there was too much risk involved in that approach, Clein said. “They’re assuming that since it’s artwork, it should look good.”
So the only option now would be to install the panels, then remove them when it’s time to do the etching. But because of the adhesive back, they couldn’t just be taken down – the 4-foot by 8-foot panels would have to be broken, and new ones etched and installed in their place, at a projected cost of $32,000. That amount was included in the proposed $70,818 budget. Breaking the glass would break his heart, Clein said, but it could be done.
Sims asked if they knew what the etching would look like. Clein said he’d hoped to get a sample from the artist, but that hadn’t happened. He thought it likely would turn whitish in the etched areas, giving it a frosted look.
Cheryl Zuellig wondered why they couldn’t just wait to install those panels. Clein said it would add to the cost to bring back the work crew later. There was then discussion about putting up something temporary in place of the glass panels, until they could be etched. Zuellig said that even if they factored in the cost of labor, it still would likely be cheaper than $32,000. Clein said the city would have to sign off on that – he’s raised the possibility before, but was told they’d need to stay on schedule.
Cathy Gendron described the idea of breaking the panels as indefensible. Sims added that in this economy, it wasn’t possible to justify.
Saying she didn’t want to insult Dreiseitl, Sims cautiously proposed using a different technique – an overlay design, rather than etching – to achieve the image of the watershed. Clein said he’d discussed that option with Dreiseitl, but the artist felt it seemed too temporary, with the overlay possibly coming off after exposure to light over time.
Gendron suggested a separate hanging, which could be placed in front of the panels. Clein said that might be possible, depending on what it was.
At this point Margaret Parker weighed in, saying that $70,000 sounded like a lot of money, but it resulted in something significantly worthwhile – even if it meant they had to break some panels. “Anything we do at this point is going to be expensive,” she said. It’s a large wall and a public space, she added, and if they choose another piece of art to go there, it will also be costly.
Clein clarified that the etching would be about 20 feet by 20 feet, and that the entire wall is roughly 50-60 feet wide and 30 feet high.
He also mentioned that they’ve left space in the southwest corner ceiling of the lobby – a recessed area that’s about 9-10 feet wide and 12-15 feet long – where artwork could be hung. Because it would be in a windowed corner facing the intersection of Huron and Fifth, it would be highly visible from outside, he said.
After some further discussion, Zuellig suggested approving the etching with the contingency that the glass panels wouldn’t be broken. Parker then stated that since the lighting had been removed from the design, it significantly weakened the entire piece. [The proposal discussed in July had included a cluster of blue glass balls that would be suspended from the ceiling in the southwest corner, and lit from within. With the lights, the budget had been about twice as expensive – $141,218.] She said the lighting element would have related the interior piece to the exterior water sculpture, which will include blue LED lights. At this point, they should start over, she said.
Commissioners had no further questions for Clein, and he left the meeting.
None of the four commissioners present were enthusiastic about the modified Dreiseitl artwork. They discussed the fact that there would be limited public access to the lobby – it will have a secured entrance for the 15th District Court. Elements of the design have changed, they noted, which have diminished the work’s impact.
Gendron asked how much they’d spent on the interior pieces – she thought people would want to know how much they burned. Parker noted that the $77,000 in design fees were for three conceptual designs by Dreiseitl – the exterior water sculpture, and the two interior pieces. “Divide it up however you want,” she said.
When Gendron pressed, Parker said they could go back to the budget updates they’d received over the past year, which should indicate how much had been spent. There are a variety of expenses, she said, including fees to Quinn Evans and for Katherine Talcott, the former city public art administrator. Zuellig said that in any project, just because you design something at the conceptual level doesn’t mean it evolves into something that’s built.
Zuellig then made a motion to not approve Dreiseitl’s interior piece for the police/courts lobby.
Outcome: The four commissioners present – Gendron, Parker, Sims and Zuellig – voted unanimously to not accept Dreiseitl’s revised proposal for the lobby of the police/courts building.
Lee Doyle, who is expected to be appointed to AAPAC and who attended the meeting, told the commissioners she would have voted the same way. “It sounds like it’s been a long, hard haul,” she said.
“And it’s not over,” Gendron replied.
Directions to Task Force: More Public Art for Municipal Center
The commissioners then moved on to the topic of other public art for the municipal center. Parker said that the funding amount doesn’t have to be definite. “It’s not like we’re writing down our shopping list at home,” she said. “I don’t think it behooves us to come with a hard and firm number. It seems like we want the best art for the building.”
Zuellig said there’s an understanding that with a budget, they might end up spending more or less. For her, the question was whether they wanted to spend more money at the municipal center, or on other projects elsewhere.
There was discussion of the 9-panel mosaic by Gerome Kamrowski, which previously was located near at the entrance to city hall and is now in storage. Parker said the task force hadn’t been able to identify a spot for it. They felt the atrium area was too large, and would dwarf the work.
Noting that Parker was a member of the task force, Zuellig asked her what kind of direction would be helpful from AAPAC. Parker responded by saying that they’d started out thinking they’d spend about $1 million in total on art for the municipal center. Since Dreiseitl’s water sculpture was about $700,000, she said, it seemed reasonable to allocate $300,000 to other artwork there.
Gendron said they’d also talked about scaling back because of the economy. Zuellig noted that they had already spent close to $1 million, if they included the design, consulting and administrative fees. With just four commissioners at the meeting, she said, it was tricky making a decision. She added that she was undecided about whether or not to seek additional art for that location.
Sims liked the idea of a hanging piece in the police/courts lobby, possibly made of art glass, plus perhaps one or two other pieces elsewhere in the complex. But she was concerned about the cost. “We’ve spent a lot,” she said.
When Parker noted that there was money available, Zuellig said that’s not the point. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean they have to spend it, she said.
Doyle asked about the budget – was it $1 million for the municipal center? “It’s complicated,” Parker replied.
Commissioners then explained that $250,000 for the Percent for Art program came out of the budget for the municipal center project, and had to be spent there. Beyond that, Percent for Art funds had accrued from other capital projects – projects for water and sewer, for example. Those funds could be pooled and used as well, as long as the public art had a thematic link to the funds. That’s why, for example, the stormwater Percent for Art funds could be used to pay for Dreiseitl’s water sculpture.
After some further discussion, commissioners arrived at a consensus to allocate $250,000 for two additional art pieces and the possible installation of Kamrowski’s mural.
Outcome: Commissioners unanimously approved giving direction to the municipal center’s public art task force to consider two additional pieces of art, plus the possible placement of a large 9-panel mosaic by Gerome Kamrowski. They set a budget of $250,000.
At the beginning of the meeting, AAPAC chair Margaret Parker announced that Jean Borger, who’s been working as an administrative assistant for the commission, will no longer be in that role. And Katherine Talcott, who has served as the city’s part-time public art administrator since early 2009, has recently signed a new one-year contract with the city as an art project manager. She’ll be handling the Dreiseitl project, Fuller Road Station and other projects that are assigned to her by Sue McCormick, the city’s public services administrator. The job of public art administrator is being restructured, and has not yet been filled.
Parker also informed the group that she won’t be attending the September or October meetings. In September, Elaine Sims will run the meeting. Cheryl Zuellig will chair AAPAC’s October meeting.
In addition, AAPAC is still awaiting word from mayor John Hieftje about whether he intends to nominate Lee Doyle as a new commissioner. Doyle attended Tuesday’s meeting, but neither she nor Parker had received any communication about the appointment. Doyle is chief of staff for the University of Michigan Office of the Vice President for Communications and a member of the UM President’s Advisory Committee for Public Art. She also oversees the UM Film Office.
There are currently two vacancies on AAPAC. The mayor makes nominations to the city’s boards and commissions, which city council must approve.
Later in the meeting there was some discussion about how to recruit new members. Sims said she’s talked with Susan Froelich, who had expressed interest. Parker pointed out that Froelich had chaired the city’s Commission for Art in Public Places – the predecessor group to AAPAC – and that they needed to give some thought about how to get new people on board.
Zuellig asked whether they should post something on AAPAC’s website, or other online venues. Parker said they hadn’t done that because there are specific qualifications and abilities that are necessary to serve on the commission. Zuellig replied that if they’re looking for a broader range of people, they needed to go outside of their peer groups for candidates.
Sun Dragon Sculpture
A sculpture at Fuller Pool called the Sun Dragon, designed by AAPAC chair Margaret Parker in 2003, was damaged this spring by maintenance workers making structural repairs to the pool’s shower, to which the sculpture is attached. The sculpture is made of colored plastic and attached to a wooden beam that holds a pipe carrying solar-heated water. The beam had rotted and was being repaired – as part of that process, maintenance workers removed part of the sculpture, and parts of the artwork were broken.
At last month’s meeting, AAPAC voted to allocate $6,946 in repair costs, including $4,000 for labor, to be paid out of an endowed fund established at the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation. The fund is designated for public art maintenance, and has a balance of $16,270.
However, the commission was subsequently informed that not all of the $16,270 is available for use. The principal cannot be spent, so only about $2,000 is actually available.
At the start of the discussion on Tuesday, Parker recused herself and left the room. Cheryl Zuellig reported that Parker had sent an email to Sue McCormick, the city’s public services administrator, asking for direction on where to seek funding for the repairs.
Elaine Sims said she recalled that McCormick had told them that the unit where the art is located – in this case, parks and recreation – was responsible for maintenance and repairs.
McCormick had addressed that issue at a July 14, 2010 organizational retreat for AAPAC. From previous Chronicle coverage:
At an organizational retreat … McCormick clarified the question of maintenance, confirming that the service units that oversee the site where the art is located, or the funds from which the Percent for Art monies were drawn, are responsible for maintenance and repair. This applies to both public art that was acquired prior to the Percent for Art program, as well as work funded by the Percent for Art. In addition, AAPAC can choose to allocate funding for repair or maintenance of Percent for Art work, but not for older public art.
The Dreiseitl work, for example, is funded through the water utilities fund, which will provide funding for maintenance in the future, McCormick said. She said the city will run a depreciation schedule on each piece of art, and when the work is fully depreciated – or when it comes to the end of its “useful” life cycle, whenever that might be – the staff will come to AAPAC to discuss whether to decommission it.
For public art that pre-dates the Percent for Art program, AAPAC is under no obligation to deal with those, McCormick said – though they can if they choose.
Zuellig said they should ask Parker to follow up with McCormick, and that the parks and recreation unit should pay. The commissioners then called Parker back to the meeting.
When Zuellig reported the results of their discussion, Parker expressed frustration that she was being asked to deal with the repairs. So far, she said, she had taken it on herself and hadn’t been helped by anyone – and that’s inappropriate. “As an artist, this is very awkward,” she said.
Zuellig then offered to communicate with McCormick herself. She wondered why it needed to be handled by AAPAC at this point. Parker said it’s because the piece pre-dated the Percent for Art program, so there’s no allowance for maintenance costs.
Sims asked Parker whether the sculpture’s fabricator – Plastic-Tech of Ann Arbor – had everything they needed. Parker said if they needed more, they could contact her. All of the pieces are sitting in the shop at Plastic-Tech, Parker said, and somebody needs to do something about it.
Updates on Fuller Road, DDA Projects
AAPAC commissioners Cathy Gendron and Connie Brown will be serving on a public art task force for the proposed Fuller Road Station project, a joint city of Ann Arbor/University of Michigan parking structure and transit center. Gendron reported that a list of other potential task force members has been forwarded to Dave Dykman and Connie Pulcipher – two city staff members who are working on the Fuller Road Station project. However, Gendron said, she didn’t think that anyone on the list had yet been contacted.
Saying she wanted to be emphatic about this, Margaret Parker pointed out that in the past, AAPAC has been perceived to be slow in responding to projects brought to them by the city. It was crucial that the task force be formed as quickly as possible, she said.
Gendron said it might be time to push a little harder. She offered to talk with Katherine Talcott, who’s now working for the city on art projects on a contract basis. Either she or Talcott could make the calls, Gendron said.
Elaine Sims reported that there’d been no further progress in moving ahead with projects for the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. Jim Curtis, a former commissioner who’d been working on that effort, lost his notes that had outlined a proposed process to manage DDA projects, Sims said. She and Connie Brown, who’s also working on that effort, decided that they should wait until the next public art administrator is selected before taking additional steps.
Parker pointed out that the project had been dangling for months – they needed to get back in touch with the DDA, she said. There was more discussion, and some confusion, over what had been done so far, and what needed to happen next. Parker said she thought she had a copy of the process that Curtis had written up, and would pass that along to Sims and Brown.
Commissioners present: Cathy Gendron, Margaret Parker, Elaine Sims, Cheryl Zuellig. Others: Lee Doyle, Ken Clein, Venita Harrison
Absent: Connie Brown, Marsha Chamberlin, Jeff Meyers
Next regular meeting: Tuesday, Sept. 14 at 4:30 p.m., 7th floor conference room of the City Center Building, 220 E. Huron St. [confirm date]