Public Art Mural Program in the Works

Ann Arbor art commission also seeks two new members

Ann Arbor Public Art Commission meeting (Sept. 14, 2010): A proposed mural program, still in its formative stages, is being developed by AAPAC’s newest commissioner, Jeff Meyers, as a way to generate more public art in the community. At Tuesday’s meeting, Meyers presented a draft proposal for the effort, which aims to fund two murals during the current fiscal year from the city’s Percent for Art program, with the goal of eventually creating four murals each year.

Mural on Grizzly Peak building

This mural on the back of the Grizzly Peak building, visible from Ashley and Huron, was created by graffiti artist Antonio “Shades” Agee earlier this year. It was mentioned by Ann Arbor public art commissioners in a discussion of a proposed Percent for Art mural program. (Photos by the writer.)

The commission also got an update on bids from potential fabricators of the water sculpture designed by Herbert Dreiseitl at the new municipal center. Two companies made bids, and both came in over the $458,000 fabrication budget. (That’s part of the total $737,820 project budget, not including design fees.) Project manager Ken Clein of Quinn Evans Architects is working with the firms to lower the bids before making a selection.

AAPAC members had also hoped to hear good news about filling one of two vacancies on the commission. Lee Doyle, a member of the University of Michigan President’s Advisory Committee for Public Art who also oversees the UM Film Office, was interested in joining AAPAC. But on Tuesday, commissioners were told that mayor John Hieftje, who makes nominations to the commission, instead wants to appoint someone who resides in Ann Arbor – Doyle lives outside the city. This news prompted a discussion of AAPAC’s role in soliciting people to serve.

Other agenda items included updates on projects in West Park and the proposed Fuller Road Station, a draft of guidelines for working with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, and approval of AAPAC’s annual report.

Projects: Dreiseitl Sculpture, West Park, Fuller Road Station

Commissioner Connie Brown gave a report from AAPAC’s projects committee on three projects: the Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture in front of the municipal center, 2) an installation in West Park, and 3) public art at the proposed Fuller Road Station.

Bids from Dreiseitl Fabricators Are Over Budget

Katherine Talcott, who previously was the city’s public arts administrator but now works on special projects, provided an update to commissioners in written form on the Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture, which was commissioned for the exterior of the municipal center – also known as the police/courts building – at the northeast corner of Huron and Fifth. Talcott did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, but Brown gave highlights from her report.

Ken Clein of Quinn Evans Architects, the project manager for the Dreiseitl installation, told Talcott that two proposals from potential fabricators of the piece came in over budget – $458,000 has been budgeted for this phase of the project, out of a total $737,820 approved by city council for the entire work. QEA is working with the fabricators to “reduce the price without sacrificing the artistic vision,” according to Talcott’s written report. Clein is meeting with the companies this week, and expects to have an update after Sept. 17. The amount of the bids was not included in the report.

Commissioners discussed whether they needed to approve the final fabricator bid, and concluded that they did not – unless there were major changes to the cost or the project’s design. The city council is expected to consider the final bid at a meeting in November.

West Park Project Near Completion

As part of the renovations of West Park, earlier this year AAPAC selected Traven Pelletier of Lotus Gardenscapes to design a public art installation there as part of the new seat walls in a hill facing the park’s bandshell. The work includes metal tree sculptures and large boulders in the area between the seats and the bandshell. The project was approved at a cost of up to $10,000. [.pdf of Pelletier's conceptual design]

Brown reported that the project is on schedule, with completion expected later this month or in October. Commissioners discussed the need to publicize the project, with Jeff Meyers noting that it will be the first project to be completed since the Percent for Art program was put in place three years ago.

Fuller Road Station

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. Brown reported that a list of other potential task force members has been forwarded to Dave Dykman, the Fuller Road Station’s project manager. However, she hasn’t heard back from him yet.

The site plan for Fuller Road Station was submitted to the city last month, and will be coming to the planning commission for consideration at its Sept. 21 meeting.

Appointments to AAPAC: What Does the Mayor Want?

An ongoing issue for AAPAC has been the recruitment of new commissioners. At the end of 2009, two commissioners – Jan Onder and Jim Kern – stepped down from their positions when their terms expired. Earlier this year, Jeff Meyers was appointed to fill one of those empty slots, but the second position has remained unfilled. Then in July, commissioner Jim Curtis announced plans to step down as well, citing the need to devote more time as a board member for the startup Ann Arbor Main Street Business Improvement Zone (BIZ).

In considering possible replacements for these openings at previous meetings, commissioners discussed seeking someone who could act as a liaison with the University of Michigan, which has its own public art advisory group. Elaine Sims noted that although she’d been designated to be the UM liaison – she serves as director of the UM Health System’s Gifts of Art program – she isn’t on the university public art advisory group and doesn’t have much contact with them.

A name that emerged earlier in the year was Lee Doyle, chief of staff for the UM Office of the Vice President for Communications and a member of the UM President’s Advisory Committee for Public Art. She is also a founder of the university’s Arts on Earth program, and oversees the UM Film Office.

Doyle expressed interest, attended two AAPAC meetings over the summer and eventually submitted an application to the mayor’s office. The mayor nominates people for the city’s boards and commissions, and those nominations are then confirmed by city council – typically without discussion.

At Tuesday’s meeting, however, Sims reported that AAPAC chair Margaret Parker had received an email last week from mayor John Hieftje, who told her that he wanted to appoint someone who resides in Ann Arbor – Doyle lives outside the city. [Parker did not attend Tuesday's meeting.]

AAPAC members noted that the Percent for Art ordinance doesn’t include residency requirements for commissioners, and while most current commissioners do live in the city, Cheryl Zuellig pointed out that she didn’t.

The issue of AAPAC residency was raised during Zuellig’s appointment, as was the issue of a UM liaison. From The Chronicle’s report of the city council’s Jan. 5, 2009 meeting:

At the Dec. 15 council meeting, the following nominations for the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission were placed before council for consideration:

  • Marsha Chamberlain re-appointment (Jan. 5, 2009-Dec. 31, 2011)
  • Cheryl Zuellig replacing Tim Rorvig (Jan. 5, 2009-Dec. 31, 2011)
  • Connie Rizzolo Brown serving out Elaine Sims general public term (Jan. 5, 2009-Dec. 31, 2009)
  • Elaine Sims replacing Larry Cressman – U/M Representative (Jan. 5, 2009-Dec. 31, 2011)

Confirmation of such nominations is usually perfunctory. In this case, councilmember Marcia Higgins, seeing that Zuellig’s address was listed as Ypsilanti, asked, “Why is someone from Ypsilanti sitting on our commission?”

The explanation that Hieftje offered was that there was a UM connection, which was important to maintain, because UM had not yet committed in the same way as the city of Ann Arbor had to allocating a percentage of its construction project budget for public art, notwithstanding the many large public art pieces UM had installed.

It was pointed out that a different person was spelled out in the nomination (Sims) as the UM-connected replacement. Councilmember Briere noted that Zuellig was an employee of JJR, as a reminder of who was who. [Editor's note: Zuellig was slated to replace Tim Rorvig, also of JJR. The art commission meets at the JJR second-floor conference room, at 110 Miller Ave.]

Hieftje then said he’d like to withdraw Zuellig’s name. The other three nominees were unanimously confirmed.

Zuellig’s appointment was later confirmed by the city council, at their Jan. 20, 2009 meeting. [The commission also stopped holding its meetings at JJR, which was inaccessible to the public after business hours, in violation of the state's Open Meetings Act. The group now meets in city offices on the seventh floor of the City Center building at Fifth and Huron.]

On Tuesday, Meyers pointed out that the appointments are made at the pleasure of the mayor, and said it opened up another conversation: What is AAPAC’s role in making recommendations for appointments?

Zuellig said they had two choices: Stay out of the process, or get feedback from Hieftje before making recommendations. Several commissioners commented on the awkwardness of having conversations in public regarding specific individuals, only to have them later rejected by the mayor – one commissioner used the term “blackballed.”

Zuellig noted that getting new commissioners on board is more of a priority for AAPAC than it is for the mayor. That’s why they’ve been proactive, she said. She noted that the city’s online Legistar system theoretically indicates which boards and commissions have vacancies, but that it’s not up-to-date – the listing for AAPAC doesn’t indicate that there are vacancies. [Also outdated is Legistar's list of current AAPAC members, which still includes commissioners whose terms expired at the end of 2008 and 2009.]

After further discussion, commissioners reached a consensus to pursue a more informal process, publicizing AAPAC vacancies more broadly, via their Facebook page and websites for AAPAC and the Arts Alliance. Individual commissioners could contact the mayor to ask him to consider specific individuals, but AAPAC itself would make no formal recommendations.

The group also discussed asking Jim Curtis to resign formally – though he isn’t attending meetings, he had agreed to stay on until a replacement was found. Commissioners felt this was a roadblock to seeking a new appointment, since there is not yet an official vacancy for his position.

Percent for Art Mural Program

At AAPAC’s annual retreat earlier this year, commissioner Jeff Meyers proposed developing a mural program using Percent for Art funding, and commissioners had agreed that he should pursue it. [The Percent for Art program captures 1% from the budget of all city capital projects, to be set aside for public art.]

On Tuesday, Meyers presented a draft proposal and asked for feedback. He told commissioners that as part of his research, he’d looked at mural programs in three cities: Portland (Oregon), San Francisco and Philadelphia. Philadelphia’s mural arts program has been in place since the mid-1980s and is particularly robust – they’ve put up roughly 3,000 murals throughout the city.

Meyers said his rationale for taking on this project was the desire to start producing art in the community. AAPAC has been around for three years, he noted, yet is only now delivering its first project – an art installation at West Park. Murals are low-hanging fruit, he said, because they can be done at relatively low cost and fairly quickly. In addition, if AAPAC develops a process for putting up murals, it could become a template for rolling out similar programs.

A mural program would help AAPAC develop better relationships with neighborhoods in the city, which in turn would help the commission’s credibility, Meyers said. Such a program would also help the commission develop relationships with other municipal entities, like schools, the library and the Downtown Development Authority.

His proposal called for completing two murals during the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2011. In fiscal 2012 – which runs from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012 – they’d shoot for three murals, including one done in partnership with another municipal entity, possibly the DDA. The following year, and each subsequent year, they’d do four murals annually. By then, he said, the process should have developed into somewhat of a turnkey approach.

For determining sites, Meyers proposed setting up a task force that would be formed annually to handle all mural projects for the year, rather than having a different task force for each mural. One possibility would be to identify sites for the murals, then add representatives to the task force from the neighborhoods where those sites are located. The task force could also include an AAPAC commissioner, someone from the city staff, an artist and a community representative.

Regarding budgets, Meyers suggested a range of $2,500 to $10,000 per mural, which keeps them well under the $20,000 threshold which would trigger the need for city council approval.

Commissioners discussed who might act as project manager for the murals: whether there would be one project manager for the overall program, or for each individual project; whether the project manager would be the artist, a city staffer or consultant; and what their tasks might be.

Mural in an East Liberty Street alley

This mural in an alley off of East Liberty Street, next to Alley Bar, was painted on boards by Mary Thiefels and John Vance.

One responsibility for the project manager would be to deal with issues like surface prep. Marsha Chamberlin noted that there are a lot of variables to consider, including the surface materials – brick or concrete, for example – and the amount of sun it gets. She pointed to two murals that have recently been created in downtown Ann Arbor as examples of different approaches. The mural on the back of the Grizzly Peak building – created by graffiti artist Antonio “Shades” Agee as a benefit for the Ann Arbor Art Center, which Chamberlin leads – was painted on the building’s surface. The “Peaceworks Through Art” mural in the alley off of East Liberty Street, between Ashley and Main, was first painted on boards, then mounted on the wall.

Commissioners also talked about AAPAC’s role in the program, and when the commission would want to “check in” with the project – likely for final approval of a task force recommendation.

They also reviewed the types of sites that might be appropriate for a mural – retaining walls, overpasses, buildings like the Ann Arbor Senior Center. Projects on property not owned by the city would require some sort of easement – a legal agreement between the property owner and the city. There was also some discussion about whether parking structures managed by the DDA would be considered city-owned. Meyers said he had a copy of an easement agreement used by Portland, but commissioners agreed that those types of projects should come later, after the program has a track record on city-owned property.

Meyers will be drawing up a formal proposal for commissioners to review and discuss at a future meeting, possibly in October.

Working with the DDA

The commission has discussed for more than a year the possibility of working collaboratively with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, which provides its own funding for public art. Commmissioners Connie Brown and Elaine Sims have developed a draft of guidelines for working with the DDA, and on Tuesday gave an update on that effort. Brown said they’ve asked for feedback from Sue McCormick, the city’s public services area administrator, but they haven’t heard back from her yet. They wanted to get her feedback before sharing the document with the DDA, Brown said.

The guidelines describe how AAPAC can assist the DDA by:

  • providing leadership on artistic identification and selection
  • sharing RFPs/RFQs (requests for proposals/qualifications) developed by AAPAC administrative staff for DDA arts projects
  • assigning a commissioner to champion each project
  • assigning a commissioner to each task force
  • assisting with the celebration and publicity of projects
  • recommending educational opportunities for the community at large for projects
  • seeking public input on public art.

The DDA would provide AAPAC with the following: 1) project description and scope, 2) project location, 3) project timeline and desired completion date, 4) project budget, including a line item for administrative support and identification of a project manager.

Then, according to the draft guidelines, if AAPAC chooses to move ahead on the project, the following steps would be taken:

  • The DDA hires an administrator – possibly AAPAC – to issue an RFP or RFQ.
  • AAPAC shares existing RFP/RFQ documents with the DDA.
  • An AAPAC commissioner would sit on the project’s task force to assist in selecting the artist and media.
  • AAPAC assists in recommending potential members for the task force.
  • AAPAC makes its artist database available to the DDA for soliciting RFP/RFQ responses.
  • AAPAC reviews task force recommendations for approval or rejection.
  • An AAPAC representative attends DDA meetings to stay apprised of DDA projects.

Jeff Meyers said he was interested in serving on the committee that works with the DDA. Jim Curtis had previously served on that committee. Meyers also asked what they can do to push for a response from McCormick. Venita Harrison, a management assistant who works for McCormick, said that in general, commissioners should email her, rather than McCormick directly. McCormick gets a high volume of emails, Harrison said, and she offered to flag items for McCormick’s attention.

Availability of Public Documents, AAPAC Annual Report

The commission is required to submit an annual report to the city council each year. At Tuesday’s meeting, they voted to approve the annual report, without discussion.

Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, the annual report was available to commissioners via a private Google Docs site, but was not available for public access. Earlier in the meeting, commissioners discussed the need to have AAPAC’s meeting packet in one location, or to have it emailed to them by city staff. In addition to the Google Docs site, minutes were posted on the city’s Legistar system, which is accessible to the public, but several commissioners hadn’t been able to find them on that site. Commissioners voted to table approval of minutes until next month’s meeting. The agenda had also been posted on Legistar.

Venita Harrison, a management assistant with the city who has recently started providing administrative support for AAPAC, said that commissioners should send her all documents for the meeting, which she’ll then post on Legistar. Elaine Sims said she thought those documents weren’t made public until after the meeting, but was informed that’s not the case. “We’re artists,” Sims joked. “It takes us a while.”

Sun Dragon Redux

Elaine Sims asked if anyone had an update on repairs of the Sun Dragon, a sculpture by AAPAC chair Margaret Parker that’s located at Fuller Pool. It had been accidentally damaged by maintenance workers earlier this year. No one had any new information about the repairs, but the topic led to a discussion about what responsibilities and funding AAPAC had to repair and maintain city-owned art that pre-dated the Percent for Art program. The conversation covered much of the same ground as one held during AAPAC’s Aug. 10, 2010 meeting, when a different subset of commissioners were present.

Commissioners present: Connie Brown, Marsha Chamberlin, Jeff Meyers, Elaine Sims, Cheryl Zuellig. Others: Venita Harrison, city management assistant.

Absent: Jim Curtis, Cathy Gendron, Margaret Parker.

Next regular meeting: Tuesday, Oct. 12 at 4:30 p.m., 7th floor conference room of the City Center Building, 220 E. Huron St. [confirm date]


  1. By Rita Laurance
    September 17, 2010 at 7:27 pm | permalink

    Here is a link to explore the murals of Philadelphia- there are over 3,000, and poems to go with them. It started as an outreach program to grafitti artists and now Philadelphia is ranked with Berlin and Chicago as having the most mural art of any city in the world. Grab your paintbrushes everyone and go! [link]

  2. By John Dory
    September 18, 2010 at 12:10 pm | permalink

    Cheryl Zwellig has served on the A2 Art Commission for awhile.

    It is well-known that she is an Ypsi resident and, in fact, has been a City of Ypsilanti Planning Commission member for a number of years.

    I am surprised it took some City Council members in Ann Arbor this long to figure out was has been obvious to most others.

    Well, maybe not so surprised………

  3. By Rod Johnson
    September 18, 2010 at 6:08 pm | permalink

    So you’re saying everyone on Council should be aware of the residential address of every single person on every city board, even though they’re appointed by the mayor, and even though there’s no actual requirement, as far as I know, that board members be city residents?