Art Commission Drafts Artist Selection Form

How to define a local artist – and should they get an edge?

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (March 1, 2011): Marsha Chamberlin chaired AAPAC’s March meeting, and began by welcoming guests: Six students from Skyline High School, who were there for a class assignment, and Susan Froelich, the new president of the Arts Alliance.

Susan Froelich

Susan Froelich, the new president of the Ann Arbor-based Arts Alliance, at the March 1, 2011 meeting of the Ann Arbor public art commission. She was appointed in late February and replaces former president Tamara Real, who resigned last year. (Photo by the writer.)

Froelich – who was a member and former chair of AAPAC’s predecessor group, the commission for art in public places – told commissioners she was just there to say hello, and that the alliance looked forward to working with AAPAC. She passed out bookmarks promoting the A3Arts web portal, which launched last year and features profiles of artists and institutions in the area, along with an events calendar and other information. Finally, Froelich thanked commissioners for their work.

During the meeting, commissioners approved spending up to $2,000 to get an evaluation of the damaged Sun Dragon at Fuller Pool, and to secure a cost estimate for repair or replacement. Margaret Parker, an AAPAC member and the artist who originally designed the colored-plexiglas sculpture, recused herself from that discussion.

Commissioners also discussed a draft of an artist evaluation rubric and interview protocol, and debated whether local artists should be given extra points in the process. Also debated was the definition of local – they plan to continue the discussion at their next meeting.

Nomination forms for the annual Golden Paintbrush awards are now available from AAPAC’s website, with a May 2 deadline for submission. The awards are given to individuals and institutions for their contributions to public art in Ann Arbor.

Scheduling came up in several different ways. A special meeting has been called to vote on site recommendations from AAPAC’s mural task force. That meeting is set for Friday, March 11 at 11 a.m. on the seventh floor of the City Center building at Fifth and Huron. Commissioners also discussed possibly changing their monthly meeting day. It’s now set for the first Tuesday of each month at 4:30 p.m., but two commissioners have scheduling conflicts at that time. AAPAC’s newest member, Malverne Winborne, reported that he’d told mayor John Hieftje prior to his nomination that the meeting day would be difficult for him, but that had not been communicated to the rest of the commission.

Updates: Arts Administrator, Golden Paintbrush, CTN

The meeting included updates on a range of topics. Marsha Chamberlin reported that the city had received about 20 applications for the part-time public art administrator job. They’ll be setting up an interview panel, and meeting in mid-March to review applications and select candidates to interview.

Margaret Parker pointed out that nominations are being solicited for the city’s Golden Paintbrush awards, given annually to recognizing contributions to art in public places. Winners in 2010 were Abracadabra Jewelry on East Liberty, the University of Michigan Health System, and Tamara Real, former president of the Arts Alliance. Nomination forms are available on AAPAC’s website. [.pdf of the two-page nomination form] The deadline for applications is May 2, and winners are announced in June.

Commissioners also discussed an interview that was set to be taped the following day for “Other Perspectives,” a local talk show hosted by Nancy Kaplan and aired on Community Television Network’s Channel 17. [The show does not have a regular time slot – schedules are available on CTN's website.]

“This was dropped in our laps rather unexpectedly after the last commission meeting,” Chamberlin said. She indicated that Kaplan had asked for two commissioners, and the consensus was that Jeff Meyers and Cheryl Zuellig would be interviewed – Meyers because of the mural program he’s leading, and Zuellig because of her background in landscape architecture, allowing her to speak about the role of public art in different environments.

Zuellig said her only concern is that she and Meyers are relatively new commissioners – she joined in 2008, and Meyers was appointed last year. She wondered whether Chamberlin or Parker, who’ve both been involved with the commission since its early days, would be better suited to field questions about AAPAC’s history, given their institutional knowledge.

Parker replied that Zuellig and Meyers would be well-suited to discuss recent projects, indicating that the focus should be on that, including the tree sculptures at West Park and the Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture being installed at the new municipal center building. Parker offered to be the backup, if either Zuellig or Meyers couldn’t make it.

[In response to a follow-up email from The Chronicle on March 7, Kaplan said the interview took place with Meyers and Zuellig, but that the air times haven't yet been scheduled.]

Projects: Fuller Road Station, Artist Selection, Sun Dragon

As chair of the projects committee, Connie Brown gave updates on three items: (1) a task force for public art at the proposed Fuller Road Station; (2) protocols for artist selection and interviews; and (3) repair of the Sun Dragon sculpture at Fuller Pool.

Projects: Fuller Road Station

Brown reported that the public art task force for Fuller Road Station held its first meeting on Feb. 17. The project is a large parking structure and bus depot jointly funded by the University of Michigan/city of Ann Arbor, and located on Fuller Road, near the UM medical complex. Eventually, it might include a rail station as well. Ann Arbor city council has not yet officially approved the project, though it has awarded funding for a preliminary design phase.

The task force got a project overview at their meeting, Brown said, and looked at architectural drawings to see how the public art component fits in with the project’s different phases. Brown said that at their next task force meeting they’ll discuss a process for how to proceed with the public art component, which has a budget of $250,000. The project’s architects have already identified locations for public art within the structure, as well as the kind of art they’d like. [Originally, they had indicated the art would be large fritted glass panels with images imprinted on them of bikes, buses and trains. That was later altered to have the images inserted between two panels of laminated glass.]

Brown said that part of the task force’s conversation was whether the artwork identified for the project met AAPAC’s criteria.

Projects: Protocols for Artist Selection, Interviews

Malverne Winborne, a member of the projects committee, told commissioners he had drafted an artist evaluation rubric and interview protocol with the intent to “objectify our subjectivity.” He asked for their feedback – in particular, he wanted to know whether any preference should be given to local artists.

The artist selection criteria consisted of 10 items, each evaluated on a scale of 0 (did not meet the requirement) to 2 (exceeded the requirement):

  1. Quality of presentation and artistic merit.
  2. Technical abilities.
  3. Strength of past artworks.
  4. Proven ability to work effectively with the community.
  5. Proven ability to work effectively as a team member within an architectural context.
  6. Experience working in public settings.
  7. Experience fabricating and installing permanent artwork working in public settings.
  8. Reflects the city’s commitment to diversity and cultural richness.
  9. Suitable for the site policies.
  10. Local artist.

The category of local artist would be scored with yes (2 points) or no (0 points) in the selection criteria.

Winborne proposed six categories for the artist interview protocol, each ranked from 1 (poor) to 4 (superior). In addition, each category was given a weighted percentage:

  1. Statement of understanding of the site and its constraints (10%)
  2. Ability to translate and create (50%)
  3. Willingness/ability to work collaboratively (15%)
  4. Effective work style/plan (15%)
  5. Previous experience (10%)
  6. Local artist (10% bonus points)

Winborne said it’s set up so that it wouldn’t exclude local artists, but that you’d get extra points if you are from this area. Margaret Parker pointed out that the preference for a local artist also could be incorporated into the call for art – either the request for qualifications (RFQ) or request for proposals (RFP).

Elaine Sims asked what “local” means – just Ann Arbor? Or would it indicate someone from the region or state? Winborne said that’s something for AAPAC to define. Given that AAPAC projects are funded through the city’s Percent for Art program, which is funded by Ann Arbor taxpayers, then defining “local” as “Ann Arbor” might make sense, he said.

Connie Brown was concerned that limiting it to Ann Arbor residents was too narrow. There’s a difference between appreciating local artists and being insular, she said. A lot of artists live only 15-20 minutes away, but are outside of Washtenaw County.

Cheryl Zuellig said that for her, considering the funding source was compelling. She suggested either going with Ann Arbor, or broadening the definition to include the entire state.

Winborne said another possibility would be to decrease the weighted percentage to 5% or 2% – or even “1% for public art!” he joked. That way, if a local artist isn’t superior, it won’t make much of a difference in the selection process. But if there are two artists of equal quality, he said, “I think we should give it to the local person.”

Commissioners also discussed the importance of assessing an artist’s technical abilities. Parker noted that in the past, they’ve selected artists who later changed their designs – in some cases, those design changes weren’t within the artist’s capability to execute, resulting in things like improper welds that later rusted. Zuellig suggested adding something specifically to the interview protocol that would allow an artist to talk about their technical skills – that could be illuminating, she said.

Winborne wondered how they’d handle the situation in which an artist doesn’t actually fabricate the work. [This is the case for the artwork designed by Herbert Dreiseitl for the municipal center – the city is hiring other contractors to build the sculpture.] Sims thought that even if the artist doesn’t build the artwork themselves, they’d have a relationship with a fabricator. “If someone’s pretty iffy on that kind of stuff, that’s a red flag,” she said.

Winborne said the topic seemed important, and offered to work with Parker to modify the interview protocol, incoporating an item on technical skills. He suggested that commissioners email him with other suggestions, and he’d deliver a new draft to them before their April meeting.

Projects: Sun Dragon

As she has in the past, Margaret Parker recused herself from deliberations regarding the Sun Dragon – a work of hers that was commissioned by the city and installed at Fuller Pool. She left the room for the duration of the discussion.

By way of background, the Sun Dragon – a sculpture made of colored plexiglas that’s attached to a beam holding Fuller Pool’s solar-heated shower – has been a topic of discussion for several months. It had been damaged last spring by workers during repair of a beam that supported the piece. In July 2010, AAPAC voted to allocate nearly $7,000 in funds to repair the piece, to be taken out of an endowed maintenance fund for public art. [Because the Sun Dragon was created prior to the 2007 city council resolution that established the Percent for Art program, the Percent for Art funds can't be used to repair it.]

Commissioners later learned that only about $2,000 from the endowed fund was available for use, and wouldn’t cover the cost of repair. Subsequently, at AAPAC’s November 2010 meeting, another option was offered by Sue McCormick, the city’s public services administrator. From The Chronicle’s meeting report:

McCormick had suggested that the Sun Dragon be considered as an “asset renewal” – that is, it could come to AAPAC as a new project. That way, AAPAC could fund it under the Percent for Art program, treating it just like any other proposal. McCormick had said it could be paid for out of the parks or water funds. According to a budget summary distributed to commissioners, there is $16,408 available for public art from the parks millage, and $115,164 from the water fund.

One commissioner jokingly referred to it as “creative financing,” and another quipped that they shouldn’t ask too many questions about it. Cheryl Zuellig clarified that as a new project, they would start by creating an intake form for it – it would then be handled by the projects committee. Jeff Meyers expressed concern about opening the door for other projects like this.

There was some discussion about what exactly the Percent for Art program could pay for – could it also cover the cost of the structural beam at Fuller Pool, even though that beam would need to be in place regardless of the public art installed on it? Parker said she would check with McCormick about that.

At AAPAC’s March 2011 meeting, Brown reported that Parker had filled out a project intake form, and they’d be treating it like a new project. She said it was worth noting that the Sun Dragon is an important piece of art and that people have gotten a lot of enjoyment out of it.

Brown presented a proposal to allocate $1,500 to pay a structural engineer and fabricator, who would evaluate the piece and the structure that supports it, and make a recommendation to AAPAC about what should be done to repair it. After that, she said, they can get a quote from the fabricator, and figure out which city unit should pay for it – likely, it would be paid for out of the city’s parks and recreation budget.

Brown said she took a guess at the $1,500 cost – it might cost more for this initial step, she said.

Elaine Sims asked whether they’d already made the decision that the Sun Dragon is an asset worth repairing or replacing. [The other alternative would be to decommission the piece.] Brown said that the decision was make last year, when they voted to approve endowment funds for repair.

Sim said she had no problem approving funds for an evaluation, as long as they’d later have the chance to vote again, after a quote came back for the cost of repairs.

Venita Harrison, who works for McCormick, pointed out that the city employs structural engineers who might be available to evaluate the piece, rather than hiring an outside consultant. She offered to check on that possibility.

Brown again suggested that they might want to increase the amount earmarked for evaluating the project. It would make sense for a structural engineer, fabricator and the artist to work together to come up with a solution, she said. That way, they might also be able to come up with an estimated cost for repair or replacement.

Cheryl Zuellig noted that Parker’s intake form already included an estimate for replacing it: $9,306.80. [That amount includes a $500 artist fee, $4,000 for labor, $2,780 for materials and $2,360 for installation, plus a 6% tax of $166.80.] This project has already gone on too long, Zuellig said – they need some options so that they can make a final decision about it.

Sims expressed concern about moving ahead without a better idea of what the final cost would be. Brown pointed out that they couldn’t do that without an evaluation – and that wasn’t free.

Chamberlin proposed increasing the upper limit for the cost of getting an evaluation to $2,000, and requesting that the structural engineer, fabricator and artist deliver recommendations on how to repair or replace the Sun Dragon, along with a cost estimate for the work.

After further discussion and some collaborative wordsmithing, commissioners crafted a resolution to approve up to $2,000 to hire a city engineer to: (1) perform a structural evaluation of the Sun Dragon’s support system and the piece itself; (2) to determine if design alternations or changes in fabrication are needed for ease of maintenance; and (3) to provide design and fabrication cost estimates. A fabricator and the artist would be included in performing this evaluation.

Outcome: An initial vote resulted in approval from four commissioners – Sims did not vote, saying she still had reservations. When it was pointed out that four votes were insufficient to pass the resolution, Sims said she’d vote in favor of it.

Special Meeting, Monthly Meetings, Retreat

Three meeting-related items were on the March agenda: (1) Scheduling a special meeting to discuss AAPAC’s mural program; (2) scheduling a retreat, and (3) revisiting the monthly meeting schedule.

Jeff Meyers, who did not attend last week’s meeting, had been trying to schedule a special meeting for the mural program he’s leading, so that commissioners could vote to approve sites for the murals that have been recommended by a task force. But commissioners have been unable to reach a consensus about when to hold the special meeting. Elaine Sims expressed the sentiment that daytime meetings are difficult to attend, and requested that any meeting be held at the end of a business day.

[In a follow-up email to The Chronicle, Meyers said the special meeting has been scheduled for Friday, March 11 at 11 a.m. on the seventh floor of the City Center building at Fifth and Huron.]

Also problematic for some commissioners is the regular monthly meeting time – the first Tuesday of the month, at 4:30 p.m. Meetings often begin late, as many commissioners have difficulty getting there by 4:30. And for two in particular – Meyers and Malverne Winborne, the newest commissioner who joined AAPAC late last year – the day of the week is an issue. Late last year, AAPAC moved its regular meetings from the second Tuesday to the first Tuesday of the month, hoping that it would be more convenient. But that day is actually more difficult for Meyers’ work schedule.

As for Winborne, he reported that before he accepted the appointment, he communicated to mayor John Hieftje that Tuesdays in general are difficult because he often has evening meetings scheduled with charter schools on that day. [Winborne is director of Eastern Michigan University’s Charter Schools Office. The mayor is responsible for nominating members to most city boards and commissions, with city council voting to approve those nominations.] Margaret Parker said no one communicated that information to AAPAC before Winborne was appointed.

When Winborne said that if it can’t be changed, one option would be for him to step down, other commissioners suggested it might be possible to find an alternative day. They decided to poll all members and try to find a better time for everyone.

Cheryl Zuellig pointed out that in general, it’s better to find a date that works for the regular monthly meetings than to schedule additional special meetings.

Commissioners also nailed down a date for a retreat: Thursday, March 31 at 5:30 p.m. Zuellig offered the conference room of her employer – JJR, at 110 Miller – as a location for the retreat. Until mid-2009, AAPAC held its regular monthly meetings at that spot, until concerns about public accessibility prompted them to move to the seventh floor of the City Center building at Fifth and Huron, where the city rents office space.

There was some discussion about whether Connie Pulcipher of the city’s systems planning unit could facilitate the retreat, as she’s done in the past. Venita Harrison, a city management assistant who serves as a liaison for AAPAC to the city’s administration, said she would ask if Pulcipher is available.

Connie Brown asked if AAPAC would have access to the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP), which identifies major projects that the city intends to pursue. [At its Feb. 7, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved the CIP for fiscal years 2012-2017.] Harrison pointed out that the council hasn’t approved the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2011 – so it’s unclear which capital projects will be funded. [This is relevent to AAPAC because its projects are funded through the city's Percent for Art program, which sets aside 1% of the cost of any city-funded capital project to be used for public art, up to a cap of $250,000 per project.]

Brown said that at some point, AAPAC needs to be able to identify upcoming projects so that they can get involved earlier in the process, rather than being on the tail end. Harrison replied that another difficulty is AAPAC’s timeline – the Percent for Art ordinance specifies that by April 1 the commission must submit to city council  ”a plan detailing potential projects and desirable goals to be pursued in the next fiscal year.” Harrison noted that this date doesn’t correspond to the city’s budget cycle. City council generally approves its budget in May.

Community Foundation Funds

Marsha Chamberlin reported that AAPAC had received a letter from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, notifying them about earnings that are available to spend from an endowment for public art maintenance that’s managed by the foundation. For the most recent year, earnings were $602. An additional $2,127 has previously accumulated and is also available for AAPAC’s use. The money is restricted to maintenance projects. Examples of past projects that have tapped those funds include repair of ceramic tile artwork at the Fourth & Washington parking structure.

When Chamberlin indicated that according to the letter they needed to respond by March 7, Margaret Parker said that in the past, the deadline has been flexible. She said that in past years, they simply haven’t responded to the letter.

Connie Brown, chair of the projects committee, reported that there are no maintenance projects in the pipeline so far this year. After some discussion, commissioners reached consensus for Chamberlin to contact the foundation and ask for some flexibility on the deadline.

Commissioners present: Connie Brown, Marsha Chamberlin, Margaret Parker, Elaine Sims, Malverne Winborne, Cheryl Zuellig. Others: Venita Harrison, city management assistant; Susan Froelich, Arts Alliance.

Absent: Cathy Gendron, Jeff Meyers.

Next regular meeting: Tuesday, April 5 Wednesday, April 27 at 4:30 p.m., 7th floor conference room of the City Center Building, 220 E. Huron St. [confirm date] Update: At a special meeting on Friday, March 11, AAPAC members decided to move their regular monthly meetings to the fourth Wednesday of each month, beginning April 27.


  1. By Alan Goldsmith
    March 9, 2011 at 12:23 pm | permalink

    “McCormick had suggested that the Sun Dragon be considered as an “asset renewal” – that is, it could come to AAPAC as a new project. That way, AAPAC could fund it under the Percent for Art program, treating it just like any other proposal. McCormick had said it could be paid for out of the parks or water funds. According to a budget summary distributed to commissioners, there is $16,408 available for public art from the parks millage, and $115,164 from the water fund.”

    Once again, exceptions being made for political insiders. Was there a cost estimate for removal?

  2. By mr dairy
    March 9, 2011 at 12:51 pm | permalink

    Or a cost for maintenance? We see that Sue McCormick has learned how to juggle accounts from her mentor, Roger Fraser, on how to curry favor from her political masters

    Ms Froelich would be wise to keep some distance between her and the AAPAC.

  3. By Tom Whitaker
    March 9, 2011 at 1:01 pm | permalink

    Would love to hear the legal justification for taking dedicated millage and fee revenues and using them for art projects.

  4. March 9, 2011 at 8:06 pm | permalink

    “The project’s architects have already identified locations for public art within the structure, as well as the kind of art they’d like. [Originally, they had indicated the art would be large fritted glass panels with images imprinted on them of bikes, buses and trains.]”

    I’d prefer we focus on the three-dimensional kind.