Public Art Group Picks Two Mural Sites

Allmendinger Park, Huron Parkway first for art pilot program

Ann Arbor public art commission special meeting (March 11, 2011): A building at Allmendinger Park and a retaining wall along Huron Parkway have been selected as mural sites for a pilot program funded by the city’s Percent for Art program.

Building at Allmendinger Park

The pillars on this building at Allmendinger Park have been identified by a task force as one of two sites for a mural pilot program, to be funded by the Ann Arbor Percent for Art. (Photos by the writer.)

A special meeting on Friday was called specifically to vote on the site recommendations, which were made by a task force chaired by AAPAC member Jeff Meyers. He reported that the locations were chosen because they are highly visible, in different parts of the city, and in different types of environments – a residential neighborhood and a major thoroughfare.

Though some concerns were voiced during the meeting, ultimately the commissioners voted unanimously to approve the sites and the budget of $10,000 per mural. The task force will move ahead with the projects, including holding a neighborhood meeting for residents near Allmendinger Park, and selecting artists for the murals.

If this pilot program is successful, the goal is to create at least two additional murals each year.

Mural Site Selection

Jeff Meyers, who joined AAPAC in early 2010, presented a draft for a mural pilot program at the commission’s September 2010 meeting. Commissioners approved the program in November. Elements include:

  • A goal of creating two murals per year on city-owned sites, with the sites to be selected by a task force.
  • A budget of between $2,500 to $10,000 per mural.
  • An additional 50% contingency will be budgeted to cover the administrative costs for each project, including compensation for a project manager.
  • The expected lifespan for the murals, under normal wear and tear, is set at five years.
  • Artists or groups of artists who apply for a mural project must be residents of Michigan.
  • Selection criteria includes artistic merit, community impact and feasibility. Selection is subject to AAPAC approval. [.pdf of site selection criteria and .pdf of evaluation criteria]

Since November, Meyers formed a four-member task force, with an initial task of identifying two sites to recommend for the program’s first murals. In addition to Meyers, task force members include Hannah Smotrich, associate professor of the University of Michigan School of Art & Design; Mariah Cherem, a UM graduate student and former community manager for’s metro Detroit region; and Connie Pulcipher of the city’s systems planning staff.

They considered a range of potential sites, he told commissioners, including Liberty Plaza at the corner of Liberty and Division in downtown Ann Arbor; the exterior walls at the Veterans Memorial Park ice arena; the interior walls at Mack Pool; and the Ann Arbor farmers market, among other sites.

Meyers described why some sites weren’t selected. They considered the water tower at County Farm Park, for example, but learned that the city intends to paint it within the next two years. There might be an opportunity in the future to synchronize a mural project with that repainting, he said.

At Liberty Plaza, it was difficult to envision an effective, single mural there, Meyers said, given the low retaining walls and benches. Instead, the task force discussed the possibility of AAPAC working with the city possibly to attempt a total design treatment, such as painting the concrete surfaces in different colors to make the space more inviting. As it is, Meyers said, it has a Soviet-style feel.

Jeff Meyers

Jeff Meyers, who's leading a pilot project task force to create two murals in Ann Arbor.

Ultimately, the task force settled on two sites: Allmendinger Park, and a retaining wall along Huron Parkway. A budget of $10,000 was recommended for each project.

There were several reasons for selecting the Huron Parkway location – the retaining wall on the western side of the street, south of East Huron River Drive. It’s a highly visible location on a road favored by locals, Meyers said, that’s accessible to motorized, non-motorized and pedestrian traffic. The retaining wall is plain concrete and functional in appearance, and would offer a traditional canvas for a mural.

Meyers reported that Colin Smith, the city’s parks & recreation manager, had cautioned the task force, saying there would need to be community discussion about the location because it’s in a “beloved viewshed” of Ann Arbor. Meyers said he needed clarification about what that discussion might entail.

Moving to the Allmendinger Park recommendation, Meyers said the mural site includes all 14 concrete pillars that encircle the building there, where restrooms for the park are located. The site was chosen because it’s in a high-use park, with an active playground, sports fields and picnic areas. The task force liked the location because it’s in a residential neighborhood, rather than downtown or along a highway. It’s on a street – Pauline Boulevard – that gets a lot of bike, pedestrian and motorized traffic.

The pillars could be viewed as a single canvas, or as 14 individual murals, Meyers said. He noted that some city staff had reservations about the site, saying there were problems with vandalism and graffiti. But rather than getting defaced, murals tend to deter graffiti, he said, pointing to the murals in the downtown area that go untouched.

Smith had said that before they could move forward, they’d need to hold a neighborhood meeting to get buy-in from the residents, Meyers said, adding that he didn’t know how that might extend the project’s timeline.

Mural Site Selection: Commissioner Discussion

Elaine Sims wondered what would trigger a neighborhood meeting like the one Smith is suggesting. This was the first time AAPAC had heard of this requirement, she said. Meyers replied that if city officials feel that public meetings are appropriate, they have every right to require them. That’s true, Sims said, but it would be good to know, so that AAPAC can plan for them. Marsha Chamberlin pointed out that during the redesign of Sculpture Park – located at the corner of Catherine and Fourth, in Kerrytown – neighborhood meetings were a part of that process.

Margaret Parker asked about the size of the pillars at Allmendinger and the retaining wall on Huron Parkway, and what materials they were made of. The pillars and wall are made of concrete, Meyers said. He wasn’t sure about the exact sizes.

Margaret Parker

AAPAC member Margaret Parker.

Parker pressed him about the surface, saying that it was important to consider. The surface – and whether it’s exposed to the elements – dictates what kinds of materials can be used for the mural, she said.

Other commissioners weighed in, saying this was something for the task force or the artist they selected to consider. Sims suggested that AAPAC begin collecting information about the surface materials and conditions on these sites, to build a database for future reference. Connie Brown pointed out that this would be a better discussion for another meeting – perhaps their upcoming planning session.

Parker then expressed caution about the time and effort it would take to do these two projects, and suggested that they tackle only one at a time. The public meeting component alone could be a significant time investment, she noted.

Meyers argued against separating the two projects, saying it would just slow down the process. He said he didn’t think the murals would be as controversial as the art for the new municipal center. [Parker chaired the task force for that project, which resulted in the city commissioning a large water sculpture by German artist Herbert Dreiseitl. That piece cost over $750,000 and is still under construction.]

Parker then suggested telling the public that AAPAC was considering two sites, and asking for public input. She feared that if they picked these sites, it would seem like the decision is “coming from above.”

Meyers said it wouldn’t be presented that way. The approach would be to say that they wanted to put a mural at these sites, and to ask for feedback. “The message is whatever you want to make it,” he said. Sims agreed that it was better to set the stage positively, rather than “open up a huge can of worms.”

Commissioners decided to vote on the two items separately, starting with the site at Allmendinger Park.

Outcome: AAPAC unanimously voted to approve the task force recommendation of selecting the building at Allmendinger Park for a mural site.

Next they considered the Huron Parkway site. Parker again suggested holding off on the second site until the mural at Allmendinger is finished. Meyers again said he thought that delaying it was unnecessary.

Sims said she liked the site because of all the reasons that Meyers had previously outlined. She felt the artist they select could determine how much of the surface to use in the mural.

Parker asked about the surface – what material was it made of? Poured concrete, Meyers said. Chamberlin reminded commissioners that the only question they had to answer was whether they approved this site for the mural. “It’s as simple as that,” she said. Parker replied that surfaces matter – she’s a painter, and knows that the condition of the site and the surface material influence what can be done there, and how much it will cost.

Meyers said the task force didn’t want to limit the artist in determining how to approach the project. Rather, they wanted to offer up a site that the artist can respond to. It’s not productive to set limits, he said. Sims noted that the artist they select might not use paint – they might work in powered metal, create a mosaic or even use plant material, like the Wave Field at the University of Michigan, by the artist Maya Lin.

Malverne Winborne said that the beauty of AAPAC is that its members range from experts like Parker to “Mr. Clueless” – referring to himself. He said perhaps she had too much knowledge, which he said was a complement. At that, Winborne called the question – a parliamentary move that ended discussion and forced a vote.

Outcome: AAPAC unanimously voted to approve the task force recommendation of selecting the retaining wall along Huron Parkway for a mural site.

Discussion continued after the vote. Parker asked whether the city would allow an artist to attach something to the retaining wall. She noted that when AAPAC had discussed the possibility of doing that in conjunction with an art project for the Stadium bridges, “that was a big no-no.” Meyers replied that the artist they select will have to work with whatever constraints the city imposes.

Saying she loved both recommendations, Chamberlin asked Meyers what the next steps would be for these murals. He said he’d check with parks & recreation about the neighborhood meeting. In addition, they’d be selecting stakeholders who live near each location to join the task force. They’d develop and issue a request for qualifications (RFQ), with the ultimate goal of selecting artists for each mural – recommendations from the task force would be voted on by AAPAC. The same task force would handle  the selection process for both murals.

Parker requested that AAPAC get a written report each month about the task force’s progress. Noting that this was a learning process, Winborne suggested that the next cycle could include some of the information that arose during the meeting – answers to questions about the size of the location and surface materials, for example.

Meyers said the idea is to figure out if they like the results from this pilot program – if they do, they can refine the process and make it an annual program that would hopefully expand into more murals per year.

Other Business: Monthly Meeting Date

Also at Friday’s special meeting, commissioners reached a consensus to change their monthly meeting date to the last Wednesday of each month. Until this year, AAPAC met on the second Tuesday of the month. When this date posed a challenge for the commission’s newest member, Malverne Winborne, they changed the meeting dates starting in January 2011 to the first Tuesday – a date that was difficult for Jeff Meyers to make.

Because AAPAC already held its March meeting – on March 1 – the next regular meeting is set for Wednesday, April 27 at 4:30 p.m. at the 7th floor conference room of the City Center building at 220 E. Huron St. In addition, an annual planning meeting is scheduled for Thursday, March 31 starting at 5:30 p.m., also in the 7th floor conference room of the City Center building.

Commissioners present: Connie Brown, Marsha Chamberlin, Jeff Meyers, Margaret Parker, Elaine Sims, Malverne Winborne.

Absent: Cathy Gendron, Cheryl Zuellig.

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, April 27 at 4:30 p.m., 7th floor conference room of the City Center building, 220 E. Huron St. [confirm date] The commission has also scheduled an annual planning meeting for Thursday, March 31 starting at 5:30 p.m., also in the 7th floor conference room of the City Center building.


  1. March 14, 2011 at 10:18 am | permalink

    Ever since they got built, I thought those big blank Huron Parkway retaining walls would make a good mural site, but I never did get started painting. “Senioritis,” I guess.

  2. By Linda Peck
    March 14, 2011 at 1:52 pm | permalink

    Thank you, Mary Morgan, for this complete report.