Public Art Commission: “Get the Word Out”

Also updates on Dreiseitl, Fuller Road; new art administrator hired

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (May 25, 2011): Wednesday’s AAPAC meeting began with introductions – commissioners were meeting the city’s new public art administrator, Aaron Seagraves, for the first time.

Public art signs

Signs designed by the Ann Arbor public art commission's public relations committee, featuring a QR code for smart phones that directs people to AAPAC's website. (Photos by the writer.)

Seagraves, who started his job earlier this month, had already attended a neighborhood forum for a proposed mural project at Allmendinger Park – five residents showed up, he reported.

That low attendance reflected one theme touching several topics throughout this month’s AAPAC meeting – the need to get the word out about various public art projects. Three nominations had been received so far for the annual Golden Paintbrush awards, with a deadline of May 30. And only two people had responded to a request seeking artists for public art in the lobby of the city’s new municipal center, at the corner of Fifth and Huron. A deadline for submission has been extended through mid-July, in hopes that additional artists will respond.

Commissioners also got updates on the Herbert Dreiseitl sculpture – expected to be installed in front of the renovated city hall in August – and on plans for public art in the proposed Fuller Road Station. Though Fuller Road Station hasn’t been formally approved, a task force is working on placing public art at the structure. The station will be a large parking facility, bus depot and possible train station that would be jointly built by the city of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan.

Finally, commissioners wrapped up the meeting with their only action item: Electing Malverne Winborne as vice chair.

New Public Art Administrator

The part-time position of public art administrator has been vacant for almost a year, after Katherine Talcott, who was hired in early 2009, took the job of art project manager for the city.

Aaron Seagraves

Aaron Seagraves, the city of Ann Arbor's new public art administrator.

Aaron Seagraves signed a one-year contract last week for the job, which will average about 20 hours per week.

Seagraves grew up in the Manchester/Clinton/Irish Hills area, and graduated from Northern Michigan University in 2000 with a bachelors degree in drawing and painting. He attended graduate school at the University of Oregon, and in 2009 received a masters degree in arts administration. While working on his graduate degree, Seagraves was the visual arts coordinator for the student union. He joined AmeriCorps in October, working on a children’s health insurance enrollment initiative at the community health center in Jackson, where he lives.

Commissioners welcomed him enthusiastically – at previous meetings, they’ve frequently talked about the need for someone to fill that position.

Annual Public Art Plans: 2011, 2012

At their April meeting, AAPAC had approved its 2012 annual art plan. On Wednesday, Marsha Chamberlin, the commission’s chair, checked to make sure it had been sent to the city council. She was checking because AAPAC was told last month that the city council had never officially approved the 2011 annual art plan. The plan is a document that outlines the year’s anticipated projects funded by the city’s Percent for Art program – by ordinance, it must be submitted annually to city council.

Last year, AAPAC had turned the plan over to city staff, but it never appeared on the council’s agenda. The fact that the city council never acted on the 2011 plan resulted in a lengthy discussion at AAPAC’s April meeting about what that meant for ongoing projects. [See Chronicle coverage: "What's Next for Public Mural Program?"]

On Wednesday, Venita Harrison, a city management assistant who’s been a liaison between AAPAC and the city’s administration, reported that both the 2011 and 2012 annual plans were submitted for initial consideration at the council’s June 6 meeting, with a vote expected on July 6.

Chamberlin asked what the expectations are of AAPAC – should representatives attend the council meeting? Margaret Parker, the commission’s previous chair, said it would be good to attend, in case there are any questions. It’s perhaps even more important to attend, because at least one councilmember has raised questions about the new mural pilot program, she said. Chamberlin suggested that Seagraves also attend the city council meeting, to introduce himself in person to councilmembers.

Public Relations: Golden Paintbrush, Townie Party

Cathy Gendron gave a report from the public relations committee. AAPAC’s redesigned website, long in the works, has been launched, she said. It prominently features an image of a QR code – a marking similar to a bar code, which can be read by smart phones – that directs people to AAPAC’s website. That same image is used in fliers that will be going up around town – “although the rain has been a bit of a problem,” Gendron said. She credited Janice Milhem and Annie Wolock, who serve on the PR committee, for designing the fliers. She also thanked Nancy Stone of the city’s communications staff for assisting with the website redesign.

The website highlights nominations for the annual Golden Paintbrush awards, which recognize local contributions to public art. [.pdf file of nomination form] So far, there are only three nominations, Gendron said, with one more likely to come. The deadline to apply is May 30, but since that’s the Memorial Day holiday, they’ll accept nominations on May 31, Gendron said. She urged commissioners to get the word out about the nominations.

Elaine Sims asked whether artwork that’s been commissioned through the Percent for Art program can be nominated – what if someone from the public nominates a piece? Commissioners weren’t sure, but said it was something they should discuss.

Margaret Parker questioned how the voting would work. Gendron explained that commissioners would vote through an online poll, as they did last year. Parker wondered whether that was appropriate – shouldn’t the vote on the awards happen at a public meeting? After some discussion about whether picking the Golden Paintbrush winners via an online vote might violate the Michigan Open Meetings Act, commissioners asked Venita Harrison, a liaison with the city administration, to check and report back to them about it.

Marsha Chamberlin

Marsha Chamberlin, chair of the Ann Arbor public art commission, also serves as president of the Ann Arbor Art Center.

Gendron reported that the PR committee is planning for a table in the “Creative Commons” section of the July 18 Townie Party, an event for local residents held by the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair. The party takes place before the official start of the Ann Arbor art fairs. This year, the art fairs run from July 20-23. Commissioners discussed the need to do something more engaging at AAPAC’s table this year, and floated the idea of creating large cutouts of art in which people could insert their faces and be photographed.

The committee is also working on the dedication of a sculpture at West Park, which will be held in conjunction with the park’s re-opening on June 19 from noon-4 p.m. West Park recently received extensive renovations, and the Percent for Art program funded public art there – two metal tree sculptures by Traven Pelletier, located in the new tiered seating near the band shell. Gendron said it would be good if commissioners could attend – Marsha Chamberlin will likely make some brief remarks.

Margaret Parker asked who’s working on a dedication for the Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture, to be installed in front of the renovated city hall and new justice center at Fifth and Huron. Gendron noted that there’s not yet a firm date for the sculpture’s installation – the date keeps getting pushed back, and is now expected to occur in August. Chamberlin said she thought a dedication might happen this fall.

Projects: Dreiseitl, Justice Center, Fuller Road, Murals

Commissioners reviewed a new project tracking chart that Malverne Winborne developed, and discussed the logistics of how it would be updated each month. They also got updates on several public art projects.

Projects: Fuller Road Station

Connie Brown, who chairs the projects committee, gave an update on the public art task force for Fuller Road Station, a joint project between the city of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan to build a large parking structure, bus depot and possibly a train station on Fuller Road, near the UM medical campus. [For a recent status report on the overall project, see Chronicle coverage: "PAC Gets Update on Fuller Road Station"]

Brown said the task force has been working on a budget, looking at what would remain for the artist after subtracting administrative fees, contingencies and other items. As a capital project, the budget for Fuller Road Station includes $250,000 set aside for the city’s Percent for Art program, to pay for public art on the site. Brown said additional funding for public art will be provided by UM.

Responding to a query from Elaine Simms, Brown listed members of the task force: Brown and Cathy Gendron (AAPAC members), Doug Koepsell (UM project design manager), Larry Cressman (UM representative and former AAPAC member), Connie Pulcipher (city of Ann Arbor staff), Dave Dykman (city of Ann Arbor staff, Fuller Road Station project manager), and Angela Pierro (public representative).

Brown said that before they issued a statement of qualifications (SOQ) for the project, she wanted to know if there were any lessons they could learn from the recent SOQ issued for artwork at the municipal center. It hadn’t received much interest – only two artists responded.

Projects: Justice Center

Margaret Parker, who heads the task force for the municipal center public art, pointed out that the new building next to city hall was now being called the “justice center.” She wanted to know why the city issued an SOQ, rather than an RFQ (request for qualifications). Venita Harrison said that it’s standard for the city – the West Park public art project had been issued as an SOQ too, she noted.

Several commissioners said they hadn’t encountered the term before, and wondered whether the artist community was familiar with it. Harrison said the city followed the same procedure as they did for the West Park public art project, regarding terminology and distribution. [The SOQ form can be downloaded from AAPAC's website.]

Parker noted that two major websites – for the Arts Alliance and ArtServe – hadn’t posted the SOQ. Harrison said both organizations had been sent the item for posting.

After additional discussion, the group decided to extend the deadline from May 31 to mid-July.

Parker was also concerned that no selection committee has been set up for the project – she thought the city would be taking over. “I don’t know who expects whom to do what,” she said. The general consensus from other commissioners was that it’s the role of the task force, which Parker chairs, to handle the selection process.

There was some discussion about whether to stagger the issuance of the SOQ for Fuller Road Station, now that the deadline was pushed back for the justice center. In determining a timeline, Harrison advised factoring in a month for the city attorney’s office to review the SOQ.

Parker asked Seagraves to write an email that could be sent out with the justice center SOQ for broader distribution, one “that’s appealing and in language that’s not acronyms.” He agreed to do that.

Parker expressed uncertainty about whether the task force should serve as the selection committee, or whether a separate selection committee should be recruited. Other commissioners advised her to reconvene the task force and allow that group to decide whether they want to take on that job. Parker agreed to update AAPAC at the June meeting.

Projects: Dreiseitl

A written update from Ken Clein on the Herbert Dreiseitl project was included in the May meeting packet, but received little discussion among commissioners at the meeting. Clein is a principal with Ann Arbor-based Quinn Evans Architects, the building’s project manager. [.pdf of full report]

Casting of the bronze sculpture is expected to occur during the first week of June. The walls that will support the sculpture will be done in early June, with installation of the work anticipated for August.

This was the first major project commissioned by the city through the Percent for Art program, which sets aside 1% of all capital projects – up to a cap of $250,000 – to be used for public art. Last year, the city council approved a budget of $737,820 for the piece. The city had previously paid Dreiseitl $77,000 in preliminary design fees.

Dreiseitl’s sculpture will be on the exterior of the municipal center – the term used to describe the city hall building and the adjacent justice center, which recently opened and houses the Ann Arbor police department and 15th District Court.

Projects: Murals

Parker asked for an update on the mural project being led by Jeff Meyers, who did not attend the meeting – a neighborhood forum for one of the two proposed mural sites, on Huron Parkway, was being held that same evening.

Seagraves reported that he had attended the neighborhood forum for the other proposed site, at Allmendinger Park. Five residents had attended, and he said they were very positive about the project. He reported that the turnout was likely low because postcards mailed to residents announcing the May 18 forum weren’t sent out in time – there’d been a problem with the printer.

Election: Vice Chair

The meeting’s one action item was to elect Malverne Winborne as AAPAC’s vice chair. The position has been vacant since December 2009.

Malverne Winborne

Malverne Winborne was elected vice chair of the Ann Arbor public art commission at its May 25 meeting.

Marsha Chamberlin had been elected chair at AAPAC’s April meeting after serving as acting chair for several months. Former chair Margaret Parker, who still serves on the commission, stepped down as chair in December 2010. She had attempted to relinquish the job for more than a year, but no one wanted to fill that role, or the role of the vice chair.

At this month’s meeting, Chamberlin introduced the topic by saying she’d heard that Winborne had agreed to take the job of vice chair. “Where’d you hear that?” he teased. After Chamberlin noted that she’d been elected at a meeting she didn’t attend, Winborne laughed and said, “I’ll do it!” He received a round of applause.

Winborne, an Ann Arbor resident, is director of Eastern Michigan University’s Charter Schools Office. He was appointed to AAPAC in October 2010.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously voted to elect Malverne Winborne as vice chair.

Commissioners present: Connie Brown, Marsha Chamberlin, Cathy Gendron, Margaret Parker, Elaine Sims, Malverne Winborne. Also Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public arts administrator, and Venita Harrison, a city management assistant.

Absent: Jeff Meyers, Wiltrud Simbuerger, Cheryl Zuellig.

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, June 22 at 4:30 p.m., in the basement conference room at city hall, 301 E. Huron St. [confirm date]

Purely a plug: The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of publicly-funded programs like the Percent for Art, which is overseen by the Ann Arbor public art commission. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.


  1. By abc
    May 29, 2011 at 1:48 pm | permalink

    There are many definitions of both artists and art. One that I like is that art(ists) make the strange, familiar; and the familiar, strange. Stated differently an artist can make you look twice at what you think you know by changing context, material, color, etc. and an artist can make you see something you may never have really looked at as something that could be considered beautiful. Warhol elevated common household items to an iconic status and Surrealists like Dali and Magritte offered views into strange and dreamlike landscapes and places.

    I am considering this as I look at the AAPAC’s poster which per the article was ‘designed by a committee’… Ouch.

    I can’t help but wonder if that QR code could not have been elevated somehow by being composed of Motawi tiles, broken glass, chocolate chips. Black and White people, etc.; something to give it a further meaning.

    Or maybe if you looked at it a bit there was something else hidden in its seemingly random black and white pattern; something to say that it is more than the sum of its parts.

    Or maybe even a simple color substitution could have made it more than just what it is, a code; and one that is already becoming common in our world.

    Two other observations,

    In searching for the AAPAC’s webpage I was struck by how many organizations have the acronym AAPAC. AA can be Arab American, African American, American Association, Advanced Academic, Automotive Aftermarket… PAC can be Performing Arts Center, Political Action Committee, Professional Advisory Council… There are quite a few AAPAC’s.

    In viewing the AAPAC’s webpage I observed that two of the commission members are listed as architects, but neither seems to be listed with the state’s licensing division.

  2. May 29, 2011 at 2:44 pm | permalink

    The flyer is almost funny, it so lacks soul. Compare to any single Art Fair poster from the last 30 years.

    Well stated, abc.

  3. By Rod Johnson
    May 29, 2011 at 4:14 pm | permalink

    Without meaning to disparage the contribution of any individual, does it not seem obvious that this is an organization without a real purpose? There’s no energy, no real agenda, no inspiration, nobody knows who was supposed to do what, but they’re surprised something doesn’t get done or that their listless PR releases don’t get any uptake. Public meeting announcements “don’t get sent out on time” (but are nonetheless paid for). They finally catch up with 2008 by featuring a QR code, a couple of months after Google very publicly announced they were giving up on QR. Nobody really wants to accept responsibility, and the major project they’ve been behind in recent years (Dreiseitl) is a complete cock-up.

    One or two of these little failures is going to happen, but when they grind on, month after month, year after year… I love and support public art and want to see it flourish, but god, someone please put AAPAC out of its misery so we can get on with it.

    PS: I know this is probably just an infelicity of phrasing in this article, but: “AAPAC’s redesigned website,…prominently features an image of a QR code…that directs people to AAPAC’s website”? Whee! A high-tech You Are Here sign! Or to look at another scenario, suppose someone spots one of the signs, and excitedly points their smart phone at it. They end up at AAPAC’s site, which features… the QR code they just used to get there.

  4. By Rod Johnson
    May 29, 2011 at 4:17 pm | permalink

    abc, how about this? [link to waffle QR art]

  5. By Alan Goldsmith
    May 30, 2011 at 8:11 am | permalink

    If ONLY AAPAC has hired some German graphic artist and spent $70K+ on the flyer design I’m sure it would have been just stunning.

  6. By abc
    May 30, 2011 at 9:42 am | permalink


    Yes, that is more. Art has never been ‘take it or leave it’. Art provokes; by its content or lack of content. A QR code as a waffle (for whatever reason) is still more than a QR code that is a… QR code.

    Artists, unlike many other professions, has to ask themselves, “Is this working.”and be the first to say no and put it aside if that’s what they think is the thing to do. Every artist has to have a kind of self-skepticism where they heavily scrutinize their own work as they squeeze both the craft and the thought for all they can get from them. In that context I would think the commissioners should be doing the same with respect to their work. Is this board performing as the commissioners and the council had envisioned?

    It has now been 3 to 4 years for this board and they have financed designs from $10,000 to $1,000,000. I would love to hear from one or more board members as to how they think this run has been and what they think the future holds.

  7. May 31, 2011 at 9:45 am | permalink

    “Parker noted that two major websites – for the Arts Alliance and ArtServe – hadn’t posted the SOQ. Harrison said both organizations had been sent the item for posting.”

    FYI, the statement above is incorrect in regards to the Justice Center Murals SOQ. Margaret Parker contacted ArtServe on May 18, 2011 to request help in distributing the artist opportunity to our network. The posting was put up on ArtServe’s blog the same day on May 18, 2011 and can be viewed here: [link]

    The posting was also reposted on ArtServe Michigan’s Facebook fan page and also onto the organization’s twitter account. Margaret Parker was notified of the postings. ArtServe has to date received no notice or update from Ms. Parker or the City of Ann Arbor regarding the extended June deadline for this artist opportunity.

    Simón C. Perazza
    Director of Constituent Relations
    ArtServe Michigan
    1 Clover Court
    Wixom, MI 48393
    C 517.980.1839
    T 248.912.0760 x4#
    F 248.912.0768
    News & Events://
    Michigan Cultural Data Project

  8. May 31, 2011 at 11:40 am | permalink

    Lego is a good medium for QR codes, see e.g. this seen at the Brick Bash


    from mosaic artist Christopher Doyle at Reasonably Clever.

  9. By Rick Cronn
    May 31, 2011 at 11:52 am | permalink

    I want to hear how people define what “Public Art” is and what it means to Ann Arbor. As defined by the AAPAC it’s art that is chosen and placed by elites with little public input, meaning, or relationship.

    There are “artists cities” places where artists live and work and there are Arts Cities that showcase and promote art. These two are rarely the same place for many reasons mostly economics and in Ann Arbor, the arts scene is dominated by the UM to the virtual exclusion of the rest of the art community. Ann Arbor needs to figure out which one it is, art or artist, and do it as best it can. It should also keep some distance between what it sees as their public art niche and the UM dominated art scene.

    Many cities (and politicians) want to be recognized as having some sort of creative presence. To be recognized as an “arts town” Ann Arbor needs to differentiate itself from how and what other communities are doing. I see public art in Ann Arbor best represented by organizations like Festifools, even tho associated with UM. Their events are organic, interactive and seek to involve people. They’re successful because they do the event r&d that gets people out and involved. There are also other smaller struggling arts organizations, mostly young people and craft artists who struggle because of the UM and arts elites dominance. These small groups and young people is where the emphasis should be placed. This, I believe is where Ann Arbor can differentiate itself from cities like Grand Rapids. Rather than be like everyone else, Ann Arbor needs to not only be different but have a vision for the future.

    I’m an art lover, enjoy art of all kinds and make public art myself. From my point of view the AAPAC is out of touch, has an extremely limited vision and like other posters have noted, they seem a bit lost and directionless. I believe this is because the AAPAC is a top down heirarchy and was hastily thrown together with little initial public outreach and inclusion. It was all about “the fountain” and the ability to funnel public money into yet another fountain in front of yet another public building.

    And yes, a complete rewrite of the AAPAC and name change is in order.

  10. By Tom Whitaker
    June 1, 2011 at 2:45 pm | permalink

    Too often I think the discussion about public art in Ann Arbor gets off track. It’s not about whether or not people value having works of art accessible to them in public spaces (or value art MORE than police and fire protection). I think the vast majority do appreciate it, and many would donate privately towards it if asked.

    The question I hear bantered about locally is whether or not public funds should be used for this purpose, especially given the condition of government budgets at this time.

    Drilling down further, can millage funds that were approved by voters for a specific purpose be re-appropriated to another purpose without voter approval? Or, can “surplus” fee revenues collected as payment for water and sewer services rendered be re-appropriated to a purpose other than providing those services?

  11. June 3, 2011 at 9:49 am | permalink

    +1 Ed on the Lego hijack.
    +1 Tom on getting the frame right.
    +1 / -2 Simon Perazza for the insane (and possibly record-breaking) number of addresses in his .sig.

  12. June 8, 2011 at 7:48 am | permalink

    “Parker noted that two major websites – for the Arts Alliance and ArtServe – hadn’t posted the SOQ. Harrison said both organizations had been sent the item for posting.”

    The Arts Alliance prides itself on hosting a publicly accessible website, Content on is generated by the public and posting is available to all who have a free account. To that end, Margaret Parker’s statement is incorrect with regards to the Justice Center Murals SOQ.

    Additionally, The Arts Alliance was contacted by Ms. Harrison on May 13th at which time the opportunity had already been posted in our e-newsletter, “Cultural News from the the Arts Alliance.” Since, it has appeared 2 more times in that space.

    The notice was also reposted on The Arts Alliances’s Facebook Page and also onto the organization’s Twitter account. Lastly, upon notification of the deadline extension, we’ve continued to list the item in the three above-mentioned spaces.

    Justin Fenwick
    Community Outreach Manager, The Arts Alliance
    “Creating Strong Communities Through Arts and Culture”
    Twitter – @TheArtsAlliance
    Facebook – The Arts Alliance Fan Page

    202 East Huron St., Suite 202,
    Ann Arbor, MI 48104
    tel: 734.213.2733