Art Commission Briefed on Murals, Dreiseitl

Also, updates on Ann Arbor Percent for Art budget, other projects

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (June 22, 2011): With only four of their nine members present, the commission didn’t have a quorum for its monthly meeting – but no major votes were on the agenda, so the meeting consisted primarily of updates.

Aaron Seagraves, Marsha Chamberlin

Aaron Seagraves, the city's public arts administrator, and Marsha Chamberlin, chair of the Ann Arbor public art commission, in the entryway atrium of city hall, which is still being renovated. Mosaics by the artist Gerry Kamrowski, formerly at the entrance to city hall, will be installed on the wall behind Chamberlin. (Photo by the writer.)

One of those updates included a report that Jeff Meyers, a commissioner who has launched a public mural program, no longer wants to take the lead in that effort. The pilot program has proposed creating murals at Allmendinger Park and on a retaining wall along Huron Parkway. Because of low turnout at two recent neighborhood forums about the murals, city staff now plan to post an online survey to solicit feedback about the locations.

The commission also got updates on several other projects, including a large water sculpture by Herbert Dreiseitl that’s on track for installation in August. Large bronze plates are being cast at a firm in Warren, Michigan, and site work is continuing in front of the municipal center, where the sculpture will be located.

The commission is also seeking members for a selection committee to choose additional artwork for the lobby of the justice center – the new building at Fifth and Huron that’s adjacent to city hall. (Together, the buildings are known in some circles as the “municipal center.”) A statement of qualifications/request for proposals for the lobby art has been issued, with a deadline for responses extended until Sept. 1. The previous May 31 deadline did not yield sufficient responses for the project, which has an artist’s budget of up to $150,000.

Mural Project

AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin reported that Jeff Meyers – who did not attend Wednesday’s meeting – wants to step out of the role he’s had in championing the pilot mural program. She said he feels like the project has been stalemated – it was expected that two murals would be completed by September, and that’s not likely to happen.

The pilot program, developed by Meyers, was approved by AAPAC in November 2010, with the intent of creating at least two murals per year in the city. It has an estimated budget of $25,000 this year. Meyers formed a task force, which recommended two sites for the first murals: A building at Allmendinger Park, and a retaining wall along Huron Parkway. AAPAC approved those sites at a special meeting in March, but city staff later determined that the meeting hadn’t been properly noticed, so a second special meeting was called in April and the vote was retaken.

Then, city staff realized that AAPAC’s 2011 annual public art plan, which includes the mural program, hadn’t been officially approved by Ann Arbor city council. Though the plan was approved last year by AAPAC and forwarded to city staff, it was never placed on council’s agenda. [See Chronicle coverage: "What's Ahead for Public Mural Program?"] The council formally received the plan at its June 20 meeting, when it approved the clerk’s report of communications, of which the plan was a part.

Meanwhile, public meetings were held over the past few weeks to get feedback from residents near Allmendinger Park and Huron Parkway, but the meetings were not well-attended – five people showed up to the Allmendinger forum, and only one person came to the meeting for the Huron Parkway mural. City staff are now designing an online survey to get additional input. A statement of qualifications (SOQ) to start the artist selection process hasn’t yet been drafted.

Cheryl Zuellig called Meyers’ decision unfortunate. Elaine Sims said the original timetable had been overly ambitious. ”The world doesn’t work like that,” she said. Sims also noted that Meyers hadn’t attended the May or June AAPAC meetings, and wondered whether serving on the commission “isn’t working for him.” Chamberlin indicated that’s part of the reason for his decision. She said she hoped he’d come to AAPAC’s July meeting to give the group an update. Wiltrud Simbuerger said she hoped he’d reconsider.

In an email response to a query from The Chronicle later in the week, Meyers said he was still in discussions about possible changes, and deferred comment until an outcome is determined.

Municipal Center: Dreiseitl, Additional Art

Commissioners received a written report on the water sculpture designed by Herbert Dreiseitl. The report – prepared by Ken Clein of Quinn Evans Architects, the project manager for the municipal center construction and renovation – included photos of large bronze plates that were cast the week of June 13 at Wolverine Bronze in Warren, Michigan. Six out of 11 plates were cast, with the remaining five to be cast this week.

Bronze casting of Herbert Dreiseitl sculpture

The first bronze cast plate for a water sculpture by Herbert Dreiseitl. (Photo courtesy of Quinn Evans Architects.)

Modifications are being made to the site where the sculpture will be installed, in front of the renovated city hall and newly built justice center – together known as the municipal center. One change – removing fill dirt that had been put into a channel during construction – was not in the project’s original scope of work. Responding to an email query from The Chronicle, Clein said he didn’t yet know how much the unanticipated dirt removal would cost, but the extra cost would be absorbed in the overall budget.

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. Funding comes in part from the Percent for Art stormwater funds, because the sculpture is designed as part of the site’s stormwater management.

The sculpture is expected to be installed in August. Marsha Chamberlin said that AAPAC’s public relations committee would be working on a dedication ceremony for the piece, possibly in September. They plan to coordinate with the city’s grand opening of the entire municipal center, which hasn’t yet been scheduled.

Elaine Sims said the casting looks lovely, but she didn’t recall that it was part of the design that AAPAC had approved. [That approval took place in October 2009. See Chronicle coverage: "Dreiseitl Project Moves to City Council"]

During Wednesday’s meeting, Aaron Seagraves – the city’s new public arts administrator – reported that the statement of qualifications/request for proposals has been reposted for art in the justice center lobby. [.pdf of justice center art SOQ/RFP] From that document:

As visitors and staff enter the lobby of the AAJC, they will pass through a security check point and into the large open lobby area. A blue glass wall spans the length of the entire right side of the lobby area and floor to ceiling windows are on the remaining three walls. The artwork will be located in the southwest corner of the lobby. This corner currently has a public seating bench with a carpeted floor area underneath. Public traffic for the AAJC will be for the 15th District Court, Probation Office and Police Services.

Specific attention needs to be given to the type of piece that can sustain a high traffic volume. This artwork should be a ceiling mounted or suspended piece that will be visible and make an impression looking in from both North Fifth Avenue and Huron Street (southwest corner) during the day and at night with either incorporated or reflected lighting. The artwork should complement the building and surrounding site environment. The artwork should speak to the public purposes of the building, which include public safety, justice, equality and security.

The project has an artist’s budget of up to $150,000 – the deadline for responses to the SOQ/RFP is Sept. 1. A total of $250,000 had been budgeted for that piece, plus additional artwork in an outdoor courtyard behind the municipal center, facing Ann Street.

Sims reported that the municipal center public art task force had met and agreed that they would also serve as the selection committee for art in the lobby of the justice center (also known as the police/courts building) at Fifth and Huron, as well as for art in the outdoor courtyard. However, they’ll also be adding additional people to the selection committee, she said. Individuals have been suggested, and Seagraves is contacting them.

Cheryl Zuellig asked whether they’d be getting a “Joe Resident” to serve on the selection committee. When Sims indicated that Ray Detter fit that description, there was general laughter, and a consensus that he wasn’t an average resident. [Among other things, Detter chairs the city's downtown area citizens advisory council.] Sims noted that Detter does live downtown, as does another task force member, Doug Kelbaugh. [Kelbaugh is former dean of the University of Michigan College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and is currently proposing his services to help the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority with a downtown planning project.]

The person doesn’t have to be a resident, Zuellig said. She had in mind someone who might have cause to use the municipal center – to pay a parking ticket, for example – or someone who worked in the area. The same kind of person is needed for the mural committee, she said. Especially for the Huron Parkway project, nearby residents aren’t necessarily the ones who’ll be most affected – there are many others who drive by that location every day on their way to and from work, she said.

Sims suggested soliciting volunteers on AAPAC’s website, or having a sign-up at the July 18 Townie Party. At that, Zuellig cautioned that they need to think it through – will they select anyone who signs up? Be careful what you wish for, she said. Marsha Chamberlin said they might want to ask people who work at downtown businesses. She noted that Bank of Ann Arbor, for example, has an office just a block away from the municipal center – some of those employees might be interested.

Other Projects: East Stadium Bridges, Townie Party

Several brief updates were given during the meeting from members of the projects, public relations and planning committees.

Other Projects: East Stadium Bridges

Cheryl Zuellig reported that she and Wiltrud Simbuerger had discussed how to move forward on the public art component for the E. Stadium Boulevard bridges construction. They plan to meet with city engineer Michael Nearing to find out about the project’s schedule, and to get more details about funding. [Under the city's Percent for Art program, 1% of any capital project is set aside for public art, with a cap of $250,000. Given the multi-million budget for the East Stadium bridges project, it's likely that the full $250,000 will be available for public art.]

Zuellig said they hope to have enough information by August so that the planning committee can evaluate it and decide whether to move forward.

Other Projects: Townie Party

Commissioners continued a discussion that they’d had at their May meeting about plans for 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.

AAPAC will have a table at the Townie Party, and Marsha Chamberlin gave an update from the public relations committee, which is organizing activities and handouts for the event. They’re hoping to have some kind of interactive element, she said. One idea is to take digital photos of people who stop by, and use a software program to insert people’s faces into works of famous art, like the Mona Lisa. Those photos would then be posted on AAPAC’s Facebook page. They’ll also be distributing buttons and bumper stickers promoting public art.

Elaine Sim noted that last year, AAPAC’s table was located next to the University Musical Society, which Sims said had great giveaways. AAPAC needs something to really grab people’s attention, she said.

Cheryl Zuellig urged them to think big. They’re all about public art, she said, so they should have the most visual, thought-provoking presence. If they simply hand out brochures, they’re missing an opportunity. If they’re going to have handouts, she suggested perhaps having performing artists circulate in the crowd to pass out information. Chamberlin said they are somewhat constrained by the event’s organizers.

Commissioners discussed other possibilities, such as having a large screen at the table to display images of the digitally transformed faces-into-artwork images. The public relations committee will continue to take the lead on planning for the event.

Other Projects: Golden Paintbrush Awards

Chamberlin gave a brief update on the annual Golden Paintbrush awards, which honor local contributions to public art. Seven or eight nominations were received, she said, and commissioners will be voting using an online interface. [No additional information was provided on the nominations at Wednesday's meeting.] Winners will be recognized at an upcoming city council meeting.

Administrator’s Update, Percent for Art Budget

Aaron Seagraves attended his first AAPAC meeting last month, but has now settled in to his part-time job as the city’s new public art administrator and gave his first report to the commission on Wednesday.

He presented a budget summary for the Percent for Art program, showing that the program has an estimated $969,219.73 available for new projects in FY 2012, which begins July 1, 2011. [.pdf of Percent for Art budget summary] Commissioners praised the summary as being more readable than previous reports, but they raised some questions, too. For example, the summary lists $240,000 as an estimate for public art at the proposed Fuller Road Station, to be taken out of existing funds that have accumulated in the public art program. However, commissioners indicated that the public art for Fuller Road Station would be funded from public art money that Fuller Road Station generates itself, which would be an additional $250,000 (assuming the project – a large parking structure, bus depot and possible train station – is given final approval by city council).

They also had questions about the amount budgeted for remaining administrative costs – $72,355.15. Elaine Sims suspected that the amount represented the admin budget for two years. Seagraves said he’d check on it and report back.

Seagraves also noted that the city council had formally received AAPAC’s annual art plan earlier this month. [.pdf of FY 2012 art plan] He reminded commissioners that AAPAC’s annual report is due by the end of August – per the city’s ordinance, it’s due 60 days after the end of the fiscal year, which falls on June 30. [.pdf of last year's annual report]

The group discussed the difference between the annual art plan and the annual report, as defined in the Percent for Art ordinance. [.pdf of Percent for Art ordinance]

From the ordinance:

1:837. Oversight Body.
(1) The oversight body shall be the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission as established by section 1:238 of chapter 8.
(2) The oversight body shall:

(G) Present an annual report to city council within sixty (60) days after the end of each fiscal year containing:
(i) A report on the status of all public art incorporated into or funded by capital improvement projects in progress or completed during the preceding fiscal year;
(ii) A maintenance report on each work of public art presently under city management detailing maintenance costs for the preceding fiscal year, anticipated maintenance costs for the next fiscal year, and any significant future maintenance concerns, including prioritized recommendations for the maintenance, repair or renovation of particular works;
(iii) A review of the city’s public art with regard to the purposes stated in this chapter;
(iv) A report on the oversight body’s efforts to promote awareness of public art;
(v) A report on donations of art and where such art was placed;
(vi) A report on additional funds raised and how such funds were used; and
(vii) Any other matter of substantial financial or public importance relating to the public art in the city.

Commissioners discussed how to draft the document. Chamberlin said she thought it should include a tribute to Margaret Parker for her years of service. [Parker, who didn't attend Wednesday's meeting, was a driving force behind the creation of the Percent for Art ordinance, and served as chair of the commission before stepping down from that post at the end of 2010.]

Commissioners present: Marsha Chamberlin, Wiltrud Simbuerger, Elaine Sims, Cheryl Zuellig. Also Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public arts administrator.

Absent: Connie Brown, Cathy Gendron, Margaret Parker, Jeff Meyers, Malverne Winborne.

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, July 27 at 4:30 p.m., in the fourth floor 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 John Dory
    June 25, 2011 at 12:57 pm | permalink

    The Dreiseitl Project contnues to amaze me as a great waste of taxpayer monies.

  2. By Alan Goldsmith
    June 26, 2011 at 7:01 am | permalink

    “The person doesn’t have to be a resident, Zuellig said. She had in mind someone who might have cause to use the municipal center – to pay a parking ticket, for example – or someone who worked in the area.”

    Oh perhaps a tax payer who just saw the increase approved in the City water bill? That would be a novel idea.

  3. By Duane Collicott
    June 28, 2011 at 2:45 pm | permalink

    One would think that for the outrageous amount of money Dreiseitl is getting paid that he would build it himself. If you want to be paid to do bronze sculptures, shouldn’t you also be a bronzesmith?

  4. By Rick Cronn
    June 28, 2011 at 5:58 pm | permalink

    Is it safe to assume that if people don’t show up for public info meetings on public art projects that there isn’t a lot of interest and the AAPAC should devote their energy and money on projects that get more interest?

    Or is the AAPAC out of touch with what people desire as public art?

    Will the AAPAC continue it’s mural program, which is not a very original idea, or seek other voices and novel ideas?

  5. By Tom Whitaker
    June 29, 2011 at 11:31 am | permalink

    To me, urban murals are installed to enhance a particular location that is plain, unattractive, or even blighted–like the ones on the Ann Arbor Railroad underpasses. They shouldn’t be applied to a wall, simply because the wall exists and some local committee has taxpayer/ratepayer money to spend at will.

    The retaining walls along Huron Parkway are made of concrete, rusted steel and block. While this may sound plain and unattractive, in reality, these materials are well-suited to the natural surroundings and blend in well. There are shrubs planted along the tops that have grown and started to hang down over the walls, which further softens and “naturalizes” them. As is stands, hundreds of people drive by each day and probably don’t even notice these walls. They certainly don’t stick out and distract drivers like they would if they were painted.

    I personally don’t think the Percent for Art program is legally constructed, and I especially don’t like the way AAPAC has managed taxpayer/ratepayer money that should have remained dedicated to streets, parks, and water and sewer costs. Having said that, if they insist on decorating the retaining walls along Huron Parkway, I hope they’ll at least consider using something other than paint, like etching a subtle design into the concrete with a sandblaster.

    But if they’re really that desperate for art projects to do, how about decorating the fire stations with living statues? You know, those performance artists formerly known as fire-fighters?

  6. By J
    June 29, 2011 at 11:59 am | permalink

    AAPAC might want to avoid future references to “Joe Resident”, at least on the record. We plebeian scum tend not to appreciate that.

  7. By Alan Goldsmith
    July 2, 2011 at 3:53 pm | permalink

    Why stop the silly and condescending attitude now that’s been the trademark of this group for the last several years, especially when they starting having suitcases full of Per Cent For Ann cash to burn? After all, AAPAC really really wants to know what White Bread Joe Six Pack wants.

  8. By Stephen Reading
    July 6, 2011 at 9:24 am | permalink

    I am quite disgusted that the city is spending so much money on art, when other more pressing needs exist – fixing streets, sidewalks, maintaining city plantings (run-down plantings on island corner of Washtenaw and Stadium).

    The mural project is an example of searching for a solution to a problem that does not exist. The wall along side Huron Parkway is already very expensive and quite beautiful. A mural will only be expensive, fade over time, will not appeal to some and is expensive.

    What is the agenda here? Next the city will want to paint mural on the new $1.5 million new sidewalk along Washtenaw which in itself seems a total waste of money because it parallels an identical sidewalk across the street.