After Resignation, Who Leads Mural Program?

Also: Briefing on Dreiseitl, Golden Paintbrush awards

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (July 27, 2011): For the second month in a row, Ann Arbor’s public art commission had too few members to achieve a quorum and didn’t take any action at Wednesday’s meeting.  But commissioners discussed a range of projects already underway.

Mock-up section of Dreiseitl water sculpture

A mock-up section of the sculpture by Herbert Dreiseitl that's commissioned for the entrance to the Ann Arbor municipal center. The piece is made of bronze, with blue glass lights embedded. In this photo, water is flowing over the section, as it will when installed. (Photo courtesy of Quinn Evans Architects)

One issue: How to proceed with recommending a replacement for Jeff Meyers, who resigned from AAPAC in June, mid-way through his three-year term. The main concern among commissioners is who can take over leadership of a new mural program that Meyers had initiated. Margaret Parker indicated she’ll also be leaving the commission in the coming months, creating another vacancy on the nine-member commission.

The mayor, John Hieftje, is responsible for making nominations to AAPAC. Those nominations also require confirmation by the full city council. On Wednesday, AAPAC commissioners discussed the need for better communication with Hieftje, and said they hoped to find out what criteria he was using to make the selection – the most recent appointment Hieftje made to AAPAC was done without their input, after he rejected someone they’d recruited. Communication has also been lacking regarding Meyers’ resignation – in a phone interview with The Chronicle following AAPAC’s July meeting, Meyers said the mayor hasn’t acknowledged his resignation.

In other topics at Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners briefly discussed a written update they’d received about the Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture being built for the entrance to the municipal center. Installation is still on track for next month.

Also in August – at city council’s Aug. 4 meeting – winners of the annual Golden Paintbrush awards will be honored. AAPAC selected the winners, who are recognized for their contributions to public art, via an online poll last month. This year, winners are: (1) Krazy Jim’s Blimpie Burger, for the Snow Bears sculptures they build each winter in front of their business at Packard and South Division; (2) Mary Thiefels and Treetown Murals for the mural outside the Alley Bar along West Liberty; and (3) Peter Allen & Associates, for rock sculptures on North Main Street.

Commissioner Resignation, Mural Program

Jeff Meyers, who was appointed to a three-year term on the Ann Arbor public art commission in early 2010, sent a formal notice of resignation to mayor John Hieftje in June. The news was discussed at the July 27, 2011 AAPAC meeting, as commissioners considered who might take over leadership of a task force for a new mural program that Meyers had initiated.

His resignation was foreshadowed at AAPAC’s June 2011 meeting, which he did not attend. AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin had told other commissioners that Meyers wanted to relinquish his leadership of the mural program – she said he felt like the project had stalled. That announcement prompted some commissioners to speculate on whether Meyers was still interested in serving on AAPAC, noting that he hadn’t attended a meeting since April. [The May AAPAC meeting coincided with a public forum for the mural project, which Meyers did attend.]

At previous meetings, Meyers – managing editor of the online magazines Concentrate and MetroMode – had expressed frustration about the mural program’s progress. He developed it as a way to generate more public art in the community, and to set up a process by which similar programs could be modeled. Funded by the city’s Percent for Art program, which AAPAC guides, the mural program was unanimously 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 determined 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. [The language in AAPAC's bylaws indicate that a plan must be submitted to council, but does not state that the plan requires council approval. For additional background, see Chronicle coverage:  "What's Ahead for Public Mural Program?"] The council formally received the plan at its June 20, 2011 meeting, when it approved the clerk’s report of communications, of which the plan was a part.

City staff also determined that neighborhood meetings were needed to get input on the sites – those meetings were held earlier this summer. But the city has not yet solicited proposals from artists for the murals, and it’s doubtful that the murals will be completed before winter arrives. Meyers had originally hoped to have both murals finished by September.

Commissioner Resignation, Mural Program – Communication

The mayor is responsible for making nominations to the nine-member public art commission. Those nominations also require confirmation by the full city council.

At Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners discussed the need to communicate with Hieftje about possible nominations. Cheryl Zuellig noted that AAPAC had spun its wheels during the last nomination process – it seemed that the commission and Hieftje moved along different, parallel tracks. The commission didn’t know what Hietje was looking for, and AAPAC members had invested a lot of time into recruiting.

[This issue has been discussed at length at previous AAPAC meetings. Last year, AAPAC members had recruited Lee Doyle, a member of the UM President’s Advisory Committee for Public Art who also oversees the UM Film Office. But Hieftje subsequently conveyed that he wanted to appoint someone who resides in Ann Arbor – Doyle lives outside the city. That prompted a long discussion at AAPAC's September 2010 meeting, as commissioners speculated on how to improve the recommendation process for new commissioners. In October 2010, Hieftje nominated Malverne Winborne – an Ann Arbor resident and director of Eastern Michigan University’s Charter Schools Office – without consulting or informing AAPAC about his choice in advance. Winborne is now AAPAC's vice chair.]

On Wednesday, Margaret Parker noted that the Percent for Art ordinance doesn’t stipulate that AAPAC commissioners live in Ann Arbor, but Hieftje had felt it was important. Zuellig indicated that the main issue is for AAPAC to understand what Hieftje’s criteria are, so that AAPAC can make recommendations that are appropriate. [Most AAPAC commissioners live in Ann Arbor. Zuellig lives in Ypsilanti. The issue of her residency was raised by councilmember Marcia Higgins when Zuellig was nominated to AAPAC in late 2008.]

Winborne asked whether AAPAC had any written criteria itself. Parker indicated that she had some documentation, which she said she’d “resurrect.” Commissioners discussed the importance of centralizing these kinds of documents – that’s a project that Aaron Seagraves, the city’s art administrator, will take on.

Commissioner Resignation, Mural Program – Comments from Meyers

In a phone interview with The Chronicle following AAPAC’s July meeting, Meyers said he’d reached a point where he couldn’t justify the time he’d been investing in the mural program and AAPAC, given his job, family and other commitments. Noting that he’d started developing the program nearly a year ago, he said at nearly every turn he encountered seemingly arbitrary requirements, incomplete or contradictory information, and new layers of requirements identified by city staff.

Meyers said he’s passionate about the city’s Percent for Art program and public art in general. But since the Percent for Art program was started in 2007, only one piece – a sculpture at West Park – has been completed, he noted. [Another project – the Herbert Dreiseitl sculpture at the city's new municipal center – is set to be installed in August.] There’s not yet a systematic process in place for moving projects forward, he said, and no clarity from staff or the city council about AAPAC’s role.

One way to improve the situation is for a city council representative to be appointed to AAPAC, Meyers suggested – it seems especially appropriate since AAPAC makes recommendations for the Percent for Art budget. There’s a disconnect when the taxicab commission has a council representative, but AAPAC does not, Meyers said. Having input from city council would help AAPAC understand what councilmembers want from the program. Does the council want AAPAC to initiate projects, or simply facilitate projects that the city identifies? These are the kinds of decisions that should have been made long ago, Meyers said.

Meyers said he plans to produce a written report or attend a future AAPAC meeting to make some recommendations for improving the Percent for Art program. He didn’t attend the July meeting because the status of his resignation was unclear – he said he’s gotten “zero response” from the mayor to his letter of resignation. [Update: On Aug. 1, Hieftje forwarded to The Chronicle a copy of a July 5 email he says he sent to Meyers in response to Meyers' June 21 resignation email. Meyers told The Chronicle he has no record of Hieftje's email. .pdf of emails from Meyers and Hieftje]

Commissioner Resignation, Mural Program – Next Steps

At AAPAC’s July 27 meeting, Parker recommended a next step related to leadership of the mural task force. She suggested that Seagraves contact Wiltrud Simbuerger, a commissioner who serves on the task force but who did not attend Wednesday’s meeting. Parker felt Simbuerger would be interested in championing that program.

Commissioners also discussed the general status of the program. Public meetings held for neighbors of the two proposed sites – at Allmendinger Park and along Huron Parkway, near Huron Hills golf course – were one reason the original timeline had been pushed back. Parker indicated that this was the first time that public meetings had been held prior to the start of a public art project, so it was “breaking new ground.”

Zuellig clarified that there hadn’t been public meetings prior to the city’s commissioning of the Dreiseitl sculpture. No, Parker said, there was a public presentation, but that occurred after Dreiseitl had been chosen to do the work. Parker said the mural project was also the first time that an online survey had been used by the city to get feedback on a public art project. Because parks are involved, the city has a whole process of public input, she said.

Zuellig suggested that commissioners consider whether they should use this same process for all future projects. It seemed to her that the reason these public meetings had been added was because there was negative feedback about the mural program. Parker said that wasn’t her understanding – she thought Meyers had asked to get input from neighbors.

[Public meetings with neighbors had been scheduled at the request of city parks staff, because the murals were being planned for locations at or near city parks. The issue of negative feedback was raised later, and was discussed at AAPAC's April 27, 2011 meeting. From Chronicle coverage:]

Venita Harrison – a management assistant who works for Sue McCormick, the city’s public services administrator, and who currently serves as support staff to AAPAC – mentioned that there might be a problem with the mural program. The city council had never officially approved the 2011 public art plan, she said – until that happened, her understanding was that the project couldn’t move forward.

She said the process of getting city council approval likely fell through the cracks during the transition last year, after former public art administrator Katherine Talcott stepped down from that role. More recently, a councilmember had read media reports about the mural program and raised questions about who had authorized it, Harrison said. They tried to find a record of when the city council had approved the 2011 annual plan – which included the mural program – but the plan didn’t turn up in records of council proceedings.

On Wednesday, Zuellig noted that although the public meetings might have been reactionary, if the feedback was valuable, then AAPAC should consider scheduling similar meetings in a proactive way. She cautioned that AAPAC needs to be mindful about reaching out to a broad group, noting that people often tend to show up to meetings if they don’t like something.

Parker suggested that instead of selecting sites and then seeking neighborhood support, one approach would be to find community or neighborhood groups who are eager to have a public art project in their area.

Parker also asked about the results of online surveys for the two mural sites. Seagraves reported that response had been low – only about 4-5 surveys had been completed for each location. From that small sample, the responses for Allmendinger were supportive, he said, but all responses for the location along Huron Parkway were against it.

Dreiseitl Sculpture, Justice Center Art

As they had last month, commissioners received a written report on the water sculpture designed by Herbert Dreiseitl, which the city commissioned for the outside entrance to the municipal center at Fifth and Huron. The report was prepared by Ken Clein of Quinn Evans Architects, project manager for the municipal center construction and renovation. [.pdf of July 2011 Dreiseitl report]

Wood mock-up of Herbert Dreiseitl sculpture

A wooden mock-up of the base for the Herbert Dreiseitl sculpture being built in front of the municipal center at Fifth and Huron, facing Huron. Installation of the sculpture is expected to occur in August. (Photo courtesy of Quinn Evans Architects.)

Malverne Winborne asked when a formal dedication was being planned. Aaron Seagraves, the city’s art administrator, wasn’t certain, but said that it would likely be part of an overall dedication of the municipal center.

Margaret Parker said AAPAC should be involved in planning the dedication, adding that she keeps bringing it up monthly because no one seems to be acting on it. [At AAPAC's June meeting, Marsha Chamberlin – the commission's chair who also serves on the public relations committee – said the PR committee would be working on a dedication ceremony for the Dreiseitl sculpture. Parker did not attend that meeting.]

Seagraves reported that the sculpture would be a stop on this year’s ArtWalk, which will take place Oct. 21-23. Funds from the Dreiseitl project are being used to pay for an ArtWalk sponsorship, he said. [Last year, the city council approved a budget of $737,820 for the sculpture. 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. An ArtWalk sponsorship is about $350, according to Seagraves.]

The PR committee will handle sign-ups for volunteers to be present at the sculpture during the ArtWalk hours, Seagraves said, and to provide information about the sculpture and the city’s Percent for Art program.

Also related to art at the municipal center, Seagraves said the statement of qualifications/request for proposals was reissued in June for art in the police/courts building lobby, which along with city hall is part of the municipal center. [.pdf of justice center art SOQ/RFP] 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.

Updates from Art Administrator

Aaron Seagraves gave several updates and communications during Wednesday’s meeting.

Updates: Meeting with the Mayor

Seagraves reported that he and AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin had met with mayor John Hieftje to give an update on AAPAC’s work and to get the mayor’s ideas about the public art program. They also toured the site of the Dreiseitl installation. In general, Hieftje encouraged AAPAC to do more projects, Seagraves said. When asked by commissioners for specific ideas that Hieftje had mentioned, Seagraves cited the River Art Trail around Argo Pond, which is in AAPAC’s annual art plan for FY2012. He added that he hadn’t brought his notes from that meeting and didn’t remember all of Hieftje’s comments.

Margaret Parker urged Seagraves to communicate more details of the meeting, saying that the mayor is one of the people that AAPAC needs to hear from.

Updates: Art Inventory

CultureNOW, which runs a project called Museums Without Walls, contacted the city about being included in a national online inventory of public art projects. Seagraves said he knows that the city had done an inventory and has a database of public art, but he hasn’t been able to access it yet – he’s working with IT staff to find where it’s located within the city’s computer system.

There was some question among commissioners about whether AAPAC has the authority to make a decision to join this national network. However, they agreed that they couldn’t make a formal recommendation at that meeting, since they did not have a quorum of members. Seagraves said he’d get more information about the project and put a resolution of recommendation on the August AAPAC agenda.

Parker cautioned that Seagraves should find out how much time would be involved in participating, before making a commitment. She also pointed out that the University of Michigan has an extensive online inventory of its public art collection, and that it would be good to have the university participate as well – that would more than double the amount of public art that would be inventoried for Ann Arbor, she said.

Updates: Mural for Avalon Housing

The nonprofit Avalon Housing, which provides affordable housing to low-income residents, recently contacted the city, Seagraves said. The nonprofit is interested in having AAPAC help oversee a mural project for some of Avalon’s properties. Although the properties aren’t owned by the city, he noted, Avalon is supported by public funding, including money from the city’s housing trust fund, the federal HOME program, and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

Seagraves said he’s asked the city attorney’s office for advice about how to handle a project like this. The project would likely use donations, and the murals would be on private property.

Updates: Open Meetings Act

At a previous meeting, commissioners had raised a question about whether their committee meetings needed to conform to the state’s Open Meetings Act. On Wednesday, Seagraves highlighted two relevant resolutions passed by city council:

City Resolution, passed November 1991:  “All city boards, task forces, commissions, committees and their subcommittees hold their meetings open to the public to the best of their abilities in the spirit of Section 3 of the Open Meetings Act.”

City Resolution, passed December 2000: “… all City committees commissions and authorities, when required to meet in open session, hold all of their meetings in a public building.”

Those resolutions indicate that committee meetings need to be held in a public building, he said, like city hall or the library, and not at a private business. [By way of background, until mid-2009, AAPAC held its regular monthly meetings at the conference room of JJR – a landscape architecture and urban design firm where Zuellig works – until concerns about public accessibility prompted them to move to the seventh floor of the City Center building at Fifth and Huron. The city rented office space there while renovations were underway at city hall. AAPAC now meets back at city hall.]

Updates: Budget

Seagraves briefly reviewed the current Percent for Art budget. The balance at the end of fiscal 2011, which ended June 30, stood at $1.57 million.

Ann Arbor Percent for Art budget

Ann Arbor Percent for Art budget. (Links to larger image)

Seagraves noted that the balance doesn’t reflect funding that’s anticipated to be used for the mural project or the proposed Fuller Road Station. [A task force has been formed to look at public art for the Fuller Road Station, although that project – a joint city of Ann Arbor/University of Michigan parking structure, bus depot and possible train station – hasn't been officially approved by city council.]

At the start of FY 2012 – on July 1, 2011 – $292,216 in additional revenues became available for the Percent for Art program. That includes funds from the street millage ($133,772), the parks millage ($11,714), the solid waste fund ($3,910), the water fund ($40,397), the sewer fund ($89,543) and the stormwater fund ($12,880).

The Percent for Art program, established in 2007 by a city council resolution, captures 1% from the budget of all city capital projects, to be set aside for public art. That amount is capped at $250,000 per project. The ordinance stipulates that each public art project must relate to the source of funding – for example, public art funded from the street millage must be located near a street or have a transportation theme. [link to the Ann Arbor city code – click on Chapter 24: Public Art, which lays out the responsibilities of AAPAC.]

Updates: Annual Plan

Seagraves wanted to touch base with commissioners about the 2012 annual art plan. Though most projects that are listed in the plan identify a commissioner who will take the lead on those efforts, he said some projects didn’t yet indicate which commissioner would take that role.

Commissioners clarified that he had been looking at a draft – the final plan did assign commissioners to each project. [.pdf of 2012 annual public art art plan] However, Jeff Meyers had taken the lead on two projects: (1) the mural program, and (2) a possible public art project coordinated with painting of the Manchester Road elevated water tank, which is scheduled to occur in FY2013. Because Meyers resigned from AAPAC last month, other commissioners will need to take on those projects.

Cheryl Zuellig said it was helpful for commissioners to review the status of projects in the annual plan, and asked that Seagraves continue to do that in future meetings.

Committee Reports: PR, Projects

Every AAPAC meeting includes reports from three committees: public relations, planning and projects. The planning committee did not meet during the last month, and had no report.

Committee Reports: PR – Golden Paintbrush

No members of the public relations committee attended Wednesday’s meeting, but a written report announced the results of the annual Golden Paintbrush awards.

Rock cairn near North Main in Ann Arbor

From a Chronicle file photo taken in January 2011: One of several rock cairns on the east side of North Main Street in Ann Arbor, near property owned by developer Peter Allen.

Since their last meeting, commissioners had voted online and selected three winners: (1) Krazy Jim’s Blimpie Burger, for the Snow Bears sculptures they build each winter in front of their business at Packard and South Division, (2) Mary Thiefels and Treetown Murals for the mural outside the Alley Bar along West Liberty, and (3) Peter Allen & Associates, for rock sculptures on the developer’s North Main Street property. [Peter Allen had attended AAPAC's January 2011 meeting to propose a sculpture park in the Argo Pond area, funded through the city's Percent for Art program. There's been no action on that proposal; however, a River Art Trail – which would include Argo and Gallup parks – is listed as a potential project in the 2012 annual art plan.]

Margaret Parker wanted to know when the awards would be presented to city council. Aaron Seagraves, the city’s art administrator, thought it would be on the council’s Aug. 4 agenda. [Golden Paintbrush awards are, in fact, included on the city council's Aug. 4 agenda.]

Parker expressed concern about whether the logistics of the presentation were being handled. It’s the responsibility of the public relations committee. Parker said the Golden Paintbrush presentation to council is one of the best ways to highlight public art. [These art projects aren't funded by the city's Percent for Art program, nor did AAPAC have any input into the projects. They are "public art" in that they are located in venues visible to the public – but on private property.]

Other commissioners indicated they were confident that the public relations committee, which has handled the presentation in the past, would be prepared for it this year, too.

Committee Reports: Projects – Sun Dragon

Connie Brown reported that the city has received estimates from an engineer and fabricator for repair of the Sun Dragon, a sculpture by Margaret Parker made of colored plexiglas that’s attached to a beam holding Fuller Pool’s solar-heated shower. It was damaged in the spring of 2010 by workers who were repairing a beam that supported the piece. Since then it’s been the topic of discussion at several AAPAC meetings, including a lengthy one at the March 2011 meeting. At that meeting, commissioners ultimately voted 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.

Brown said the estimates have been forwarded to Sue McCormick, the city’s public services area administrator, for her review. Brown hoped to bring a recommendation to AAPAC at its August meeting.

Private Donation for Public Art

Neel Hajra, chief operating officer for the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF), recently contacted the city about making an $8,000 donation toward public art from the Richard T. Whitaker foundation, which AAACF manages. Aaron Seagraves, the city’s art administrator, told commissioners on Wednesday that Hajra was looking for suggestions for what might be a good fit for the foundation to support. Seagraves and Marsha Chamberlin, the art commission’s chair, had suggested the public mural program.

The community foundation would like to set up a sub-fund for this donation within the existing AAPAC endowment fund that’s housed with the community foundation.

Commissioners raised several questions and concerns. Margaret Parker noted that the city can only use interest on the principal of the existing endowment fund – would the same be true for the proposed donation? If so, interest on $8,000 isn’t much, she noted. The existing endowment can also only be used for maintenance. In addition, other funds have been set up with the AAACF in the past for specific art projects – these were made by donors before the city instituted its Percent for Art program in 2007, Parker said. Even though those projects are completed, some money remains in those funds – “dribs and drabs,” Parker said. Parker added that the city needs to revisit whether that money can be pooled and spent on other projects.

Donations can be given directly to the city, Parker said. Seagraves reported that he had talked with Abigail Elias of the city attorney’s office, who told him that any donations would need to be approved by city council and would be added to the general fund.

Parker suggested the best way to handle donations would be to set up a public art fund and teach people to give to that, rather than give donations dedicated to a specific project. It’s better to let AAPAC decide how to use the donations, she said. Cheryl Zuellig countered that a lot of people want to know how their money will be spent. The city needs to make it as easy as possible to accept donations – AAPAC should make it a priority to figure out a process, and not to make it overly complicated, she said.

Malverne Winborne agreed: “Let’s find a way to streamline this process.”

Seagraves said he’d get additional information from Hajra about how the sub-fund might be structured, and would get guidance from Sue McCormick – the city’s public services area administrator, who oversees the Percent for Art program – about other issues raised by commissioners.

Communications, Public Commentary

Malverne Winborne, who chaired the meeting in the absence of Marsha Chamberlin, reported that Ann Arbor had been listed No. 6 in American Style magazine’s top 25 ranking of mid-sized cities for art. The magazine’s top five art destinations are St. Petersburg, Fla.; Savannah, Ga.; New Orleans, La.; Charleston, S.C., and Scottsdale, Ariz.

Bob Miller attended Wednesday’s meeting, after talking with some of the commissioners at the July 18 pre-art fair Townie Party, where AAPAC had an information table. During the time available for public commentary, Miller told commissioners that he was interested in learning more about the group. He has a degree from the Art Institute of Chicago, has worked in ceramic sculpture and photography, and is also a builder and realtor. He confirmed for commissioners that he lives in Ann Arbor – they joked that this could make him eligible to serve on the commission, and said they were glad he’s interested in getting involved.

Commissioners present: Connie Brown, Margaret Parker, Malverne Winborne, Cheryl Zuellig. Also Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator.

Absent: Marsha Chamberlin, Cathy Gendron, Wiltrud Simbuerger, Elaine Sims.

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, Aug. 24 at 4:30 p.m., in the sixth floor conference room at city hall, 301 E. Huron St. [confirm date]

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One Comment

  1. By cosmonıcan
    July 31, 2011 at 3:16 pm | permalink

    Since AAPAC has a dearth of ideas for specific projects, I will suggest one:

    In the time honored tradition of commemorating important citizens of the past, I would suggest a plaque or statue in the Kerrytown/Kingsley/Detroit Street area remembering Travis and Dee Cash, founders of the Treasure Mart and The Tree, and prolific doers of good deeds both in-town and out.

    That commercial district would not exist if it were not for them, and the town would be a more leaden place.