Art Commission Plans for the Future

Also: artists recommended for mural, Justice Center public art

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (Dec. 13, 2011): Marsha Chamberlin, who chairs the city’s public art commission, began the meeting by congratulating her colleagues on the recent defeat of a city council proposal to reduce funding for the Percent for Art program, which AAPAC oversees. “What that means is a lot of work in the next year,” she added.

Aaron Seagraves

Aaron Seagraves, Ann Arbor's public art administrator, goes over some ideas for possible programs to be funded through the city's Percent for Art program. (Photos by the writer.)

Most of AAPAC’s December meeting was spent looking forward to the coming year – discussing how to develop the next annual art plan, which is due to be delivered to the city council in April. Commissioners talked about how to increase the amount of public art funded through the city’s Percent for Art, including putting in place new programs that would expedite the process. Some city councilmembers have raised concerns that few public art projects have been completed since the Percent for Art was created in 2007. The program, overseen by AAPAC, allocates 1% for public art from all of the city government’s capital projects.

So far, only two projects have been installed: (1) a tree sculpture at West Park, and (2) a large water fountain in front of city hall. Updates on several other projects were reviewed at AAPAC’s December meeting, and several days after the meeting, action was taken toward the selection of artists for two projects. A task force for a mural in Allmendinger Park is recommending Ann Arbor muralist Mary Thiefels for that work, with a $10,000 budget. And a task force that’s selecting artwork for the lobby of the Justice Center is recommending Ed Carpenter of Portland, Oregon for that $150,000 project. AAPAC is expected to get more details and vote on both recommendations at its Jan. 25 meeting.

During Dec. 13 discussion of the annual plan, it emerged that there’s been a revision to a key constraint on Percent for Art spending: The aspect of permanence. Previously, city staff had told AAPAC that because all artwork needed to be capitalized, it had to last a minimum of five years. Now, Chamberlin reported, the city’s finance department has revised its definition of “permanent” to a minimum of two years, not five. “That does change things a lot,” she observed.

One item that fits the “permanent” requirement, but posed other concerns, was a proposed donation to the city via local attorney Kurt Berggren. The work is an eight-panel set of gates called the Global Peace Gateway, originally located at a cathedral in Los Angeles. Commissioners discussed several issues related to that donation, including the cost of transporting the work to Ann Arbor and the fact that the gates contain religious iconography. Ultimately, they voted to reject the donation.

One thing that wasn’t mentioned during the meeting: Margaret Parker’s decision to leave the commission one year before her term expired. The news was revealed later in the month at a city council meeting, when mayor John Hieftje put forward a nomination for her replacement – John Kotarski. Parker, a local artist, has served on AAPAC since its inception, including three years as its chair, and was instrumental in creating the Percent for Art program.

Project Updates

During the meeting, commissioners and staff gave updates on several ongoing projects.

Project Updates: Justice Center Lobby

Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, told commissioners that a task force for selecting art in the lobby of the Justice Center would be meeting later that week and would likely pick an artist for the project. The names of three finalists had been posted on AAPAC’s website: Ed Carpenter of Portland, Oregon; Ray King of Philadelphia; and Thomas Sayre of Raleigh, N.C.

Responding to a follow-up email from The Chronicle, Seagraves said that the task force decided to recommend Carpenter for the project. Carpenter’s website describes him as an artist specializing in large-scale public installations, including architectural sculpture and infrastructure design – he has designed several bridges, for example. A total of $150,000 had been budgeted for the Justice Center piece; additional funds are available for artwork in an outdoor courtyard behind the building, facing Ann Street. The item will likely be on the agenda for AAPAC’s Jan. 25 meeting.

Project Updates: Dreiseitl Sculpture

Seagraves reported that the side panels were expected to be installed soon on the Herbert Dreiseitl sculpture in front of city hall, and the blue lights would be turned on soon. He wasn’t sure why it had taken this long for the final work to be completed. [The bronze sculpture – with a water feature and blue lights that flash in automated patterns – was officially dedicated at a public ceremony on Oct. 4. It's the first major installation paid for out of the city's Percent for Art program. The lights were turned on later in December.]

Project Updates: East Stadium Bridges

Seagraves said he’d done a walkthrough of the site earlier in the week with the project manager for the East Stadium bridges, which are being rebuilt, and they looked at possible locations for public art. Jim Kosteva, the University of Michigan’s director of community relations, will be part of the task force for this project, Seagraves said.

Project Updates: Allmendinger Mural

The finalists for the mural on pillars of the building at Allmendinger Park had submitted preliminary concepts, Seagraves said, and the task force was meeting later in the month to make a recommendation. [The finalists were (1) Robert Delgado of Los Angeles, Calif.; (2) Bethany Kalk of Moorehead, Kentucky; (3) Jefferson Nelson of Liberty Center, Ohio; and (4) Mary Thiefels of Ann Arbor. The project has a budget of $10,000.]

In a follow-up email to The Chronicle, Seagraves said that Thiefels will be recommended to AAPAC for the project. The commission is likely to vote on her selection at its Jan. 25 meeting.

Project Updates: Kingsley Rain Garden

Connie Brown has been taking the lead on a task force for artwork at the proposed Fuller Road Station. But because that project is on pause – commissioners were told last month that the entire project, which has not yet been approved by the city council, has been pushed back 6-12 months – Brown volunteered to “champion” the public art component for the Kingsley rain garden project. She said she’d work with Seagraves to form a task force for the effort.

At its Nov. 30, 2011 meeting, AAPAC had approved moving ahead on the project. The city is buying 215 and 219 W. Kingsley – land that’s located in a floodplain – and building a rain garden there.

Project Updates: Huron River Artwalk

Seagraves reported that he, Margaret Parker and Malverne Winborne had attended a meeting organized by the Huron River Watershed Council about possible art projects along the river. AAPAC has identified two locations for possible public art along the river: (1) at Gallup Park, in conjunction with planned improvements to the canoe livery; (2) at the Argo Dam canoe bypass, which is currently under construction. [.pdf of River Art Walk proposal]

The HRWC is looking at a broader art project involving multiple communities. For AAPAC’s project, Seagraves said Colin Smith – an Ann Arbor resident and chair of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners – is likely to serve on a task force for the effort, as will a member of the city’s park advisory commission.

Project Updates: Village Green

Elaine Sims asked whether there would be any public art at Village Green’s City Apartments, a residential complex planned for the corner of First and Washington. She recalled that the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority had a role in the project, but she couldn’t remember the details – nor could anyone else.

[The Ann Arbor city council finalized the sale of land to the developer Village Green at its Nov. 10, 2011 meeting. Village Green plans to build a 244-space parking deck as the first two stories of a 9-story building with 156 dwelling units, called City Apartments. The Ann Arbor DDA has pledged around $9 million of support for bonds to pay for the parking deck component of City Apartments, and the city will own that part of the project. Village Green representatives and the DDA had both discussed a possible public art component with AAPAC in 2008, but the issue hasn't been raised at AAPAC meetings since then.]

Project Updates: Street Art

Seagraves said he’d met with city staff who are involved in street repair and replacement projects, to try to get a sense of how public art might be incorporated. He plans to bring a more detailed report to AAPAC’s January 2012 meeting. As of December 2011, available Percent for Art funds from the street millage totaled $529,251.

Administrative Funding for Public Art

Margaret Parker asked whether there had been any movement toward increasing funds available for administrative support of the Percent for Art program. She has advocated for doubling the amount that’s currently set aside for the program’s administration. The position of public art administrator, currently held by Aaron Seagraves, is a part-time job. Other funds are available for project management work on specific projects, but the amount is capped at 8%. Parker would like to see the public art administrator be a full-time job, and the cap for other project management work raised to 16%.

Seagraves indicated that he hadn’t heard anything else about it, and said it’s a sensitive issue for him to pursue since it relates to his job. Parker said she doesn’t want the issue to slip through the cracks, and AAPAC needs to be kept informed about it.

Marsha Chamberlin, AAPAC’s chair, said she meets regularly with the public services area administrator – that position has been held by Sue McCormick, who recently took a job as head of the Detroit water and sewerage department. Chamberlin plans to continue meeting with the McCormick’s replacement, when that position is filled, as well as with the city administrator, Steve Powers. She said she’ll continue to pursue the issue of administrative funding.

Annual Planning

Most of AAPAC’s December meeting focused on long-range planning issues, beginning with the process of developing the commission’s annual art plan. [.pdf of annual plan for FY 2012, which was adopted earlier this year.] The discussion also looked at possible programs that AAPAC might pursue, similar to the mural program that’s now in a pilot stage.

Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, led the discussion. By ordinance, AAPAC must submit an annual public art plan by April of each year. He noted that to date, the plan has been primarily driven by location – the plan aims for geographic diversity of art installations – as well as by the city’s capital improvement plan (CIP), which outlines upcoming projects that include Percent for Art funding.

He had prepared a draft timeline for developing an annual plan, as well as three general criteria to consider when determining what to include: (1) the number of new projects, (2) estimated recommended expenditures; and (3) programs or “themes.” He said he hoped the discussion could give guidance to AAPAC’s annual plan committee, which would flesh out this input as they develop a formal recommendation. [.pdf of draft timeline and criteria]

The timeline drafted by Seagraves begins in January:

  • January: Meet with city staff regarding upcoming projects in the capital improvement plan (CIP) for FY2013.
  • February: (1) Begin public input process; (2) Request information from residents; (3) Conduct survey; and (4) Attend meetings and forums with neighborhood associations.
  • March: (1) Hold work session with the city’s park advisory commission and city council; and (2) present the plan to AAPAC.
  • April: Annual plan due – submit to city council.

Marsha Chamberlin suggested that the annual planning process be a year-long effort. If it starts in January, “you’re already too late,” she said. Seagraves agreed, but noted that they do need to start working on the next plan now, which is due in April 2012.

Marsha Chamberlin

AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin.

Commissioners talked about different ways to gather public input for the plan, such as meeting with neighborhood associations or speaking at business and civic groups like the Rotary Club or Main Street Area Association. They also discussed using an online survey and publicizing it through groups like the PTOs at local schools. Margaret Parker said she finds online surveys cold and impersonal, and suggested that instead of having it online, commissioners should attend meetings and pass out surveys to people there. When Chamberlin asked if Parker would be willing to tabulate paper copies of a survey, Parker said she would not be interested in doing that and suggested that they find a student to do it.

Tony Derezinski suggested putting information on Community Television Network, saying it’s surprising how many people watch public access TV.

The group also discussed how to approach the presentations at the park advisory commission and the city council. Derezinski, who also serves on the city council, said AAPAC should present a list of projects they’d like to do, then ask for comments “but not approval.” AAPAC has momentum right now, he said, in the wake of defeating an attempt to temporarily reduce funding from 1% to 0.5%. “We have the advantage for the time being, and we have to utilize that and strike,” he said. AAPAC needs to show that they’re doing what they said they’d do, he added, “and we can – it’s really doable.”

Annual Planning: Projects, Programs and Criteria

Seagraves asked commissioners to consider how many new projects they might want to set as a goal in the annual plan. He listed current projects in the order of expected completion, and noted that the first three would likely be finished in 2012:

  • Mural program at Allmendinger Park
  • Justice Center
  • Kingsley & First rain garden
  • Argo mill race, or Gallup Park canoe livery
  • East Stadium/State bridge and Rose White Park
  • Fuller Road Station

He also asked whether there were particular funding sources that commissioners wanted to target. He gave estimated available funding through FY2013 for the various Percent for Art sources, based on upcoming capital projects: parks ($35,200); streets ($638,300); water ($230,100); sewer ($438,700); stormwater ($33,900); solid waste ($37,000); energy ($6,400); and airport ($3,100).

Seagraves also introduced some ideas for programs that AAPAC could develop, similar to the mural program that’s now in a pilot phase. Other possibilities include artwork at crosswalks or shared-use paths, or a variety of public items that could be designed by artists: manhole covers, banners, street “furniture” (like benches or lights), fire hydrants, wayfinding signs or kiosks.

For programs, Seagraves said, some things to consider include how often would a work be commissioned, what funding source would be used, how long would these items be expected to last, and where might they be located?

Elaine Sims wanted to add “community art-making” to the list of potential programs. In other communities, artists do projects that involve large groups of people, like school children, she said. It’s a way to get more community buy-in.

Margaret Parker said the estimated $638,300 in the streets fund would be a good source for purchasing non-commissioned artwork. Sims noted that the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority has indicated a willingness to partner with the city on public art projects. Perhaps the streets fund would be a source for funding a project with AATA, she said.

Tony Derezinski suggested that the bus pullouts or bus stops along Washtenaw Avenue were an opportunity to install public art. Thematically, looking at bus stops might be a potential program, he said. From the city council’s perspective, he said, it would be helpful for AAPAC to develop collaborative relationships, like a partnership with the AATA.

With regards to partnerships, Marsha Chamberlin reported that she’d had some email exchanges with Abby Elias of the city attorney’s office regarding possible locations for art funded by the Percent for Art program. According to Elias, Chamberlin said, the AATA’s Blake Transit Center isn’t eligible because the city doesn’t own any of it. [The AATA is rebuilding the Blake Transit Center, located north of William between Fourth and Fifth avenues.]

Chamberlin said parking structures operated by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority do qualify as possible locations for Percent for Art projects, because those are owned by the city. So one criteria for selecting specific projects would be that the location must be on city-owned property, she said.

Tony Derezinski

Tony Derezinski, who serves on AAPAC and city council.

Geographic location – making sure that work is spread out in different neighborhoods – would be another criteria. After additional discussion, the criteria of visibility, funding source, and ease of implementation were also added to the list.

Chamberlin told commissioners that the overall idea is to get more public art into the community. One approach would be to pick a program – focusing on murals or sculptures, for example – and issue a request for proposals for artists. From those who apply, AAPAC could choose five artists and match them with five locations, she said. That would put more work in the pipeline.

There was some discussion about the issue of permanence. In the past, commissioners had been told by city staff that Percent for Art funds could only be used on “permanent” art installations. From the Chronicle’s coverage of AAPAC’s October 2011 meeting:

Marsha Chamberlin noted that AAPAC is challenged because the Percent for Art ordinance restricts the kinds of projects that can be done. It’s limited to projects that are permanent – which means the visual arts. That eliminates the ability to support performance arts, for example. Tony Derezinski said that people often refer to ArtPrize, an annual artist competition in Grand Rapids that draws hundreds of thousands of people to that community. Some wonder why Ann Arbor can’t do something like that event, he said: “There’s some Grand Rapids envy there, I think.”

Chamberlin noted that the meaning of permanent relates to its ability to be capitalized – it needs to last a minimum of five years, she said. [At AAPAC's July 2010 meeting, McCormick told commissioners that the city runs a depreciation schedule on each piece of art.]

By way of background, the word “permanent” is not used specifically to refer to public art in the Percent for Art ordinance, which defines public art in this way: “Public art means works of art created, purchased, produced or otherwise acquired for display in public spaces or facilities. Public art may include artistic design features incorporated into the architecture, layout, design or structural elements of the space or facility. Public art may be any creation, production, conception or design with an aesthetic purpose, including freestanding objets d’art, sculptures, murals, mosaics, ornamentation, paint or decoration schemes, use of particular structural materials for aesthetic effect, or spatial arrangement of structures.” [.pdf of Percent for Art ordinance]

At the Dec. 13 meeting, Chamberlin reported that the city’s finance department has revised its definition of “permanent” to a minimum of two years, not five. “That does change things a lot,” she observed.

Toward the end of the meeting, Seagraves offered to put together a summary of their discussion, and bring it to the January meeting for additional refinement. The group also agreed to discuss the development of a rating sheet at that meeting, to be used in assessing projects based on the criteria they’ve identified.

Commissioners also discussed modifications to a draft, outlining steps that should be taken in developing public art projects. [.pdf of project steps spreadsheet] Seagraves plans to bring an updated version of that document to the January meeting too.

Donation of Gates

Marsha Chamberlin noted that she had emailed commissioners regarding a proposed donation to the city. Typically, when AAPAC receives an offer of a donation, a task force is formed to evaluate it and make a recommendation on accepting it. Chamberlin began by asking whether there might be any circumstance in which AAPAC did not need to take that step – for example, if it were a donation that commissioners felt would grossly offend public taste.

Elaine Sims

Ann Arbor public art commissioner Elaine Sims.

In the current case, the donation was offered by local attorney Kurt Berggren for an eight-panel set of gates called the Global Peace Gateway, originally located at a cathedral in Los Angeles. They were created in 1922 by an unknown artist, Chamberlin said, and include religious iconography – specifically, several large crosses. At a minimum, it would cost an estimated $15,000 to transport the gates to Ann Arbor, she said. So the question for AAPAC is whether to create a task force to evaluate the donation before making a decision, or whether to simply make a decision without taking that step.

Margaret Parker said the gates are actually a piece of architectural detail, not a standalone work of art. “We’re not in the architectural element recycling business,” she said. Parker also noted that there’s no indication as to what the maintenance costs for the gates would be.

Wiltrud Simbuerger observed that the gates would have to be made into a piece of art, and someone would have to do that, which would result in additional expense. Tony Derezinski said the gates could be located at a gateway to the city, citing Fuller Road Station as a possibility. But he added that his initial impression was he’s doubtful about accepting the donation. It would cost the city some money, and there are unanswered questions. What additional information did they need to make it more appealing? he asked.

Chamberlin ventured that paying so much for transport isn’t the best use of city funds. Elaine Sims said she’s troubled by the crosses, while Connie Brown noted that there’s nothing like this proposed in AAPAC’s annual art plan.

Derezinski said the cumulative effect of all these concerns make it difficult to move ahead.

Outcome: Commissioners voted unanimously to turn down the donation of the Global Peace Gateway.

Parker’s Resignation

At the Ann Arbor city council’s Dec. 19, 2011 meeting, mayor John Hieftje nominated John Kotarski to replace Margaret Parker on AAPAC. Kotarski has been a media consultant who previously worked for the Mount Clemens Schools. He has attended several recent AAPAC meetings as an observer.

Parker served for several years on the commission on art in public places (CAPP), the precursor to AAPAC. She was last re-appointed to AAPAC on June 15, 2009 for a three-year term, which would have ended Dec. 31, 2012. Parker served as chair of AAPAC from the enactment of the city’s Percent for Art ordinance in 2007 until the end of 2010. Marsha Chamberlin agreed to assume responsibility as chair in April this year.

At the Dec. 13 AAPAC meeting, Parker did not mention her plans to resign.

Commissioners present: Connie Rizzolo-Brown, Marsha Chamberlin, Tony Derezinski, Margaret Parker, Wiltrud Simbuerger, Elaine Sims. Also Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator.

Absent: Cathy Gendron, Malverne Winborne, Cheryl Zuellig.

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012 at 4:30 p.m. at city hall, 301 E. Huron St. [confirm date]

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  1. By DrData
    December 30, 2011 at 3:39 pm | permalink

    I find it interesting how fiscally prudent the Arts Commission was concerning the Global Peaceway Gates. Apparently, there would be a $15,000 shipping charge and then maybe maintenance costs. Do we not think there will be maintenance costs associated with the Dreistl Fountain? In fact, there should be insurance on the fountain in case of vandalism.

    The Arts Commission is too literate as well. Are gates art? Well, maybe not, but I appreciate the fencing on the Broadway Bridge in comparison to the Huron River bridge. I could imagine these gates put to use at one of our larger parks. I do see a potential headache with the crosses, although I’m not offended by all the church-based art I see in older European cities.

  2. By Judy
    January 3, 2012 at 1:45 pm | permalink

    Re the East Stadium project: I wish they’d just put the troll back. I miss him…