Shaping Ann Arbor’s Public Art Landscape

Art commission retreat focuses on master plan for public art

Ann Arbor public art commission retreat (Feb. 26, 2012): At a four-hour retreat on Sunday, the nine-member public art commission began developing a master plan to guide the allocation of Ann Arbor’s Percent for Art funds and the selection of future public art projects.

Wiltrud Simbuerger, Aaron Seagraves, Bob Miller

Ann Arbor's public art administrator, Aaron Seagraves (center) talks with public art commissioners Wiltrud Simbuerger and Bob Miller at the commission's Feb. 26, 2012 retreat. The four-hour session was held at the NEW Center on North Main. (Photos by the writer.)

The Percent for Art program, overseen by AAPAC, allocates 1% for public art from all of the city government’s capital projects. The program faced potential cuts by the city council last year, though a majority of councilmembers ultimately voted against decreased funding. There’s also been criticism that the commission, which was formed in 2008, has been too slow in funding works of art. The commission itself has seen recent turnover, with three new commissioners appointed since late 2011.

It’s in this context that AAPAC decided to work on a master plan – the retreat was a step toward that goal, though it’s expected to take several more months to complete. Meanwhile, the commission is also preparing an annual plan to approve at its next meeting, on March 28, with a list of specific projects it intends to pursue in the coming fiscal year. The public art ordinance requires that the annual plan be submitted to the city council by April 1.

Sunday’s retreat covered a broad range of topics. Commissioners discussed the need to address all aspects of their mission, as spelled out in the ordinance – including education, outreach and promotion of public art. John Kotarski, one of the newest commissioners, proposed a motto to reflect that goal: “The educated resident is the best consumer of public art.”

Questions were raised about whether Percent for Art funds could be used for outreach and promotion – in the past, AAPAC has been told by city staff that funding is restricted to permanent capital projects. Kotarski advocated for including temporary projects, such as an artist-in-residence program or events like FestiFools. If the ordinance doesn’t currently allow temporary work, he suggested amending it.

When Kotarski urged the commission to seek clarity from the city attorney’s office, Tony Derezinski – a commissioner who also serves on the city council – said the city attorney’s staff is already working on legal opinions related to questions from councilmembers. He indicated that the legal staff would be willing to attend a future AAPAC meeting to answer these questions.

Also during the meeting, Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, presented preliminary results of an online survey of residents, which yielded 437 responses. [.pdf of preliminary survey report] In response to one of the questions – “Where are the public places in the city that would benefit from a public art project?” – the top three responses were parks (27 responses), “none” (25 responses) and Main Street (23 responses.)

Other items emerged at the retreat. Theresa Reid, the newest commissioner who was appointed earlier this year, reported that she and others are working to apply for a National Endowment for the Arts “Our Town” grant, to help pay for a countywide public arts planning process. Derezinski indicated that the Detroit Institute of Art’s Inside|Out project, which involves installing framed reproductions from the DIA’s collection at outdoor locations on building facades or in parks, likely won’t come to Ann Arbor until 2013. When originally proposed in October 2011, it was expected to take place this year.

Another possible project on the horizon is tied to the resurfacing of Main Street in 2013. AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin said the Main Street Area Association and Downtown Development Authority are interested in some kind of “street stamping” project. It’s a project that’s in the very early stages, she said, but might include ideas like creating patterns on the street at crosswalks, for example.

Though discrete projects were mentioned, the focus of the retreat remained on big-picture goals. Common themes included the importance of public art in creating a sense of identity for the community, and of its role in supporting the local economy.

Setting the Stage

Commissioners Connie Rizzolo Brown and John Kotarski were tasked with giving a broad overview of the purpose of public art and the history of the commission’s work in this community.

Brown noted that the recent publication by the Michigan Municipal League – “The Economics of Place: The Value of Building Communities Around People” – provides a blueprint for reinventing Michigan cities. The idea is to build healthy, sustainable communities to attract visitors, support the local economy, and create a sense of identity for residents and visitors, she said.

Those goals are part of Ann Arbor’s public art ordinance, too, Brown noted. She quoted from the ordinance:

City council has determined that the creation of public art will improve the aesthetic quality of public spaces and structures, provide cultural and recreational opportunities, contribute to the local heritage, stimulate economic activity and promote the general welfare of the community. [.pdf of public art ordinance]

The public art commission was formed to help guide that effort. Brown recapped the history of the commission, noting that it started informally as a group of volunteers who raised money for public art projects. The commission on art in public places (CAPP) was formed, which later transitioned to the Ann Arbor public art commission (AAPAC) when the city’s Percent for Art program was authorized by city council in 2007.

Because it’s an all-volunteer commission, it’s been difficult at times to handle the work, Brown said. That’s why it’s important to identify the roles of everyone involved, she said, including commissioners, city staff, and the public. That way, the work can be shared and it will be easier for everyone, she said.

The purpose, objectives and duties of AAPAC are defined in part by the public art ordinance, Brown noted. There are two main responsibilities: (1) recommending projects and allocating funds, and (2) providing education, promotion and outreach for public art.

In the first category, AAPAC’s duties include setting guidelines for selecting art and locations for art; presenting annual goals and an annual report; and determining whether projects in the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP) are eligible for public art funding. Brown noted that AAPAC doesn’t do this work alone – there are others involved, including city staff, task force members and the public. And AAPAC’s recommendations must be approved by the city council, she said.

Regarding education, promotion and outreach, the ordinance states that AAPAC can raise additional funds from other sources, foster public/private partnerships, promote awareness of public art, and advise donors of art regarding placement of artwork on non-city property. Yet AAPAC has lost some of its focus regarding these responsibilities, Brown said.

Promotion can mean a lot of things, Brown added. It can be as simple as AAPAC’s website, but can also mean embracing the concept of public art beyond just city-owned work to include private or University of Michigan art. So how does AAPAC promote a variety of arts in this region, to create a sustainable arts community here?

One example is a partnership with the Detroit Institute of Art’s Inside|Out project, which involves installing framed reproductions from the DIA’s collection at outdoor locations on building facades or in parks. [A DIA staff member talked to AAPAC about the idea in October of 2011, though it now looks like the installation won't occur until 2013.] A program like that creates awareness of public art in the community, Brown said. “It starts to define who we are.” If AAPAC can give more attention to these kinds of programs, they can increase the commission’s educational component, she said.

It’s important to define public art, Brown said, noting that the city’s public art ordinance defines it 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.

Brown wanted commissioners to think about how public art can draw people to the city. There are a lot of possibilities, she said.

Public Art Options

John Kotarski, who was appointed to the commission late last year, picked up the presentation by noting that he’d been impressed by the amount of work that’s already been done. Instead of creating a new vision, he said, commissioners should think about recovering that original vision.

Public Art Options: Seattle’s Example

When the city’s public art ordinance was being developed, people like Margaret Parker – AAPAC’s former chair, who resigned at the end of 2011 – had researched other public art programs nationwide. Seattle has one of the country’s oldest public art programs, and Parker had gone there to attend a seminar by Barbara Goldstein, editor of “Public Art by the Book.” The book is the gold standard for creating a public art program using best practices, Kotarski said, and was used in developing Ann Arbor’s ordinance.

John Kotarski

John Kotarski, one of the newest public art commissioners, supports funding temporary art installations, in addition to permanent projects.

Kotarski said he traveled to Seattle in January and had talked to members of that city’s public arts commission. Ann Arbor can learn from that program – which was established in the early 1970s and is also supported with percent-for-art funding – and avoid its mistakes, he said.

Kotarski showed several slides of public art in Seattle, including the Hammering Man sculpture at the Seattle Art Museum entrance. People initially hated it, he said, but now it’s “beloved by the entire city.” The same was true, he said, for a work by Michael Heizer called “Adjacent, Against, Upon” – a series of large, square boulders lined up in a park next to Puget Sound.

“Public art won’t always be accepted at the start,” Kotarski said. In fact, artists want to challenge conventional boundaries – that’s part of what makes art enduring, he said.

Ann Arbor’s preamble to its public art ordinance mirrors the one for Seattle, Kotarski said. The Ann Arbor preamble reads: ”City council recognizes the responsibility of government to foster the development of culture and the arts.” To him, Kotarski said, this means that public art isn’t a luxury – it’s a responsibility of the government.

Like Brown, Kotarski encouraged a broader view of what constitutes public art. Beyond city-funded projects, he said, it includes University of Michigan artwork – like Maya Lin’s “Wave Field” on north campus – and even the fairy doors that are located throughout town on privately owned buildings. “This is public art too,” he said, and should be promoted by AAPAC.

Promoting awareness of public art, in part, means helping to educate the public, Kotarski said. He advocated for modifying the motto of the now-defunct clothing chain Syms – “An educated consumer is our best customer” – to reflect Ann Arbor’s public art outreach: “The educated resident is the best consumer of public art.”

Kotarski recommended ”The Art of Placemaking: Interpreting Community Through Public Art and Urban Design,” a book by Ronald Lee Fleming. This approach describes what Ann Arbor’s public art program is doing, he said. “We’re not decorating the city.” Rather, Ann Arbor is leading the reinvention of Michigan’s cities, he said, with public art as an economic driver.

Saying that the city has somehow become locked into thinking of public art as a permanent piece of construction, Kotarski said his reading of Ann Arbor’s ordinance allows for a broader definition, and he urged commissioners to expand their view of potential projects.

Seattle’s program has several options, he noted, including both permanent and temporary installations. He described these options as five quivers in their bow, and said that having a variety of approaches is a better way to achieve the city’s overall public art goal. Those approaches include:

  • Site Integrated: Bringing an artist into a project at the early stages of design, so that the artwork is an integral part of the building or structure, rather than an add-on. Kotarski showed an example of artwork that’s integral to a skatepark in Seattle, and noted that Ann Arbor has a similar opportunity with the skatepark that’s being planned here.
  • Site Specific: Locating artwork on a site – like putting a sculpture in a park or in front of a building.
  • Portable Artwork: Artwork, typically paintings or sculptures, that are periodically moved to different locations. Kotarski noted that Seattle moves the artwork that’s located in municipal offices every three years. He said he supported a suggestion by Ann Arbor art commissioner Bob Miller, who had floated the idea of rotating outdoor sculptures throughout the city.
  • Artist-in-Residence: Embedding an artist within a city department for a period of time. In Los Angeles, an artist-in-residence with the city’s parks department built a large roller imprinted with an aerial image of the city. City workers drag the roller down the beach several times each day, stamping the image onto the sand. Another example, Kotarski said, would be to embed an artist with the street department – perhaps the artist could create stamps that workers could then use to make patterns when streets or sidewalks are paved. Or an artist could be embedded with the city’s parks department, he said, and explore an art project using some of the aluminum canoes that are being replaced as part of the Argo Dam bypass project.
  • Temporary Artwork: Temporary installations or performances can be economic engines for a community, Kotarski said. He cited the example of The Gates by Christo, a 14-day installation in New York City’s Central Park that drew millions of people to the area and generated millions of dollars for businesses there. In Ann Arbor, FestiFools – to be held this year on April 1 – is an example of that, he said. Its temporary nature is part of its value. Using an Americans for the Arts economic impact calculator, Kotarski said he estimated that FestiFools brought in more than $100,000 for local merchants. The annual ArtPrize in Grand Rapids is another good example of the economic value brought by temporary exhibits, he said.

Public Art Options: Art & the Economy

Theresa Reid, the newest commissioner who was attending her first meeting that day, said she felt like there were mixed messages regarding art and money. She’s from Chicago, and for her, public art is what makes people love that city. It’s about heart, not money, and she didn’t want to lose sight of that fact. Art has the power to transform, she said, both individually and as a community.

Theresa Reid, Malverne Winborne

Ann Arbor public art commissioners Theresa Reid and Malverne Winborne. Reid was appointed to the commission this month, and is executive director of the ArtsEngine at the University of Michigan. Winborne is is director of Eastern Michigan University’s Charter Schools Office.

Kotarski agreed, but said commissioners also need to be able to make the economic case for public art. They need to be able to answer the question: Why spend money on public art? Is it just because they’re snobs? he asked – no, it’s more than that.

Tony Derezinski, an art commissioner who also represents Ward 2 on the city council, said he wanted to reinforce Kotarski’s point. Three times over the years there have been attempts to cut the Percent for Art program, he said. There have been questions about why the city should keep the funding level at 1%. The argument in support of the program is that it defines Ann Arbor as a community that appreciates art, Derezinski said. That’s even more important during tough economic times – that’s when you define your values, he said. But the longer view is that public art supports the economy, he said.

Kotarski returned to the topic later in the retreat, when he presented several possible answers to the question: Why support public art?

One reason is to expand the public’s experience of art. Kotarski returned to the motto: “The educated resident is the best consumer of public art.” Not everyone will like every piece of art, but at least they should be able to criticize it from an informed perspective, he said. Instead of just saying “Dreiseitl stinks!” the conversation could center around comparing the German artist’s Ann Arbor water sculpture – located in front of city hall – to work by other artists, or to other work by Dreiseitl, Kotarski said.

World-class performers want to come to Ann Arbor because this city has a world-class audience – people who appreciate the nuances of a performance. Kotarski cited Laurie Anderson as an example. In addition to venues at large cities, her tour last year included Ann Arbor because she knew the audience here would understand her work, he said. Artists like her aren’t just interested in selling tickets. The city can become a world-class audience for public art, too, he said.

Another reason to support public art is because it helps people to understand their community better as well as their individual lives, Kotarski said. One local example he cited is a mural of local war veterans, created by Mary Thiefels and located in an alley off of West Liberty near Main Street.

The final reason Kotarski offered was to create a 21st century economy. He said Gov. Rick Snyder is using “The Economics of Place” as a manifesto to guide the recovery of Michigan’s cities. Businesspeople want to create vibrant communities, he said – they don’t really care if it’s through making ashtrays or public art. “Knowledge workers” want to live in places like Ann Arbor, and the creativity reflected in the city’s public art can be a draw for them, he concluded.

Connie Brown noted that AAPAC’s work can be an essential part of placemaking for the city. That’s done by increasing each resident’s experience with visual art, she said, by building a sustainable local arts community, and by establishing Ann Arbor as a leader in public art. Through art installation, community engagement and education, the city can build a regional network that supports the arts and arts makers, she said. And by commissioning work by leading artists, Brown added, the bar is raised for local artists, and the city becomes more attractive for mid-career artists to live and work here.

She noted that public art projects support a variety of local workers and businesses, including designers, material suppliers, fabricators, installers and maintenance workers.

Brown concluded that part of the presentation by saying that the execution of this vision is difficult. Establishing a broad master plan can help guide the commission’s work, she said, including the annual plan that must be submitted to city council each year.

Different Roles in Shaping Public Art

The commission spent a portion of the retreat brainstorming about the roles of various people who are involved with public art in the city, including commissioners, the public art administrator – a job held by Aaron Seagraves – city staff, task forces, city council and the community.

Here’s the list of roles that commissioners generated for these groups during the session:

  • Commissioners: (1) advise the city council and staff regarding public art projects, (2) set the public art program’s guidelines, vision and priorities, (3) submit an annual plan to city council, (4) communicate with the community and raise awareness about public art, (5) generate additional funding, (6) make recommendations on projects and funding allocations, (7) observe and review the fabrication of artwork, (8) set up partnerships, (9) appoint task forces and act on their recommendations, and (10) review job description for art administrator, and help with interview process and selection, when necessary.
  • Public art administrator: (1) provide support to AAPAC, (2) act as conduit for ideas and information, (3) handle day-to-day administration of the public art program, (4) maintain AAPAC’s website, (5) promote public art, (6) serve as the chief contact person for the public and media, (7) provide overall leadership for AAPAC, (8) implement AAPAC’s vision, (9) provide project management, (10) report to the city’s public services area administrator, and (11) develop a portal for community engagement.
  • Task Forces: (1) make recommendations about projects and programs to AAPAC, and (2) set the vision for certain projects.
  • Community: (1) serve on task forces and subcommittees, (2) act as a sounding board, (3) be engaged in the process, (4) participate in project and site selection, (5) become ambassadors of public art, (6) provide ideas for new projects, and (7) be a source for collaborative projects, both through partnerships and fundraising.
  • City staff: (1) manage projects that are tied to city capital improvements, (2) identify funding for art projects, (3) provide technical support, (4) act as liaisons between the artists and city departments, and (5) provide input and identify opportunities for new art projects.
  • City council: (1) provide oversight, (2) act as final decision-makers, (3) provide adequate funding, (4) amend public art ordinance, as needed, and (5) appoint AAPAC commissioners.

Throughout the brainstorming session, discussions emerged related to some of these suggested roles. There was some uncertainty, for example, regarding the process by which task forces are appointed. Is that handled by the art administrator or the commissioner who’s leading the task force? It’s been done multiple ways, Brown noted.

Malverne Winborne raised the question of who’s responsible for deciding whether a project is “go or no-go.” To him, he said, there’s a lack of clarity between the commission’s role and the role of staff. When Bob Miller offered that AAPAC, as an advisory group, had 49% of the responsibility for making those kinds of decisions, Winborne replied, “Who’s the 51%?” That’s the city council, he was told.

Cathy Gendron, Marsha Chamberlin

Public art commissioners Cathy Gendron and Marsha Chamberlin.

As a new commissioner, Theresa Reid asked how decisions on AAPAC get made. Is there a formal vote? Not necessarily, Brown replied. Some issues are just discussed until a consensus is achieved. Winborne recommended identifying a hierarchy to clarify the relationship between AAPAC and city council, and AAPAC and its task forces.

It’s not just about making the final decision on a project, Marsha Chamberlin said. There’s also the question about who decides which projects get initiated. Cathy Gendron noted that in the past, a lot of projects were initiated by Sue McCormick, the city’s former public services administrator. The public art administrator reported to McCormick. [McCormick resigned late last year to take a job as head of Detroit's water and sewerage department. Craig Hupy is filling that job on an interim basis while the city conducts a search for a permanent replacement.]

What’s the art administrator’s role in this process? Kotarski asked. He noted that the job description for Seagraves includes “overall leadership” of AAPAC. Several commissioners expressed surprise at that – they indicated that they thought his role was staff support for AAPAC, not leadership. Seagraves noted that since the commission meets only once a month, part of his role is to move projects forward on a daily basis. That’s one way to interpret the leadership responsibility, he ventured.

Later, during a discussion about the city staff’s role, Kotarski drew on the experience of Seattle. The Seattle art commission had shifted its orientation, he said, and talked about funding in terms of the public art funds belonging to different departments. Commissioners would approach department liaisons and asked how the departments envisioned spending the money for public art. The attitude from commissioners became, “How can we help you create art for your department’s projects?” he said. There was much less pushback from city staff, because the staff took ownership of the art projects.

Cathy Gendron ended this portion of the retreat by offering some perspective. A lot of these ideas – collaborating with partners, embedding artists early in the process – have been discussed by AAPAC in the past, she noted. “Where we keep getting stalled is who does the work?” Commissioners have been told that the city funds can’t pay for things like promotion, she said. So at some point, she said, part of their discussion needs to focus on putting a structure in place so that AAPAC can do the things they envision.

Developing a Master Plan

Connie Brown began the next portion of the retreat by proposing a framework for thinking about the elements of a master plan. She noted that there is no perfect plan or process, but there are ways that they can approach their work. She cautioned that commissioners aren’t the artists – they shouldn’t be the people coming up with the ideas for specific projects.

Rather, she proposed that they develop a plan based on three basic categories: Location, typology and process.

  • Location: This refers to zones or types of areas – recreation areas, neighborhoods, or business districts, for example – where public art could be located. Or commissioners might think about location in terms of geographic features, like the Huron River. This category helps AAPAC consider where the city might place public art, to ensure a diversity of location throughout the city.
  • Typology: What type of public art does a project represent? It might be a gateway that marks an entry to a specific spot or corridor. It might serve a wayfinding function – artwork that guides people through an area with signs or pathways. This category helps identify the classification of a particular project.
  • Process: There can be a variety of ways that public art projects get initiated. Some are brought forward by city staff or AAPAC – like the mural program – while others might be identified by the community. Partnerships like the one planned with the Detroit Institute of Arts are another way for public art to be created. AAPAC might also partner with other city entities – working with the energy commission, for example, on an art installation using solar-powered LED lights.

The purpose of the retreat and the master plan, Brown said, is to look at the big picture. They weren’t going to identify specific projects at specific location, but instead would start the process of prioritizing and setting general goals.

John Kotarski, Connie Rizzolo Brown

Public art commissioners John Kotarski and Connie Rizzolo Brown.

The approach might be to identify percentages of the Percent for Art budget that AAPAC would like to spend on certain types of projects – gateways, for example – and certain areas where the commission would like projects to be located. Brown also noted that they need to include all aspects of their mission – not just physical projects, but also education, outreach and promotion of public art.

The master plan that AAPAC ultimately develops can be used to guide the commission’s annual plan, which in turn will guide the work of the task forces that will be charged with implementing specific projects, she said. AAPAC needs to provide guidance but not be proscriptive, Brown cautioned – the task forces and artists need flexibility to be creative.

Brown also advocated for communicating with the city council at an earlier stage, and getting feedback from councilmembers. That way everyone can move ahead confidently, she said, without wondering if a project will get pushback from the council after being developed.

Tony Derezinski offered to use his communications time at council meetings to report on AAPAC’s work. Commissioners generally supported that. Bob Miller noted that it would help make the process more clear and transparent for everyone.

Developing a Master Plan: Survey Results

Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, presented preliminary results from an online survey that AAPAC had distributed earlier this year. He plans to give a more formal report at the commission’s March 28 meeting. [.pdf of preliminary survey report]

There were 437 respondents, though not everyone answered all of the questions, he noted. For those that identified the neighborhood they lived in, the largest concentration was from the Old West Side (38 respondents), followed by Lower Burns Park (26) and Burns Park (20).

In response to the question “Where are the public places in the city that would benefit from a public art project?” the top three responses were parks (27 responses), “none” (25 responses) and Main Street (23 responses.)

“None” and parking structures/lots were the top answers (both with 26 responses) to the question “Which city infrastructure could be improved aesthetically with public art funding?” The other top response was the library (16 responses).

The survey also asked respondents to choose their top three programs that could result in artists designing multiple works using the same medium, item or theme. Percentage-wise by respondents, the top results were bus stops/shelters (59.5%), pedestrian crosswalk signs (54.4%), street furniture, like benches (54.4%), and community/participatory projects (40.9%).

That question also allowed for free responses. Here’s a sampling:

  • A sculpture park in Bryant neighborhood. One of the pieces should allow for water sprinklers, so that it can enjoy a dual function.
  • Campaign to stop graffiti
  • Dual purpose installation. I’ve seen giant flower-shaped umbrellas with power outlets and lights along city streets; benches that enclose tree plantings
  • Facade for abandoned buildings
  • Garbage/recycling containers
  • Flowers, plants by city entrances; a decent “Welcome to Ann Arbor” sign, “Home of the Wolverines,” something – please!
  • More green spaces, places to sit down and enjoy the view
  • Statues of historic figures, historic information displays
  • Sculptures at interstate entrances to Ann Arbor
  • Turn Main Street into a walking street, slowed to traffic to allow street performers, artists, musicians to perform and exhibit

John Kotarski asked Seagraves for his impressions of the survey results – what did it tell him? Seagraves indicated that there hadn’t been sufficient time to analyze the results, since the survey had just closed the previous week.

Kotarski wondered whether the number of “none” responses had surprised Seagraves. Not really, Seagraves replied. Malverne Winborne indicated that those results simply reflect that there are a number of people who don’t understand or support this work, but that the commission shouldn’t get too caught up in that.

Developing a Master Plan: Setting Goals

As the commission moved into its exercise of setting goals, there was some initial discussion over how detailed they needed to be, what the goals were intended to articulate, and whether the goals would be used for the master plan or the more immediate annual plan, which by ordinance must be delivered to city council by April 1.

Connie Pulcipher, a city staff member who was facilitating the discussion, noted that the intent was not to develop the master plan that day. Because this is the first time that AAPAC has formed a master plan, it’s a process that will likely take many more discussions over several months, she said.

The draft set of goals, which the commission intends to review and likely revise in the coming months, include:

  • Establish relationships with city units and other city commissions.
  • Develop a marketing/communications plan and budget.
  • Develop a framework for decision-making.
  • Use a simple narrative to ensure that the public, city council and city staff are better informed about the public art program.
  • Identify a diversity of locations for public art.
  • Promote temporary art.
  • Develop a scoring list for project selection.

During the goal-setting discussion, several issues emerged that the commissioners discussed in more depth, including the possibility of funding temporary art, and the types of categories that might be used in selecting future public art projects.

Developing a Master Plan: Setting Goals – Temporary Art

John Kotarski noted that one of the obstacles that AAPAC faces is the interpretation of the public art ordinance. Does it include the ability to fund temporary art or an artist-in-residence? It seems important to clarify that with the city attorney’s office, he said, and to possibly work to amend the ordinance, if necessary.

In response to his question, AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin reviewed the work of the commission, noting that they’ve spent a lot of time developing policies and procedures, and that over the years a significant balance of Percent for Art funding has accumulated. [Seagraves later clarified that the Percent for Art balance of unallocated funds stands at around $1.1 million.] There is a push to get more projects competed, she said, and the ordinance doesn’t need to be changed in order to do that.

Chamberlin said that AAPAC has been told that the Percent for Art funds can’t be used for temporary art. By way of background, the meaning of “permanent” has been explained to AAPAC by city staff as relating to the ability of an item to be capitalized. At AAPAC’s July 2010 meeting, Sue McCormick – who at that time supervised the program as the city’s public services administrator – told commissioners that the city runs a depreciation schedule on each piece of art, and that artwork is considered a capital investment that needs to last a minimum of five years. At AAPAC’s December 2011 meeting, Chamberlin reported that the city’s finance staff had revised its definition of “permanent” to a minimum of two years, not five.

The challenge of permanent versus temporary artwork was also discussed at an AAPAC retreat in October of 2011. And at AAPAC’s September 2011 meeting, former commissioner Margaret Parker floated an idea to bypass the funding constraint on temporary installations by considering them as promoting public art, which is part of the commission’s charge.

At the Feb. 26 retreat, Kotarski asked whether AAPAC could spend $50,000 on building a gallery at city hall, or $20,000 on a promotional campaign, or $10,000 to create a coloring book connected to the upcoming DIA exhibit? If not, that eliminates an enormous amount of what AAPAC can do, he said. The issue needs clarity.

Tony Derezinski said these kinds of issues have been raised by city council members. He said he’s talked with the city attorney’s office, and that they are formulating opinions in response to these issues. Derezinski suggested that AAPAC schedule a session with someone from the city attorney’s office, to get some legal advice on these questions. The city attorney has indicated willingness to do that, he said.

Bob Miller suggested that the ordinance could be amended to accommodate temporary projects. Chamberlin said the issue had arisen when FestiFools, an annual street festival featuring oversized puppets, had approached AAPAC for funding. The commission had been ready to allocate funds for FestiFools, but was told that it wasn’t allowed because the event was considered temporary.

Developing a Master Plan: Setting Goals – Layers of Categories

Malverne Winborne suggested dividing the city into zones or quadrants, to help guide the selection of projects and ensure that all parts of the city are represented. [Later in the meeting, it was suggested that the quadrant boundaries (starting from downtown) could be roughly North Main to US-23 to the north, Jackson Road to the west, State Street to the south, and Washtenaw Avenue to the east.] Winborne was especially concerned about under-served areas, like the Bryant neighborhood. Located on the city’s southeast side – south of I-94 and east of Stone School Road – Bryant is one of the city’s lower-income neighborhoods.

Wiltrud Simbuerger said AAPAC should use different approaches to help determine where public art should be located, and what kind of public art is needed. In addition to geographic location, another approach might be to identify land use, such as recreational or parkland. Another way might look at  process – whether it’s participatory, or temporary.

Theresa Reid suggested setting up task forces for each quadrant of the city. Perhaps those groups could be tasked with identifying two projects for their quadrant per year, she said. It’s also possible to envision the task forces working together on a larger project that might span geographic areas.

Reid, who’s also a board member of the countywide Arts Alliance, reported that she and Derezinski, among others, are involved in an effort to apply for a National Endowment for the Arts “Our Town” grant, to help pay for a countywide public arts planning process. There could be opportunities for larger-scale projects as a result.

Later in the meeting, Cathy Gendron drew dots on a map to indicate where current public art projects are located. Winborne noted that most are concentrated downtown – there’s a need to get outside that area, he said. Bob Miller responded by saying that the downtown is the city’s economic center, so perhaps that’s appropriate.

Aaron Seagraves suggested that another selection category might be the size of a project, based on its budget or impact. The mural program, with a current budget of $10,000 per mural, is an example a smaller project that could be replicated throughout the city. Larger projects, like the Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture in front of city hall – the largest public art project to date, costing more than $750,000 – would fall on the other end of the spectrum.

Malverne Winborne, Tony Derezinski

Public art commissioners Malverne Winborne and Tony Derezinski, who also serves on city council.

Winborne described these various selection categories as layers. Connie Brown summarized that in looking at selection this way, AAPAC could decide to base its decisions on land use (recreational, neighborhoods, etc.) and typology (gateways or wayfinding, for example). So they could decide to focus one year on putting public art into parks, as wayfinding projects, for example. The following year, they might focus on major corridors, and creating gateways to the city.

Gendron suggested that another layer – in the category of process – could be the outright purchase of public art. It’s something that AAPAC has previously discussed, she noted.

Gendron also advocated for density of population or activity as another layer. Derezinski agreed, saying that’s where you find the value of public art for economic development.

Winborne voiced a different perspective. He noted that if you talk to real estate agents, they’ll tell you that it’s easier to sell into communities that are perceived as cool. What if public art were put into areas that aren’t currently active, in order to draw people there? he said.

Gendron noted that if you divide the city into quadrants, then the North Main quadrant falls into an area that already has a lot of public art. Yet the North Main corridor itself, even though it’s a major entryway into the city, is essentially bereft of public art.

Reid agreed with the need to think about places of potential impact. She cited the High Line project, a public park built on an abandoned elevated rail line in Manhattan – its creator, Robert Hammond, was a recent speaker in the UM Penny Stamps series, she noted. It’s an example of taking an eyesore and creating a landmark, she said. They should think not only about where there’s density and impact now, but where there might be density and impact in the future, if spurred by public art.

Kotarski said he sees these layers as ways to help commissioners set priorities. Then, their message to the public can be simple – a direct message about where and how they plan to allocate public art dollars.

Derezinski advocated for being general about their priorities, and not attaching specific dollar amounts or even percentages to those priorities. He didn’t want to get “trapped” into criticism that they haven’t exactly followed their plan.

Next Steps

Aaron Seagraves suggested that further development of the master plan could be handled by a committee formed for that purpose. Marsha Chamberlin, AAPAC’s chair, indicated that a committee-of-the-whole would be preferable, in her view. “Today was very energizing,” she said.

John Kotarski agreed, saying that all commissioners should have a voice in developing the master plan.

Seagraves noted that though discussions could continue about the master plan, the annual plan needed to be done quickly. Given the April 1 deadline for turning the annual plan over to the city council, he said, AAPAC would need to finalize it at their next meeting, on March 28. He reminded commissioners that the annual plan is a list of general projects – it doesn’t need to include specific budgets.

The annual plan for the current fiscal year, for example, lists 10 projects for the period from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012: [.pdf of FY2012 annual plan]

  1. Complete the Justice Center/City Hall exterior art installation.
  2. Select and install one interior project at the Justice Center/City Hall.
  3. Re-install the Kamrowski murals in the Justice Center/City Hall.
  4. Continued development of the public art project at the Fuller Road Transit Station. Artist selection is anticipated to occur in FY 2012.
  5. Complete the Mural Program pilot and evaluate program for continuation.
  6. Evaluate opportunity for a public art project associated with a River Art Trail that includes the Gallup Canoe Livery, Argo Headrace. Coordinate with Park and Recreation.
  7. Evaluate opportunity for a public art project associated with the Manchester Elevated Water Tank painting project scheduled to occur in FY 2013.
  8. Evaluate opportunity for a public art project associated with the Stadium Bridges project.
  9. Continue exploration of Sun Dragon repairs/replacement pending results of the feasibility study.
  10. Evaluate opportunity for a pilot public art program at bus stops in collaboration with the AATA.

Commissioners listed off several projects that could be part of the next annual plan. Some are carry-overs from the current plan, including the East Stadium bridges project, the mural project, the river art trail, and the Sun Dragon repairs. Possible new projects include developing a master plan.

Next Steps: Possible New Projects

Cathy Gendron advocated the inclusion at least one project that was a priority for AAPAC, noting that many current projects were suggestions from city staff. Commissioners shouldn’t lose sight of the need to be proactive, rather than simply reactive, she said. When Bob Miller suggested that such a project could be guided by the recent survey results, Gendron cautioned that the survey wasn’t comprehensive. The results could be part of their decision-making, but shouldn’t be the only consideration, she said.

Cathy Gendron

Cathy Gendron indicates where current public art projects are located throughout the city. Most are clustered in the downtown area. The commission discussed the need for geographic diversity.

Seagraves suggested that commissioners give that type of project some thought, and they could discuss it at the March 28 meeting.

Marsha Chamberlin reported that she’d been contacted by the Main Street Area Association and the Downtown Development Authority about possibly partnering on a Main Street project. The street is scheduled to be resurfaced in 2013, she said, and there’s interest in “street stamping” as part of that resurfacing project. That might include creating patterns at crosswalks, for example. She said it’s in the early stages, and is something for AAPAC to discuss.

John Kotarski noted that this type of project would be perfect for an artist-in-residence, but they need to clarify whether the Percent for Art funds can support something like that.

Gendron mentioned that she’d had a discussion with Bill Martin, a local developer whose company – First Martin Corp. – owns several prominent properties in town. He has pledged $10,000 for some kind of art project along the North Main corridor, she said. He likes the idea of putting banners along that stretch, Gendron said, adding that she thought he could be convinced to support other ideas instead.

By the end of the retreat, commissioners had also generated a “parking lot” list of issues – that can be “parked” for now, but need to be discussed in the future. Those issues are:

  • Develop a marketing plan.
  • Clarify the process of appointing task forces.
  • Clarify roles and responsibilities for different groups (AAPAC, art administrator, etc.) and identify gaps.
  • Work with the city council to see if amendments to the public art ordinance are needed.
  • Review and possibly modify AAPAC’s committee structure.
  • Discuss whether AAPAC should provide a framework for doing projects.
  • Formalize a city staff liaison for the capital improvements plan, so that AAPAC can give early input into capital projects.
  • Identify a structure or mechanisms for accomplishing AAPAC’s goals.

Commissioners present: Connie Rizzolo Brown, Marsha Chamberlin, Tony Derezinski, Cathy Gendron, John Kotarski, Bob Miller, Theresa Reid, Wiltrud Simbuerger, Malverne Winborne. Also Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator.

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, March 28, 2012 at 4:30 p.m. at city hall, 301 E. Huron St. [confirm date]

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. March 3, 2012 at 5:35 pm | permalink

    This article is comprehensive and very helpful – inspiring, even. Thanks for making it available.
    – a member of the Kalamazoo County/City of Kalamazoo/Portage Art Commission

  2. By abc
    March 4, 2012 at 12:41 pm | permalink

    Mary, as always this is a great piece. There is much to consider here. I for one would like the Percent for the Arts to succeed but I admit this piece has me scratching my head. It contains many references to things that have been discussed, publicly and here at the Chronicle, that we have been told has to be a certain way. And as much as I would like to compose a thesis about the issues I would prefer to ask people who are interested in this issue to return to some of the basic questions raised in the comments section here: [link] regarding how the AAPAC can spend their money.

    I would add that the limitations of this ordinance has come up so many times that the mayor felt compelled to address it at the Dreiseitl unveiling. I would also add that it is my understanding that even though the Percent for the Arts law was created by council it is thought that it cannot be altered by council to include funding for artists, or other things. This ordinance was supposedly carefully crafted with respect to some State Supreme Court cases and, as a result of those cases, it is believed that there is no way that the ordinance could be re-written for other uses; even if council was completely willing to change it and supported the other uses of the funds.

    As a result of the above assumption, as well as interpretation of federal law by the city attorney, the AAPAC has an array of limitations that this retreat does not acknowledge. As Dave Askins put it in comment 22 on a thread from September 22nd, “Because the public art ordinance defines the revenue source for public art as tapping one-percent of capital improvement project budgets, what results is a “baked in” legal constraint on the use of public art funds: They must be used for construction-like, monumental, permanent art.”

    So while I may want changes to the ordinance and I may want the money to be able to be spent differently it seems that discussing, temporary art, artists-in-residence, portable art, targeting local artists, changing the ordinance, and other thoughts for steering the money differently are a waste of the Commissioners time. There is also reference to not understanding how decisions are made and who plays what role. I think that before we focus on marketing slogans that can possibly be heard that we consumers need some educating, that the Commissioners should sit down and determine the facts and work out the mechanics of their internal process. There is still confusion. It makes no sense to craft a Master Plan that is disconnected from what the ordinance will allow.

    Note: I did not see a reference to local artists in this piece on the retreat but Mr. Kotarski made reference to working with local artists as recently as the January 25th meeting.

  3. March 6, 2012 at 6:05 pm | permalink

    As a “Public Artist” the one thing that has me scratching my head is the description and interpretation of an ordinance that simply doesn’t represent a very good definition of what 21st century “public art” is, or is likely to become. Perhaps it was a definition that had its place and time; i.e. making big things out of bronze and plopping them down in the middle of a plaza. Easy to capitalize, easy to depreciate.

    One of the things that it appears people on the commission are trying to do is see if it is possible to address the ordinance’s definition of public art to include many forms that may not be able to be capitalized and depreciated, but nonetheless actually does what the ordinance was really intended to do in the first place: Bring to fruition public (i.e. free) art that reflects and augments the vibrant life of our community.

    Let’s applaud this public art commission in its quest to open up the definition of public art (as other communities have done) so that we don’t end up with a bunch of rehashing, and repackaging, of essentially static public art. This may mean either a legal reinterpretation or a complete rewriting of the public art ordinance, but if we don’t do so the current ordinance forces us to choose public art that could remain with us forever, even if it doesn’t resonate with future generations–and all because the artwork we chose fit within a narrow, obsolete definition of public art.

  4. By abc
    March 7, 2012 at 7:47 am | permalink

    Mr. Tucker, I do not see this as a debate over what is ‘public art’. I don’t see anyone advocating for or against “making big things out of bronze and plopping them down in the middle of a plaza.” What I see is an ordinance that has been interpreted by the politicians and lawyers to not legally allow funding for temporary art, or artists. So it does not matter that you and I agree (and we do) that it would be great to unshackle this money from the NEED to be spent on art that is permanent (whatever that means). This is not private money that can be invested in whatever the private institution likes. It is public money and therefore must be spent according to the rules the public government thinks is fair and defensible.

    “… One of the things that it appears people on the commission are trying to do is see if it is possible to address the ordinance’s definition of public art to include many forms that may not be able to be capitalized and depreciated.” – This is precisely what I think is a waste of time if the city is indeed bound to spend this money only on permanent art as a result of the Supreme Court cases.

    “… a legal reinterpretation” – “Because the public art ordinance defines the revenue source for public art as tapping one-percent of capital improvement project budgets, what results is a “baked in” legal constraint on the use of public art funds: They must be used for construction-like, monumental, permanent art.” I can’t say this any better. You need to talk to the bakers.

    “… or a complete rewriting of the public art ordinance” – This ordinance was supposedly carefully crafted with respect to some State Supreme Court cases and, as a result of those cases, it is believed that there is no way that the ordinance could be re-written for other uses; even if council was completely willing to change it and supported the other uses of the funds.

    “…to open up the definition of public art (as other communities have done)” – If you go to comment #23 using the link above (in comment #2) you will see where I raised the question about how this is being interpreted inconsistently across the country with respect to limiting the program to local artists. Maybe the permanent requirement also is a lark but unless that is answered sufficiently by the lawyers the rest is wheel spinning.

  5. March 7, 2012 at 9:42 am | permalink

    I’m very interested in knowing about the State Supreme Court cases. I apologize if these have already been referenced in the article and discussion. Could a link to the cases be provided?

  6. By abc
    March 7, 2012 at 1:42 pm | permalink

    Ms. Armentrout, I have heard the case referred to as the Bolt case and the only Bolt case I could find is Bolt vs. the City of East Lansing. But this is a Headlee Amendment case and as such I have no way to know how you get from stormwater fees and Headlee to public funding of art, but there may be a way. I also may just have the wrong case. I think it would be great if the city would make this clear and they should be able to do that quickly because they should have the cases handy if they did indeed tailor the ordinance to this case law.

  7. March 7, 2012 at 2:19 pm | permalink

    Ah, thank you, I am very familiar with the Bolt case. See my lengthy discussion of this and other legal matters here: [link]

    I have never heard a satisfactory explanation of how the city can claim that the Percent for Art program is legal, in light of the Bolt case. Apparently the city attorney gave council members a note but no opinion has been filed as a public document. I thought/hoped you had come up with new material.

  8. By Jack Eaton
    March 7, 2012 at 3:06 pm | permalink

    The Headlee amendment required voter approval for all new taxes and for any increase in the rate of an existing tax. See Mich. Const. art. 9, §§ 25-31. User fees are not subject to the Headlee requirements.

    In Bolt v. City of Lansing, 459 Mich. 152 (1998), the Michigan Supreme Court faced the issue of whether a storm water service charge imposed by Lansing was a tax, requiring voter approval, or a fee that did not require a vote.

    In discussing the distinction between a tax and a fee, the court noted that a tax inures to the benefit of all, while a fee represents the cost of a service or commodity received by the fee payer.

    Bolt arises in the discussion of public art because the city assesses water rates as a fee, which can be raised without voter approval. If the city uses water fees for general purposes, then water rates are actually a tax, subject to Headlee restrictions. The Bolt court said:

    “The distinction between a fee and a tax is one that is not always observed with nicety in judicial decisions, but according to some authorities, any payment exacted by the state or its municipal subdivisions as a contribution toward the cost of maintaining governmental functions, where the special benefits derived from their performance is merged in the general benefit, is a tax.”

    Anyone paying the City of Ann Arbor for water should be able to expect that the water fee is not used for a general benefit, such as public art in front of the City of Ann Arbor’s City Hall. Conversely, if the water fee is used for such general purposes, then increases in water rates should require voter approval.

    The Bolt decision can be found here: [link]

    Please note that I was able to explain this without resort to a “bucket” analogy.

  9. March 7, 2012 at 11:24 pm | permalink

    In fact, I think it is time to talk to the bakers again. Although Mr. Eaton’s distinctions between fees and taxes are illuminating, and no one would argue ABC’s assertion that the rule of law must be obeyed, the actual wording of the public art ordinance (wording that is presumably legally referred to) is vague and therefore open to interpretation. So, contrary to ABC’s assertion that this is “not a debate over what is public art”, I respectfully disagree. I think the core of this debate really is over what constitutes public art, particularly since taxpayer money is paying for it. Taxpayers deserve to know what it is they are paying for, and how, and why. The first sentence of the public art ordinance states that, “Public art means works of art created, purchased, produced or otherwise acquired for display in public spaces or facilities.” There’s a lot of latitude in that statement. The word “permanent” does not appear anywhere in that sentence. Further on the ordinance states that “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.” Again, no mention of permanent structures or capitalization. Although one can imagine permanent structures supporting many of these types of creative products, one can just as easily imagine temporary, or ephemeral, works of art being produced as well. I think it’s necessary to make a distinction between whether or not permanent, as opposed to temporary artwork, can be funded. I would think it is at least as important as knowing the difference between what’s a tax and what’s a fee.

  10. March 8, 2012 at 8:56 am | permalink

    I don’t disagree with (9) in terms of language, but it seems to me that we need to to pull back and consider what the intent of a public art program supported by either taxes or fees should be. The leaning seems to be towards a general art education or promotion program. Coloring books??? In my previously cited blog post, I describe a number of public art programs (of the Percent for Art variety) in other cities. They are generally associated with large construction programs and are indeed permanent installations that are meant to enhance the experience of large public structures. For example, Philadelphia sets aside money “provided that the Art Commission certifies in writing that said ornamentation is fitting and appropriate to the function and location of the structure”.

    While art education, promotion, and yes, enjoyment of such programs as Festifools, are worthwhile goals for both private donation and governmental grants (that should be awarded in the regular appropriation process), they are not suitable for funds derived in this manner.

    We must distinguish between worthwhile goals and appropriate implementation. That principle extends far beyond art. There are many needs and wants that we would like to address, but only a limited pool of governmental revenue (and its origin in taxpayer and ratepayer pocketbooks). It is the role of government to set goals and priorities, determine appropriate sources of funds, and allocate money fairly and legally. Merely appealing to the beauty of the idea is, unfortunately, not adequate.

  11. March 8, 2012 at 9:05 am | permalink

    Re: [9]

    Mark, I’m not sure that you’ve appreciated abc’s point. Here it is again: Focusing just on the definition of public art in the ordinance and trying to interpret that definition, or putting other words in that definition is a waste of everyone’s time.

    Here’s why it’s a waste of time. The choice of definition of public art contained in the ordinance is itself subject to the constraints that follow from another choice made in the ordinance – the funding mechanism. The specified funding mechanism taps capital budgets. And because capital budgets are tapped, that brings with it a constraint that the art be permanent and monumental (not to mention other constraints related to the specific funds that are tapped).

    So it does not move the conversation forward to observe that the definition section of the ordinance doesn’t include anything about permanence of art, and from that observation try to reason that what can be funded is simply a matter of asking the city council (the bakers) to reconsider the definition section to make it explicitly include temporary installations (or whatever). I don’t think anyone is trying to argue that a requirement that art be permanent can be divined from the current definition. That requirement follows from the choice of funding mechanism.

    So if you would like to use the money generated under the city’s public art ordinance for a broader set of projects than currently allowed, then a useful first subject of conversation is not the definition of public art in the ordinance, but rather the funding mechanism specified in the ordinance.

    If you want the freedom to define public art in a way that allows funding for the kind of creative endeavors that folks have mentioned, then the first step is to give up the idea of tapping capital budgets.

    One alternative would be to scrap the ordinance, and instead ask voters to tax themselves. In Ann Arbor, 1 mill of property tax generates roughly $4.5 million a year. A .05 mill tax, which translates into $5 a year for the owner of an “average” house with a market value of $200,000 and taxable value of $100,000, would generate roughly $225,000 a year. If you think that public art needs more than $225,000 a year, then adjust the millage number upward and ask voters for that. A millage, for say five years at a time, would provide a public art program with a similar kind of stability that supporters of the current ordinance point to. The funds generated with such a millage could be used in whatever way the community would like to define public art, without being subject to the current constraints associated with capital budgets.

    Or if you want to be bold, ask for a millage on top of the current ordinance instead of scrapping it.

    In any case, the most useful focus of conversation is the manner in which public art is funded, not the definition of public art.

  12. By abc
    March 8, 2012 at 9:09 am | permalink

    I am afraid that I was composing this offline while the last two posts came in but in skimming them I do not think this is particularly redundant.

    Mr. Tucker

    From the reporting from this article under, “Developing a Master Plan: Setting Goals – Temporary Art”.

    “Chamberlin said that AAPAC has been told that the Percent for Art funds can’t be used for temporary art. By way of background, the meaning of “permanent” has been explained to AAPAC by city staff as relating to the ability of an item to be capitalized. At AAPAC’s July 2010 meeting, Sue McCormick – who at that time supervised the program as the city’s public services administrator – told commissioners that the city runs a depreciation schedule on each piece of art, and that artwork is considered a capital investment that needs to last a minimum of five years. At AAPAC’s December 2011 meeting, Chamberlin reported that the city’s finance staff had revised its definition of “permanent” to a minimum of two years, not five.”

    So from the above paragraph we know that the AAPAC “has been told” (from whom? I don’t know) that they cannot spend money on temporary art. This opened the door to HAVE to define permanent art; the opposite of temporary art. It seems, also from the above paragraph that the city has, maybe tacitly, originally defined permanence as 5 years, since this is how they have been depreciating ALL of their non-temporary purchases for some time; this has since changed to two years.. Lastly this is not news; the AAPAC has been discussing it for years always with the same result.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that this constraint is a good thing for public art. I am saying it is a real constraint for the system that has been set up. It should come as no surprise that directing public money to the production of actual works of art would be clumsy at best. But there are two silver linings that you have reminded me of, Mr. Tucker. One, is that there is a funding source, the other is that art evolves faster than government.

    Here’s your challenge, (assuming you are interested) rather than cramming FestiFools (or any other program) into the PfA program, try designing a piece / performance / work / object that achieves your goals while satisfying the simple-mindedness of the funding source. A sculpture that melts over two years could be very interesting and might bring people back to it over and over to check up on its progress. Look no further than some of the environmental work of the Land Art Movement (Christo, Turrell, Smithson, etc). But maybe that’s not your shtick. OK how about a piece that is both temporary and permanent; one with ceremony. How about a concrete piece with a wooden component that is burned twice a year to celebrate the equinoxes. Maybe different local artists are brought in to rebuild it each time. Burning Ann Arbor!

    My point with respect to art in general, and I have to assume you will agree, is that just because something is permanent, temporary or ephemeral does not make it good. Good is good. I think we need to take advantage of what we have regardless of its limitations; but we need to do it realistically.

    I can look at it this way. There’s this girl, Artie Works, who was asked to the dance by Cito Hall, (a nice Italian American from a conservative family). Well Artie accepts and lets Cito pay for their entrance and drinks, etc. Cito then asks Artie to dance and of course she agrees. But then Cito explains that all he knows is the Waltz because in his conservative family anything other than Waltzing is considered wrong. Artie is crushed, while she can Waltz she considers it passe and boring; she has moved beyond Waltzing years ago. So maybe she should consider how to redefine Waltzing if she is going to have fun; she is not going to change Cito tonight.

  13. March 8, 2012 at 10:43 am | permalink

    To summarize (11), “form follows funding”.

  14. March 8, 2012 at 8:40 pm | permalink

    Well, in fact, in this case it was Artie Works who asked Cito Hall to the dance (partly because Artie was too poor to afford to go by herself, but also partly because Artie kinda liked Cito and was interested in his future well being). So, after being asked many times, Cito finally agrees to go to the dance with Artie (he was a little nervous after all–since he didn’t really know Artie very well), so he takes a risk, and decides to pay their way, and it becomes clear as the night goes on that the party is headed for disaster because Cito only knows how to Waltz (b-o-r-r-r-ing)…but then Artie gets a great idea; how about if she takes Cito by the hand and shows him how to do the latest dance, and against all odds, Cito agrees to trust his new friend Artie, learns a great new dance, and then BOTH of them end up having a great time at the party–but that’s not all– Cito gets so excited with his new-found dance moves that he ends up showing all of his friends how to do the new dance, and pretty soon everyone is up on their feet dancing, dancing, dancing…”Whew” thought Artie, that was a close one.

  15. By Rod Johnson
    March 10, 2012 at 8:15 pm | permalink

    I’m a little confused about the genders there.

  16. By abc
    March 12, 2012 at 8:28 am | permalink

    Mr. Tucker

    My story was just a bit of a humorous way to illustrate the old saying that “you have to dance with the one who brung you’. By changing the story I am not clear what you are trying to say.

    “… it was Artie Works who asked Cito Hall to the dance.” – I would equate being asked to the dance with passing the Percent for the Arts ordinance; City Hall did that.

    “… so he takes a risk, and decides to pay their way, and it becomes clear as the night goes on that the party is headed for disaster…” – I don’t see City Hall recognizing any disaster. I see City Hall being just fine with expenditures on monumental, building-like art works.

    “…Artie gets a great idea…” (and everything that follows). This is where we diverge. As stated before by Dave Askins and myself, you can want this all you want BUT due to the funding source the attorneys and the politicians (the parents in the story) will not let this happen. The metaphor breaks down if you want to allow Cito to be rebellious. City Hall cannot be rebellious because those that speak for City Hall ARE the politicians and lawyers; there is no innocent and curious child between City Hall and the arts.

    As I write this I am considering if you are thinking of the AAPAC Board as something between the arts community and City Hall. I obviously do not know but I do not consider them to be. Their power is directly derived from City Hall’s attorneys interpretation of the ordinances; hence their being shackled to monumental art that can be depreciated over two years. That comes straight from the bureaucrats.

  17. By John C
    March 20, 2012 at 10:46 am | permalink

    The origin of the concept of “Percent for Art” has not even been discussed…that’s disappointing. I’ll take a shot at it (in simplistic terms). Years ago the Federal Government decided that just spending millions of dollars on buildings with nothing aesthetic as a part of it was not a good idea. It was decided that a percent (1%) would be set aside from the budget of each project to allow for the creation of Public Art – to be associated with the project. I think it is a good idea.

    Look where we are now. Instead of using the funds to support the creative arts (and that includes local artists) we are tied up with political agendas and rhetoric. The work in front of City Hall is a good example of bad decisions. It really is time we support local creative talent. Many states and cities have percent for art programs (not Federal) that restrict proposals to local (state or county or city) artists. Apparently, we’re too arrogant to do that.

    As far as percent for art funds being used on temporary art – like FestiFools, or artist in residencies – it shouldn’t be. HOWEVER – Ann Arbor MUST invest in art projects like FestiFools. It has proven to be successful – it is working and creating interest in the city, and bringing people to the events. Investing in the arts and culture of Ann Arbor is essential if we want to keep the city relevant. Sure, the U of M will keep us relevant as far as performing arts is concerned. What Mark Tucker has done deserves the city’s support – and there should be funding set aside for the arts -IN ADDITION TO the percent for art program. What must happen is separate funding needs to be set up for the arts in Ann Arbor. City’s that invest in the arts typically are healthier than those which don’t.

  18. By abc
    March 20, 2012 at 1:43 pm | permalink

    @17 – John C

    “Years ago the Federal Government decided that just spending millions of dollars on buildings with nothing aesthetic as a part of it was not a good idea. It was decided that a percent (1%) would be set aside from the budget of each project to allow for the creation of Public Art – to be associated with the project.”

    Any chance you could let us know under which administration this occurred and how that decision is documented and implemented? I am aware of many Federal programs that support the arts dating back to those set up under FDR but I am not aware of your reference.

    Also with respect to local artists go to the link in comment #2 on this thread and scroll down to Mayor Hieftje’s response in comment #19 on that thread as to the possibility of limiting the funding to local artists. He says “No”, citing federal laws to support not limiting the selection process, implying that all of those states and cities that do limit their selections to local artists may be in violation of the Privileges & Immunities Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The city may be overly cautious, be I am hard pressed to call that arrogant.

  19. By John Floyd
    March 20, 2012 at 5:34 pm | permalink

    It is one level of lawlessness – and bad public policy – to divert bond funds from their stated, approved purpose to an unrelated purpose, like artwork. It is a whole new level of lawlessness – and disastrously bad public policy – to divert bond funds to operating expenses, such as funding Festifools, artists in residence or temporary art installations.

    This perspective is not about the worth – or unworth – of Publicly Funded art (vs. public Art, such as the noted privately-funded fairy doors downtown) in general, nor about any particular installation. It is always and everywhere a bad idea to use bond funds (i.e., borrowed money) to pay for current operations. This is an equally wrong way to fund police or fire operations, street cleaning, or cutting grass in the parks – art, shmart. It’s like paying credit card interest this year on the groceries that you ate two years ago.

    If people want to pay taxes to fund public art, do it either 1) via the general fund, which has no restrictions on the public purposes to which it can be used, or 2) via a dedicated millage. Either of these approaches is more honest – and better policy – than pretending that diverting bonds funds is free, and without consequence.

    Personally, I agree with those who think public art in Ann Arbor can and should be privately funded. Walk through Gallup Park, and look at the number of memorial benches it contains. Clearly there are plenty of people in town who are happy to pony up personal funds for public amenities in exchange for minute recognition of a loved one. So many, in fact, that, as I understand it, Gallup Park is no longer accepting any more memorial benches. An art fund that accepted memorial contributions seems like it would be a winner. Memorializations could be on a wall at city hall, or near the site of an installation, or in some other manner. In any case, there seems to be no shortage of private funds for public amenities.