Art for E. Stadium, Argo Cascades Moves Ahead

Also: Art commission hears pitch for large Whirlydoodle installation

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (April 25, 2012): Two action items on this month’s AAPAC agenda advanced art projects to be located at the East Stadium bridges and Argo Cascades.

Dave Kunkle, Tim Jones

From left: Dave Konkle and Tim Jones spoke to the Ann Arbor public art commission about their Whirlydoodle project. Jones invented the device, which is on the table between them and is designed to highlight wind energy. Many others are already installed on light poles and elsewhere throughout downtown Ann Arbor. (Photos by the writer.)

Commissioners approved a $150,000 budget for artwork at the new Huron River bypass near the Argo Pond canoe livery – called Argo Cascades. A task force recommended that the artwork have a “water” theme, and use the bulk of $155,561 that has accumulated from the city’s Percent for Art funds from water-related capital projects. The city will issue a request for artists to submit a statement of qualification (SOQ), and from those submittals a smaller number of artists will be paid $1,000 each to submit formal proposals.

In a separate vote, commissioners approved issuing a request for proposals (RFP) for artwork at the East Stadium bridges. They had previously set a budget of $400,000 for that project, which potentially will incorporate multiple locations on and near the reconstructed bridges.

Several other projects were discussed at the April 25 meeting, but no formal action was taken. During public commentary, commissioners heard from Dave Konkle and Tim Jones regarding a large Whirlydoodle installation they hope to build. The devices were invented by Jones as miniature wind generators, with LED lights that vary in color depending on wind speed – about two dozen are currently placed around the downtown area. A large-scale installation would help people to visualize wind currents and prompt a discussion about alternative energy, he said.

Konkle is the city’s former energy coordinator who now does consulting work for the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority as energy programs director. He told commissioners that a display of 1,000 Whirlydoodles – possible at the former landfill at Platt and Carpenter – would result in Ann Arbor having more wind generators than any other city in the world, and would bring the city national attention. The two men asked AAPAC to endorse the proposal, but commissioners did not act on it or discuss it in depth at the meeting.

They did discuss the status of a glass sculpture that AAPAC recommended for the lobby of the Justice Center, which awaits city council approval. At their April 2, 2012 meeting, councilmembers postponed a vote on the $150,000 project until their May 7 meeting, hoping to address concerns about access to the lobby. Visitors must pass through a security checkpoint to enter, and some councilmembers hope that the checkpoint can be relocated. AAPAC commissioners talked about the need to decouple the artwork approval from the broader concerns about access to the lobby, so that the art project can move forward.

During the meeting, two other potential projects were introduced: (1) an art loan program, to select work from individual artists or galleries that would be installed on city-owned property for a temporary period; and (2) a proposal to fund poles in the downtown area that would be used to hang banners over the street. Tony Derezinski, an AAPAC member who also serves on the city council, brought forward the idea for banner poles, to provide an alternative to the current anchors that are affixed to building facades. He described the poles as easels for the banners, which he characterized as artwork. The banners typically are purchased by organizations to promote upcoming events.

Commissioners also received updates on several ongoing projects at their April meeting: (1) the Golden Paintbrush awards, which will be presented in June; (2) a mural at Allmendinger Park; (3) artwork in the proposed city rain garden at Kingsley and First; and (4) signs for the city hall plaza and Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture.

Commissioners also reached a consensus to hold another retreat in May, following up on a four-hour retreat on Feb. 26, 2012, to address the creation of a master plan for public art, among other issues.

Public Art at Argo Cascades

Commissioners were asked to approve a $150,000 budget for artwork at Argo Cascades. The budget includes an artist contract of up to $115,000, as well as $35,000 to cover the following: (1) a 10% contingency; (2) 10% for administration; and (3) honorariums for up to five artists at $1,000 each, to cover the cost of submitting proposals.

Argo Cascades is the new Huron River bypass near the Argo Pond canoe livery. A task force for the project recommended first issuing a statement of qualifications (SOQ), then narrowing down the candidates to a maximum of five artists who would submit more formal proposals. The task force identified four potential locations for art, including the bridges on either end of the Cascades. The artist who’s eventually selected would have discretion to choose one or more of the locations for the project.

Malverne Winborne

Malverne Winborne, AAPAC member who's on a task force for public art at Argo Cascades.

The task force also recommended that the artwork have a “water” theme, and use the bulk of $155,561 that has accumulated from the city’s Percent for Art funds from water-related capital projects. The city’s public art ordinance requires that 1% of all capital project budgets (up to a limit of $250,000 per project) be set aside for public art.

Artwork funded through the Percent for Art program is supposed to serve the purpose of the fund providing the source of money. The two options for this project had been Percent for Art funds from water-related or parks-related capital projects. The available funds from the parks Percent for Art fund is significantly smaller – only $5,655.

A mission statement developed by the project’s task force states: ”The Argo Cascades public art project will be informed by the historical connection of the urban city and the natural river at this location. The public art here will be a marker of the community’s interest in ‘facing the river,’ as it celebrates the river’s water quality, environmental assets, and recreational uses.”

Task force members are as follows: AAPAC commissioners John Kotarski and Malverne Winborne; Cheryl Saam, the city’s recreation facilities supervisor for the Argo and Gallup liveries; artist and former AAPAC chair Margaret Parker; Cathy Fleisher, a local resident; Bonnie Greenspoon of the Ann Arbor Rowing Club; Julie Grand, chair of the city’s park advisory commission; and Colin Smith, parks and recreation manager.

The project had been on the agenda for the March 2012 AAPAC meeting, but was tabled because neither of the two commissioners who are on the project’s task force – Malverne Winborne and John Kotarski – attended that meeting. Other commissioners felt they needed more information before voting on a budget.

At the April 25 meeting, AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin said the next steps would include Seagraves working with the task force and the city attorney’s staff to develop the SOQ. When Theresa Reid asked whether the SOQ would be ready for review at AAPAC’s next meeting in late May, Chamberlin said that would be very optimistic, given the length of time it typically takes for legal staff to respond.

Outcome: The $150,000 budget for artwork at Argo Cascades was unanimously approved.

RFP for East Stadium Bridges Art

On the agenda was an item to approve issuing a request for proposals (RFP) for artwork at the East Stadium bridges. [.pdf of draft East Stadium bridges artwork RFP] AAPAC had set a $400,000 budget for the project at its March 2012 meeting.

Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, reported that the RFP was still being reviewed by the city attorney’s office, but that it wasn’t expected to change significantly. Bob Miller, one of the newer AAPAC members who also serves on the East Stadium bridges public art task force, asked how long the attorney’s office had been reviewing the document. Since February, Seagraves said. Miller asked that Seagraves try to firm up a date by which the legal staff would be finished.

Of the project’s $400,000 budget, a maximum of $360,000 will be available for the artist. The remainder is set aside for contingency costs, honorariums for finalists, and administrative expenses.

Bob Miller

Bob Miller, an AAPAC member who serves on the task force for public art at the East Stadium bridges.

Goals for the artwork include: (1) unifying an area that has highly diverse uses, including single-family homes, apartment buildings, student housing, retail, and university sports facilities (such as Michigan Stadium and the Crisler Center); (2) creating awareness for art with multiple audiences – drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians, neighbors, residents, out-of-town-visitors; and (3) creating multiple pieces that are tied together by a unifying theme.

Possible locations for the artwork include the fence along Rose White Park, which is adjacent to East Stadium; the end of White Street, which intersects with East Stadium; the north side of East Stadium Boulevard; the underpass and staircases at South State Street; and the East Stadium bridge abutments, sidewalk and railings.

Two AAPAC commissioners – Wiltrud Simbuerger  and Bob Miller – serve on a task force for the project. Other task force members are Nancy Leff of the Lower Burns Park Neighborhood Association; Jim Kosteva, University of Michigan director of community relations; David Huntoon, a principle of Intalytics; and Joss Kiely, a UM graduate student and community member.

The tentative timeline for the project includes a June deadline for responses to the RFP, with up to five finalists selected. Those finalists will be given $2,000 honorariums for a full proposal. A full proposal deadline is set for September, followed by a recommendation from AAPAC and a vote by the city council in November. The project would be implemented in 2013.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously approved the request for proposals (RFP) for the East Stadium bridges artwork.

Whirlydoodle Project

During time set aside for public commentary, Dave Konkle and Tim Jones spoke to commissioners about their Whirlydoodle project. Konkle, the city’s former energy coordinator who now works for the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority as energy programs director, began by noting that perhaps commissioners had seen the “strange things that have been showing up around town.”


Two Whirlydoodles mounted on a pole in a surface parking lot near the Blake Transit Center in downtown Ann Arbor.

Jones described the Whirlydoodles as miniature wind generators, with LED lights that vary in color depending on wind speed. The project has a lot of scientific value not just for kids, but also for adults, he said. A large-scale installation would be a spectacular way to visualize wind currents and prompt a discussion about alternative energy.

Konkle said when Jones brought the project to him, he thought it was cool. They decided it would be fun if the Whirlydoodles just started to appear around town, he said. When they approached Susan Pollay, the DDA’s executive director, she was enthusiastic about putting them up in the DDA district, Konkle reported.

Now, they’d like to do a large-scale installation of 1,000 or more Whirlydoodles on a hillside, Konkle said, where you could literally see the wind currents as they activate the devices. He noted that they had submitted an application to AAPAC for a project on the city’s closed landfill at Platt and Carpenter roads, on the south side of Ann Arbor facing the Swift Run dog park. [.pdf of Whirlydoodle project application]

They estimate the project will cost about $100,000. Konkle said that Big George’s, a local appliance store, has committed to contributing $10,000 and now they’re looking for additional funding. He said he realized there were obstacles. They’ve tried to understand the city’s Percent for Art funding rules, he said, and it’s hard to see how the project would be eligible, given the constraints on the types of projects that can be funded.

So instead of funding, Konkle said it would make their job easier if AAPAC would endorse the project, even without funding. That endorsement would help them raise money from other sources. He concluded by saying that the project would result in Ann Arbor having more wind generators than any other city in the world, and it would bring the city national attention. It’s “whimsical, serious and fun,” he said.

Whirlydoodle Project: Commission Discussion

There was no action taken regarding the request, and minimal discussion among commissioners. AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin observed that the commission had never been asked to endorse a project in this way.

Justice Center Artwork

Commissioners discussed recent city council action on a recommended art installation at the city’s new Justice Center. At their April 2, 2011 meeting, councilmembers postponed a vote on the use of $150,000 for a public art project in the lobby of the new building at the northeast corner of Huron Street and Fifth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor. The Justice Center, next to city hall, houses the 15th District Court and the Ann Arbor police department. The postponement was for one month, until the council’s May 7 meeting.

Rendering of "Radius" sculpture

A rendering of Ed Carpenter's proposed "Radius" sculpture in the southwest corner of Ann Arbor's Justice Center lobby. This image was revised from earlier drawings by the artist to include more glass, at the request of a selection task force. (Links to larger image)

Because it houses the district court, the Justice Center features airport-style security measures at the entrance, and visitors must surrender electronic devices like cameras and cellphones to be locked in cubicles during their visit to the building. Councilmembers cited concerns about accessibility by the public to the artwork, and some expressed interest in using the delay to explore the possibility of moving the security screening to a point well past the entrance in the building’s lobby. The visibility of the proposed sculpture from outside the building was also a point of discussion among councilmembers.

AAPAC, at its Jan. 25, 2012 meeting, had unanimously recommended selecting Ed Carpenter of Portland, Oregon for the $150,000 project. A task force had recommended the selection of Carpenter’s proposal – a sculpture called “Radius” – from three finalists.

Carpenter plans to create a hanging sculpture of dichroic glass, aluminum, stainless steel and lighting, including LED spot and flood lighting. Among the reasons for recommending Radius, the task force cited the sculpture’s metaphor: That the activities in the Justice Center have a “rippling” effect throughout the community, which echoes the water sculpture by Herbert Dreiseitl that’s located in the plaza outside the building.

At AAPAC’s April 25 meeting, Marsha Chamberlin said she’s talked with several people and her understanding is that the security checkpoint is the main concern – councilmembers still support the art installation, she said. Tony Derezinski, a Ward 2 city councilmember who also serves on AAPAC, reported that almost everyone on council said they weren’t against the project, but wanted the area to be more accessible to the public. He noted that he has an artificial hip, and it’s not wonderful going through security.

Derezinski also observed that the council is deliberating on the fiscal year 2013 budget now. “That’s always a tender time, when the city is making decisions,” he said.

Connie Brown expressed concern that the rug is being pulled out from under the project for a reason that wasn’t previously voiced by councilmembers. She said she’d like to figure out a way for those kinds of issues to be raised earlier in the process, so that the project isn’t delayed at this point.

Marsha Chamberlin

AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin.

Derezinski replied that there should be some deference shown to the judgments of “sub-entities” to the council, including AAPAC. But it takes a while to build confidence that things are working well, he noted, and for a long time the criteria for art selection wasn’t known or understood well by the council. He also said that for artwork, there would likely always be some second-guessing of decisions.

There was some uncertainty among commissioners about how much information council had received prior to April 2 about the Carpenter piece or the selection process. Theresa Reid observed that there needs to be a specific process that each project follows, and documentation for when the steps – such as informing city council – have been completed.

Cathy Gendron said her understanding is that the council is reconsidering the artwork, not just postponing it because of the security issue. She wondered if there was a way that AAPAC could ensure that the selection moved forward. Derezinski offered to talk with mayor John Hieftje. He said there’s no doubt that councilmembers like the project.

Chamberlin felt like there were two separate issues: (1) the selection of the artwork itself, and (2) access and security in the Justice Center lobby. The second issue is not one that AAPAC can influence, she said, adding that the lobby isn’t the most hospitable environment.

Reid advocated to decouple those two issues, and wondered whether commissioners should contact councilmembers directly to express that view. Derezinski suggested that Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, raise that point through staff channels, but he also indicated that t it might be good for commissioners to speak during public commentary at the May 7 meeting. He said his main concern is the timeline for the contract with the artist.

Bob Miller expressed similar concerns, and asked Seagraves whether there are any financial obligations with the artist at this point. Seagraves replied that there’s not yet a contract with the artist, because the council hasn’t approved the project. The original plan was for the work to be installed in December of 2012.

Chamberlin asked Seagraves to update her on his discussions with city staff. She said that if the item is on the May 7 council agenda, it’s important for AAPAC to have a written statement prepared in support of it.

Art Loan Program

As an item of new business, AAPAC commissioner Bob Miller proposed starting an art loan program, selecting work from individual artists or galleries to be installed on city-owned property for a period of 2-5 years. He suggested that the artists or galleries would pay for installation, insurance, maintenance and other costs, while the city would provide the location and possibly build a base for sculptures, for example. [.pdf of art loan proposal]

Miller said he modeled his proposal on a similar program that’s been successful in Sante Fe, New Mexico. It would be a great opportunity to bring more art to the public at little or no cost to the city, he said, adding that he didn’t see a downside but welcomed feedback.

Theresa Reid expressed support for the concept, and suggested forming a task force to develop a full proposal. Marsha Chamberlin agreed that a task force could address issues related to such a program. For example, the city has in the past been reluctant to accept donated art because of liability concerns, she said. Chamberlin noted that both Canton and Brighton run art loan programs.

Cathy Gendron also supported the idea, but observed that it appeared to conflict with a different program the commission has previously discussed – buying art outright, directly from artists or galleries. But perhaps a loan program is a better alternative to the city buying art, she said.

Miller didn’t think the two approaches were conflicting. Artwork that the city borrowed would likely be from artists who aren’t at the same level as artists that the city would buy from, he said.

Outcome: Commissioners voted unanimously to form a task force, chaired by Bob Miller, to develop a more detailed proposal for an art loan program.

Tony Derezinski

Tony Derezinski, an Ann Arbor city councilmember who also serves on the Ann Arbor public art commission.

Poles for Street Banners

Tony Derezinski, an AAPAC member who also serves on city council, brought forward a proposal to fund poles in the downtown area that would be used to hang banners over the street. He introduced the item by noting that banners hang across downtown streets about 40 weeks out of the year, primarily on Main Street, East Liberty and South University. The banners have been hung on anchors affixed to buildings, but with strong winds, those anchors are pulled and can damage the building’s facade.

Groups like the Main Street Area Association and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority are working on this issue, he said. One idea is for the Percent for Art program to fund poles from which banners can be hung. The poles could be considered as permanent easels for the banners, which he characterized as art.

The proposal submitted by Derezinski states that the city estimates a cost of $12,000 per pole. [.pdf of pole proposal]

Connie Brown pointed out that most banners promote upcoming events. Derezinski again stated that the banners are artwork.

AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin suggested that they table the discussion until a more specific proposal is presented.


Several opportunities arose during the meeting for commissioners and the public art administrator to give updates and raise topics for discussion. There was also opportunity for public commentary. The only public commentary at the April 25 meeting regarded the Whirlydoodle project, reported above.

Communications: Golden Paintbrush Awards

During his administrator’s report, Aaron Seagraves told commissioners that five nominations had been received for the annual Golden Paintbrush awards, which recognize local contributions to public art. He said he would set up an online poll for commissioners to vote, with the awards to be presented at a June meeting of the Ann Arbor city council.

Later in the meeting, Cathy Gendron of the commission’s PR committee reported that the committee is going to rethink the awards in terms of staging them in a different way to better highlight the artists.

Communications: Kingsley Rain Garden

A task force has been formed for public art in a proposed rain garden at the corner of Kingsley and First. Members include: AAPAC commissioner Connie Rizzolo-Brown; Claudette Stern and John Walters of METAL, a design and fabrication studio on Felch Street; Patrick Judd of Conservation Design Forum, which is under contract with the city to build the rain garden; Jerry Hancock, Ann Arbor’s stormwater and floodplain programs coordinator; and David Murabito of Beal Properties, also located on Felch.

During his administrator’s report, Aaron Seagraves noted that the group has met once and brainstormed about project criteria. They plan to meet again in the first half of May.

By way of background, the city recently bought 215 and 219 W. Kingsley – land that’s located in a floodplain. A boarded-up house is located on the corner lot; the adjacent lot is vacant. The city received a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to demolish the house and stabilize the site, in part by building a rain garden there.

The overall project cost is about $280,000 – the city will pay for 25% of that, or about $70,000. Because the city’s portion will come from the city’s stormwater fund, the public art component can use pooled Percent for Art funds captured from stormwater projects. A balance of about $27,000 is available in stormwater Percent for Art funds. [.pdf of rain garden project form] AAPAC approved the art portion of the project at its November 2011 meeting.

Communications: Dreiseitl Signs

At their March 28, 2012 meeting, commissioners had discussed the need for descriptive signs for the Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture in front of city hall. On April 25, Aaron Seagraves reported that Quinn Evans Architects – the Ann Arbor firm that designed the new municipal center, which includes a renovated city hall, the adjacent new Justice Center building, and the front plaza area – is being asked by the city to design a railing for the north side of the pedestrian bridge over the rain garden in front of city hall. Quinn Evans has offered to include a sign platform as well, and to design the signs, he said.

Commissioners had several questions about the effort, including whether the Percent for Art program would be covering the cost of the signs. Several commissioners stressed the need to coordinate the information on the signs for the Dreiseitl sculpture with the signs for the overall project, which would include information about the stormwater management aspects of the building and rain garden.

When Seagraves reported that a sign committee exists, consisting of city staff members, commissioners proposed that Cathy Gendron attend those meetings as a representative of AAPAC. An update will be included as an agenda item on AAPAC’s May 23 meeting.

Communications: Allmendinger Park Mural

Aaron Seagraves, during his administrator’s report, told commissioners that the Ann Arbor city council hasn’t yet formally accepted a $7,000 contribution from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation to help pay for a mural at Allmendinger Park. That will likely be an agenda item for the council at one of its May meetings, he said. After the contribution is accepted, the city can move ahead on a contract with the artist who’s been selected for the project – Mary Thiefels of Treetown Murals.

The total budget for the project is $12,000, with $5,000 coming from the Percent for Art program. AAPAC had approved the selection of Thiefels for this project at their January 2012 meeting. It will be the first mural in a program that’s intended to eventually add multiple murals throughout the city each year.

Communications: Master Plan, Retreat

At several points throughout the April 25 meeting, commissioners raised issues that they felt needed further discussion – including work to develop a master plan for public art, adjustments to the way that minutes are kept, how projects are developed and tracked, and what items to include in monthly meeting agendas.

They reached a consensus to hold another retreat in May, with a date to be determined. They most recently held a four-hour retreat on Feb. 26, 2012. In a follow-up email to The Chronicle, Aaron Seagraves reported that a tentative date for the retreat is Saturday, May 19.

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

Absent: John Kotarski, Wiltrud Simbuerger.

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 at 4:30 p.m. at city hall, 301 E. Huron St. [confirm date]

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  1. May 1, 2012 at 7:45 am | permalink

    I have a suggestion for the Argo “water themed” art project. Approach the owners of Szechuan West, which will soon be demolished, and see if they will sell the original Kale’s waterfall. For the amount of money involved, we could even save the entire lounge area with its red vinyl booths and shimmering waterfall paintings, and install it at the canoe livery.

  2. May 1, 2012 at 9:06 am | permalink

    Right on, Jim. Long live the Short Bar!

  3. By Steve Bean
    May 1, 2012 at 10:24 am | permalink

    I still don’t understand the desire for national attention.

    Are the river and its surrounding bluffs not beautiful enough that they need an art installation?

  4. By Rod Johnson
    May 1, 2012 at 11:03 am | permalink

    1,000 Whirlydoodles

    Anything worth doing is worth overdoing…?

  5. May 1, 2012 at 11:42 am | permalink

    So if the purpose of the public art program was to show the “soul” of Ann Arbor, what does using it to buy poles for advertising banners say?

  6. By Rod Johnson
    May 1, 2012 at 11:52 am | permalink

    The (grasping) fingers? The (beckoning) hand? The (your epithet here) stomach?

  7. By John Floyd
    May 1, 2012 at 5:36 pm | permalink

    The whole point of canoeing is the natural setting. Let the area be feral (!). This is the wrong place for “art”.

    I’m also not getting why a rain garden needs to be supplemented with “art”. Isn’t the garden itself the point?

    Publicly-funded “art” seems to be a solution in search of a problem.

  8. By John Floyd
    May 1, 2012 at 6:58 pm | permalink

    And BTW, while commercial advertisements may well turn into public art when they are hung on banners from publicly-funded poles, I am sufficiently out of my Lewis Carroll groove to not see it that way.

    The Walrus and the Carpenter
    Were walking close at hand;
    They wept like anything to see
    Such quantities of sand:
    “If this were only cleared away,”
    They said, “it would be grand!”

  9. May 6, 2012 at 11:33 am | permalink

    The Argo Cascades are lovely as is…my dog loves the place :) (except when an off-leash dog tried to mate with him, but that stuff happens). It’s a lovely addition to the Argo Pond area.

    I love those Whirlydoodles…I thought I was seeing things at first though because when they first appeared, it seemed like no one else had seen them but me and I started to question my sanity. This is neither the first time nor the last time this will happen :)