Push to Make Art Commission More Accessible

Public commentary expanded; Kotarski lobbies for other changes

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (July 25, 2012): A push for greater public engagement was a theme throughout the July AAPAC meeting, with John Kotarski – one of the newer commissioners – proposing several ways to get more public input.

John Kotarski

Ann Arbor public art commissioner John Kotarski at AAPAC's July 25, 2012 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

At Kotarski’s suggestion, commissioners considered three items related to AAPAC meetings: (1) adding a second opportunity for public commentary; (2) changing its meeting times; and (3) alternating the locations of its meetings. Kotarski also raised the possibility of recording the proceedings to be broadcast on Community Television Network (CTN).

The additional public commentary – offering speakers a second three-minute slot at the end of each meeting – was ultimately approved. Less enthusiasm was expressed for pushing back meeting times to later in the day. AAPAC meetings currently start at 4:30 p.m. on the fourth Wednesday of each month, and are held in the basement conference room at city hall. Kotarski proposed moving the meetings to different locations throughout the city, such as schools or other public sites, to make it easier for more people to attend. Commissioners had reservations about that idea too, nor was there much support voiced for a suggestion to record the meetings for broadcast by CTN. Kotarski plans to bring a specific proposal on these items to an upcoming meeting.

Another proposal by Kotarski – to include support for local sourcing as part of AAPAC’s strategic plan – was rejected by other commissioners. Some commissioners felt the idea didn’t fit into a strategic plan, because it was not an action item. Others questioned whether local sourcing of art projects was within AAPAC’s purview, because the commission doesn’t have authority over the city’s purchasing policies. They’ve also been advised that they can’t put geographic constraints on their selection of artists, and felt this would apply to sourcing, too.

Ultimately a four-year strategic plan was approved without Kotarski’s revision. The plan’s goals, in summary form, are: (1) increasing the number of public art pieces throughout the city; (2) diversifying the public engagement and participation in selecting public art; (3) increasing the public’s support and appreciation for public art through PR efforts; and (5) pursuing private funding for public art. More detailed objectives are provided for each of the goals.

Kotarski also was unsuccessful in convincing other commissioners to support an endorsement policy for non-city-funded art projects. AAPAC passed a resolution stating that the commission would not make endorsements – and Kotarski cast the lone dissenting vote. In a separate item, Kotarski joined his colleagues in a unanimous vote to establish an SOQ (statement of qualifications) process that creates an artist registry/database. The intent is to streamline the selection of artists for future projects.

During the July 25 meeting, commissioners were updated on several ongoing projects, including a follow-up on concerns raised last month about the Dreiseitl installation in front of city hall, artwork at a planned rain garden at Kingsley & First, and the status of security checkpoints allowing access to a hanging sculpture in the Justice Center lobby.

There were no updates for some projects because those projects are still being reviewed by the city attorney’s office. Several commissioners expressed frustration at the length of time these reviews are taking. One commissioner wondered what tools AAPAC can use to influence the process, perhaps by appealing to another level within the city administration. AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin agreed to draft a letter on the issue, and to discuss it with city councilmember Tony Derezinski, who serves on the commission but has not attended its June or July monthly meetings.

Action was deferred on proposed projects for public art at two locations: (1) a plaza next to the Forest Avenue parking structure near South University; and (2) a future roundabout at Ellsworth and South State. Commissioners wanted more time to visit those sites. They also debated whether to postpone action until task forces are formed to represent four quadrants of the city – it’s part of a new approach they’re planning to take to help guide the selection of projects and ensure that all parts of the city are represented.

The commission is likely to get more advance notice of possible projects, as Aaron Seagraves – the city’s public art administrator – will now be attending meetings of the capital improvements plan (CIP) team. The CIP is relevant to the art commission because funding for the Percent for Art program comes from the city’s capital projects –  with 1% of each capital project, up to a cap of $250,000 per project, being set aside for public art. The CIP also indicates which major projects are on the horizon that might incorporate public art. By identifying such projects, AAPAC can start planning the public art component as early as possible, as part of the project’s design, rather than as an add-on.

Dreiseitl Follow-up

At AAPAC’s June 2012 meeting, commissioners had discussed the status of the Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture in front of city hall – in particular, the issue of why it’s been dry for long periods. The discussion had stemmed from a written update by public art administrator Aaron Seagraves. The update explained why the water feature had malfunctioned and had noted that the water flow was intended to mimic the rainfall in the area. This information about the water sculpture reflecting the rain cycle was new to many commissioners – including some who had been serving on AAPAC when the project was approved. One of AAPAC’s newest commissioners, John Kotarski, advocated for a follow-up about how the project had evolved.

The June discussion had concluded with commissioners agreeing to send questions to the Dreiseitl project team. At the July 25 meeting, Seagraves provided another written report with answers about the sculpture. Among other things, the report included an email exchange between Dreiseitl and Ken Clein, a project manager with Quinn Evans Architects who oversaw the Dreiseitl installation. [.pdf of full report]

One of the questions that commissioners had posed related to Dreiseitl’s original intent for the work – did he intend for there to be periods when the water didn’t flow? The following is extracted from the email exchange between Clein and Dreiseitl on that issue:

July 12, 2012 email excerpt from Ken Clein to Herbert Dreiseitl:

“There seems to be some confusion regarding your intention for the water supply. Currently only filtered rainwater is used and many have been surprised when it has run dry due to lack of rain this year. The City would like a brief statement from you regarding your intentions for the water supply to set the record straight. Apparently they had the impression that it would run all season (which with normal rain fall would probably be true). The City may ask us to devise a source of potable water as a back-up. If you have any misgivings about this, please express those as well.”

July 12, 2012 from Dreiseitl to Clein: 

“I think if there is no rain it is OK for me to use potable water. It is even more relevant to celebrate the beauty of water in a sensitive way just in dry weather conditions.”

That response resulted in a follow-up email from Clein later that day:

“To me there is something poetic about letting the sculpture reflect the natural cycles, but I too understand that the City and residents would like to see the water running all summer. Your original concept for the sculpture was to rely on the rain. Is that correct?”

Dreiseitl’s response:

“yes you are right we were thinking the sculpture is reflecting the seasons. Rainy days – water on the sculpture. No water for a long time – no water in the system.”

At the July 25 meeting, Marsha Chamberlin said she felt the responses to AAPAC’s questions – responses that also included comments from former AAPAC chair Margaret Parker and Matt Kulhanek, the city’s fleet and facilities manager – had answered the questions thoughtfully and completely.

Chamberlin indicated it was interesting that the people involved early in the project did not envision that the sculpture would have water flowing the entire time. [The Chronicle's attended all AAPAC meetings during the selection of Dreiseitl for this project, and covered Dreiseitl's presentation to city council and the public prior to the council's approval. In reviewing Chronicle coverage of those early discussions, a seasonal aspect that was highlighted related to the water flow during wintertime – when it was anticipated that the water feature would not operate because of freezing temperatures.]

Kotarski had several questions and comments related to the written report. He noted that Clein referred to AAPAC meetings, which are open to the public, as the means for getting public input on the Dreiseitl project. Though there is opportunity for public participation at these meetings, Kotarski said, that doesn’t translate into involvement. He thought AAPAC should try harder to engage the public.

Kotarski also suggested doing this kind of debriefing after every project. He was disappointed that only three of the 16 people who were directly involved in the Dreiseitl project had responded to AAPAC’s questions.

He then turned his comments to the functioning of the “water fountain.” At that, Theresa Reid corrected him, saying it’s a sculpture, not a fountain. Calling it a fountain is a misnomer, she said.

Kotarski expressed concern that it hadn’t been built as Dreiseitl had designed it. He contended that it appeared the sculpture did not capture water from the roofs of the Justice Center and city hall. Seagraves clarified that the rainwater from the roofs of city hall and the adjacent Justice Center is collected into two tanks, which can hold a total of 2,300 gallons of water. Water from those tanks is used for the Dreiseitl work. A separate cistern also collects water from the roofs. [Seagraves also initially referred to the work as a fountain, and was corrected by Malverne Winborne.]

Kotarski said he’d gone out and looked at the site, and it’s not clear to him how the water from the roofs flows into the underground tanks. He wondered how that could be verified.

Sabra Briere, a Ward 1 city councilmember who was attending the meeting, volunteered to explain. She stated that spouts from the police/courts building – which she noted was called the Justice Center, but said she preferred not to use that name – direct water into a holding tank on the west side of the site. Spouts on city hall direct water into a tank under the front plaza. That’s how the water is collected for use in the Dreiseitl piece, she said.

Connie Brown suggested that Seagraves invite an architect or someone else familiar with the project to attend an AAPAC meeting and explain how it works, so that commissioners aren’t speculating.

Commissioners also briefly discussed the text for a proposed sign to be located next to the Dreiseitl piece, which explains how it works in relation to the building and rain garden. [.pdf of text for the sign] There was general agreement that the text provided a good explanation.

Bob Miller returned to Kotarski’s suggestion about regular debriefings. He wondered if Seagraves could put together a debriefing survey for each project. Winborne urged the commission to keep it simple – he warned against “analysis paralysis” and suggested using the same questions that had been asked of the Dreiseitl piece. Other commissioners concurred. Those questions are:

  • Who were the major decision-makers on this project?
  • What went well with the process? Conversely, what were the lessons learned? (from the key stakeholders’ perspectives)
  • What was the role of the commission on this project?
  • How was public input folded into this project?

In addition, one set of questions was asked that was specific to the Dreiseitl project: Did the design take into account periods of little or no rain? If not, then what steps are being taking to address this issue?

Outcome: This was not a voting item, but commissioners directed Seagraves to invite someone from the Dreiseitl project to a future AAPAC meeting to explain how the sculpture relates to the site’s stormwater management.

Strategic Plan

The commission discussed a four-year strategic plan, which identifies several major goals to pursue through 2016. AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin had drafted the plan based on previous commission discussions – including a February 2012 retreat. Each goal was fleshed out with more detailed objectives. [.pdf of draft strategic plan]

Although commissioners discussed and edited the document during the July 25 meeting, no substantive changes were made. These are the draft goals, which were modified slightly during the meeting:

  • Ann Arbor will substantially increase the number of public works of art throughout the city through the annual assignment of funds and an expedited project development and artist selection process.
  • AAPAC will diversify public engagement and participation in the selection of Public Art by establishing a standing task force in each of the city quadrants to recommend public art projects therein. (Quadrants will be based on the “land use areas” from the City of Ann Arbor’s Master Plan, Land Use Element, 2009)
  • AAPAC will increase the public understanding, appreciation and support of public art through consistent public relations efforts.
  • Pursue private funding for public art.

Another goal from the draft – to develop an art-on-loan program by fiscal 2015 – was eliminated and instead incorporated as an objective in one of the other goals.

One potential major change was brought up by John Kotarski. He wanted to add a goal related to AAPAC’s commitment to local sourcing. Dreiseitl is an example of that, he said – although Herbert Dreiseitl is German, much of the fabricating and installation work was done locally. It was an important goal, he said, and one that would reflect concerns raised by the community. It supports the goal of building a sustainable local arts community, he said.

Several commissioners expressed concerns about adding that goal to the strategic plan. Malverne Winborne felt it was outside of the commission’s purview. AAPAC projects must adhere to city policies, he said. Cathy Gendron noted that AAPAC had been told they can’t put geographic limitations on the selection of artists – that could apply to other aspects of a project, too.

Wiltrud Simbuerger observed that even if AAPAC doesn’t have authority to make those sourcing decisions, commissioners do have to answer questions from the community. So they need to have an answer ready when someone asks about local sourcing. She supporting including it in a mission statement, saying that AAPAC wants to improve the city’s commitment to local sourcing.

Theresa Reid said that was a good point, but she didn’t think it belonged in AAPAC’s strategic plan – because there’s no action they can take.

After further debate, Kotarski conceded that ”I think I’ve beat the horse totally dead. Thank you all for your indulgence.” There was no change made to the strategic plan regarding local sourcing.

Chamberlin agreed to work on a final version that incorporates changes suggested during Wednesday’s meeting.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously voted to accept the strategic plan through 2016.

Meeting-Related Logistics

Commissioners considered three items related to its meetings: (1) adding a second opportunity for public commentary; (2) changing its meeting times; and (3) alternating the locations of its meetings. Also raised was the possibility of recording the proceedings to be broadcast on Community Television Network (CTN).

AAPAC meetings are currently held in the basement conference room at city hall, starting at 4:30 p.m. on the fourth Wednesday of each month. They are not recorded by CTN.

Meeting-Related Logistics: Public Commentary

An action item on the agenda asked commissioners to add a second three-minute public commentary slot at the end of its meetings. Previously, members of the public could formally address AAPAC only at the beginning of each meeting.

The issue of adding another public commentary slot was raised at AAPAC’s June 27, 2012 meeting by commissioner John Kotarski. The intent would be for people to have the opportunity to give feedback before a decision by AAPAC, then provide feedback after that decision is made, he said. Before AAPAC made a decision about public commentary, the commission last month directed Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, to research the public commentary practices of other city of Ann Arbor commissions and boards. The majority of those entities include two slots for public commentary. Most of them limit speaking turns to three minutes per speaker.

Bob Miller noted that before he was appointed to AAPAC, he attended several of the commission’s meetings and had wanted more opportunities to participate during those meetings.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously voted to add a second public commentary slot to their monthly meetings.

At Wednesday’s meeting, one person – Thomas Partridge – spoke during public commentary. He urged commissioners to advocate for art projects that emphasize political, social and justice-oriented themes, as well as artwork that has an obvious connection to people.

Meeting-Related Logistics: Time, Location, CTN

Kotarski also proposed changing both the time and location of AAPAC’s monthly meetings. When he had spoken to people at the recent art fairs Townie Party, one concern he’d heard was that people didn’t feel that AAPAC is accessible. One difficulty was the meeting time – it’s difficult for many people to attend meetings in the late afternoon. He had subsequently reviewed the meeting times for other city boards and commissions, and noted that many of them start after 5 p.m. A later meeting time would make it easier for more people to attend AAPAC meetings, Kotarski said – especially people who work until 5 p.m.

He also wanted to move the meetings to different locations throughout the city, such as schools or other public sites. It ties into AAPAC’s decision to take a quadrant approach to selecting public art locations. By meeting in each of the quadrants, rather than city hall, it will give commissioners a better feel for different parts of the city, Kotarski said, and make it easier for people in those quadrants to participate in AAPAC’s meetings.

Bob Miller

Ann Arbor public art commissioner Bob Miller.

Wiltrud Simbuerger wondered if meeting elsewhere would be possible. She noted that in the past, AAPAC had been told that it needed to meet in a city-owned location. [When The Chronicle began covering AAPAC in 2008, the meetings were held in the conference room of JJR, a private business. One of the commissioners at the time worked there. Later, the meetings were moved to a City Center office that the city leased, and then were moved to the city hall following its recent renovation.]

Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, reported that there’s a designated list of meeting places that are acceptable for the city’s boards and commissions. He later clarified for The Chronicle that those locations include city-owned facilities, the Washtenaw County administration building, the Ann Arbor District Library and public schools.

Bob Miller said he agreed about the meeting time, but had reservations about changing the location. If they start moving the meetings, then the complaint will be that it’s hard to know where they’re meeting. He thought that sticking to one place is best, and city hall is where people expect to find groups like AAPAC.

Theresa Reid had the opposite view. She liked the idea of different locations, but didn’t feel she could meet at a later time. She has children and a job that requires work at night. She also noted that their meetings typically run until 7 p.m., and they’ve just added a new slot for public commentary at the end of the meeting.

Kotarski then proposed recording the meetings for Community Television Network (CTN), as another way to make AAPAC’s work more accessible. The idea generally did not appear to be enthusiastically received, although Miller supported it.

Reid noted that AAPAC planned to set up task forces for each quadrant. She felt those task forces would do much of the outreach work to address Kotarski’s concerns about accessibility. Kotarski replied that the commission could take baby steps, but he wants to move them in the direction of becoming more accessible.

Miller thought the suggestions needed more thought. Kotarski offered to come up with some specific options and present those at the August meeting.

Outcome: This was a non-voting item. Kotarski is expected to make a more formal proposal at AAPAC’s August meeting.

AAPAC Endorsements

The possibility of an endorsement policy had been on AAPAC’s June 2012 agenda, but was tabled so that commissioners could have more time to think it through. The issue had initially been raised at AAPAC’s April 25, 2012 meeting, when Dave Konkle and Tim Jones had asked the commission to consider endorsing a large Whirlydoodle installation they hope to build. Jones had invented the devices as miniature wind generators, with LED lights that vary in color depending on wind speed.

Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, had prepared a report for AAPAC’s July 25 meeting, outlining possible advantages and disadvantages to an endorsement policy. Advantages included publicly encouraging other public art projects and expanding the influence of AAPAC. That approach would increase awareness of public art in the city. An endorsement policy also would fit under the city’s public art ordinance requirements to promote awareness and initiate public/private networking.

Downsides cited in Seagraves’ report include the fact that not endorsing a public art project could be to the detriment of that project. Creating criteria for an endorsement policy would be a distraction from AAPAC’s primary responsibilities, and the ordinance is unclear about the issue of endorsements.

Connie Rizzolo Brown

Ann Arbor public art commissioner Connie Rizzolo Brown.

On July 25, Theresa Reid began the discussion by immediately making a motion – to pass a resolution stating that AAPAC would not make endorsements of other non-city art projects. She said she’d been totally persuaded by the downsides that Seagraves had cited.

Some commissioners objected to the word “endorsement.” Connie Brown preferred something less formal, saying she would support encouraging or sharing information about other art projects, but not endorsing them. Cathy Gendron noted that endorsements boil down to a subjective judgment.

John Kotarski argued strongly for developing an endorsement policy. He said such a policy would speak to four of the nine AAPAC duties outlined in the public art ordinance. [.pdf of public art ordinance] It would promote art in the community. It recognizes the fact that AAPAC has the power to persuade, he said, and would incentivize non-city projects. He noted that the reason AAPAC had been approached for an endorsement was because the commission is relevant. “If we weren’t relevant, they wouldn’t care what we did,” he said, referring to Jones and Konkle.

Reid noted that there are other ways to publicize non-city projects, including AAPAC’s website. Gendron also pointed to AAPAC’s Facebook page, and noted that not all commissioners take advantage of that or even have Facebook accounts.

Kotarski countered that by not making endorsements, AAPAC’s ability to function as a major public voice in the community is diminished.

Outcome: On a 7-1 vote, commissioners approved a resolution stating that AAPAC would not make endorsements. John Kotarski dissented.

Administrator’s Report

In his monthly written report, Aaron Seagraves – the city’s public art administrator – covered several topics and gave updates on projects. This section focuses on administrative issues that were raised in his report.

Administrator’s Report: Legal Staff Delays

There were no updates for some projects because those projects are being reviewed by the city attorney’s office. Several commissioners expressed frustration at the length of time these reviews are taking.

Wiltrud Simbuerger wondered how long it will take for the East Stadium bridges project to move forward – will the RFP (request for proposals) be in legal review for a year? She wondered what tools AAPAC can use to influence the process, perhaps by appealing to another level within the city administration.

In addition to the East Stadium bridges RFP, other projects being reviewed by the city attorney’s staff include a statement of qualifications (SOQ) to develop a pool of muralists, and an SOQ for an art project at Argo Cascades. Bob Miller also noted that he hadn’t received a response on questions he’d posed to legal staff about an art-on-loan program he’s developing.

Theresa Reid said the delays make AAPAC look bad. Miller indicated that Abigail Elias – the assistant city attorney handling these projects – had been expected to attend AAPAC’s July meeting. Why hadn’t she come?

Seagraves said Elias had other commitments and wasn’t able to attend, but she might come to the commission’s August meeting. He had talked with her and reported that Elias told him these projects are at the top of her list. Simbuerger replied: ”How often has she said this?”

Cathy Gendron observed that AAPAC had the same issue for the Fuller Road Station RFP, although that art component was ultimately halted after the University of Michigan withdrew from the proposed parking structure and transit center.

AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin offered to draft a letter about the situation and talk to Tony Derezinski, the Ward 2 city councilmember who also serves on AAPAC – although he didn’t attend the June or July meetings.

Administrator’s Report: CIP

Seagraves reported that he’ll now be attending meetings of the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP) team. The CIP is a list of major capital projects planned by the city – those that are funded as well as those for which funding hasn’t yet been identified. The city code requires that the CIP be developed and updated each year, looking ahead at a six-year period, to help with financial planning. It’s intended to reflect the city’s priorities and needs, and serves as a guide to discern what projects are on the horizon.

The CIP is relevant to the art commission because funding for the Percent for Art program comes from the city’s capital projects – 1% of each capital project, up to a cap of $250,000 per project, is set aside for public art. The CIP also indicates what major projects are on the horizon that might incorporate public art. By identifying such projects, AAPAC can start planning the public art component as early as possible, as part of the project’s design, rather than as an add-on.

Seagraves asked for direction in prioritizing capital projects that might incorporate public art. He suggested that AAPAC’s strategic plan could be used in that regard, to prioritize projects and locations. That could be done in the fall and winter, for AAPAC to consider including in its annual plan, which must be presented to the city council by April 1.

Commissioners discussed how to coordinate this information with a new approach they’re planning to take – forming task forces for four quadrants of the city, to help guide the selection of projects and ensure that all parts of the city are represented.

Seagraves also noted that a line item for public art could be included in the CIP. He said he’s also discussed the possibility of using the CIP evaluation criteria as a way to help select projects or locations. [For background on the CIP process and evaluation metrics, see Chronicle coverage: "Planning Commission Approves Capital Plan." More information is also on the city's CIP website.]

John Kotarski asked if Seagraves was recommending this approach. Marsha Chamberlin, the commission’s chair, noted that AAPAC has tried to develop a ratings document in the past, most recently in an effort spearheaded by Malverne Winborne, who serves as vice chair. She said that she and Winborne would work with Seagraves to develop a proposal for AAPAC to consider.

Administrator’s Report: CIP – FY 2013 Budget

Seagraves also presented a list of anticipated revenues for the Percent for Art program in fiscal 2013, which began on July 1, 2012. Based on planned capital projects, new Percent for Art funding in FY 2013 will total $320,837. That includes funding from the following sources: water fund ($55,797); stormwater fund ($20,608); street millage ($112,700); sewer fund ($93,610); parks millage ($11,647); and administration ($26,475).

The $320,837 in FY 2013 revenues is in addition to current funds in the Percent for Art program. At AAPAC’s June 2012 meeting, a written budget report indicated that the Percent for Art program had $1,367,148 in available funds through the end of FY 2012. Of that, $851,233 has been earmarked by AAPAC for future projects, including artwork for East Stadium bridges ($400,000), Argo Cascades ($150,000); and the Justice Center ($147,468).

Project Updates

In addition to items reported elsewhere in this article, two project updates received attention during AAPAC’s July 25 meeting: (1) the Kingsley rain garden, and (2) security in the Justice Center lobby, where a sculpture commissioned by the city will be located.

Project Updates: Kingsley Rain Garden

In November 2011, AAPAC had approved an art project as part of a rain garden that the city is building at the corner of Kingsley and First. The previous month – at AAPAC’s Oct. 26 meeting – Patrick Judd of Conservation Design Forum (CDF) and Jerry Hancock, Ann Arbor’s stormwater and floodplain programs coordinator, had talked to commissioners about possible public art in the rain garden.

The city 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.

Jerry Hancock

From left: Jerry Hancock, Ann Arbor’s stormwater and floodplain programs coordinator; Patrick Judd of Conservation Design Forum; and Aaron Seagraves, the city's public art administrator. They met with residents on July 26 at the site of a future Kingsley & First rain garden. Hancock is showing FEMA maps that indicate a change in floodplain boundaries.

The city has awarded CDF the contract for the project, which will include building a rain garden on the site. CDF was also involved in the new municipal center project and the Dreiseitl sculpture.

The overall project cost is about $280,000 – and the city will pay for 25% of that, or about $70,000, with the rest funded by FEMA. 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. AAPAC approved the use that amount, with the final budget to be recommended by the project’s task force.

On July 25, Aaron Seagraves showed commissioners a four-question survey he’d developed to solicit public input on the project. [.pdf of rain garden survey] He said he planned to distribute the surveys at a July 26 public meeting about the rain garden project.

At that July 26 event, Hancock, Judd and Seagraves met with about a dozen residents at the First & Kingsley site to review plans for the property. The house will be demolished as soon as the relevant permit is received. Beal Construction has the contract for that work. Demolition will likely take place in early August, according to Beal’s Jim Mason, who attended the July 26 forum.

Hancock said that after the house is gone, the site will initially be regraded to leave a slight depression – about 6-12 inches over a large portion of the site – that will allow it to collect stormwater during heavy rains. This will be only an initial step until the rain garden is completed, which will likely take place in the spring. Judd said the area will include a path and bench, and “engineered soil” through which water will slowly drain. The intent is to eliminate flashing, he said – the sudden flooding caused by heavy rains.

Regarding the public art portion of the project, Seagraves said the intent is to integrate it into the overall rain garden design, ensuring that it won’t interfere with the stormwater management. Two artists from METAL, a nearby design and fabrication shop, will be among those helping select the artist, and a request for proposals (RFP) will be issued later this year.

Project Updates: Kingsley Rain Garden – Commission Discussion

At AAPAC’s July 25 meeting, John Kotarski said he’d been reading online comments on an AnnArbor.com article that was based on the city’s press release about the planned July 26 Kingsley & First public forum. Among other things, people were complaining about how they couldn’t reach the art commissioners, he said. He felt that Seagraves or commissioners should monitor those comments, and he encouraged Seagraves to respond to factual misrepresentations.

Other commissioners felt that people will inevitably complain, and that there are already ways that AAPAC can be reached – contact information is on the commission’s website and Facebook page. Kotarski felt that commissioners should be aware of the comments, and that Seagraves should take the initiative to respond so that AAPAC can have a voice in the online discussion. The fact that there are constraints on the selection of artists – but that AAPAC supports local sourcing – should be explained, he said. The commission shouldn’t pick a fight, he added, but they have a narrative that’s not being articulated.

Theresa Reid felt that Kotarski’s concerns were valid, but that individual commissioners should respond or alert Seagraves as necessary. There is contact information available for commissioners, she noted, and the situation is already being addressed. When Kotarski pressed for more discussion of a local sourcing policy, Marsha Chamberlin noted that given their full agenda, it was a discussion that should be deferred to a future meeting.

Project Updates: Justice Center

In his written report, Aaron Seagraves had noted that Ed Carpenter, the artist selected for the sculpture in the lobby of the Justice Center, is working with engineers to develop a design that would allow for ceiling access, needed for maintenance. [The $150,000 sculpture, called Radius, will be suspended from the ceiling in the southwest corner of the building's lobby.] The artist expects to have a completed working plan to share in August or September, according to Seagraves’ report.

At the July 25 meeting, John Kotarski asked what the status was for possible changes in the lobby’s security checkpoint. Seagraves replied that it wasn’t in AAPAC’s purview, so he didn’t have an update on it.

Sabra Briere, a Ward 1 city councilmember who was attending the meeting, reported that she and other councilmembers – Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and Margie Teall (Ward 4) – had met with city staff recently to discuss the issue. She said mayor John Hieftje has firmly stated his preference to move the checkpoint closer to the elevators, which are located at the opposite end of the building. [The checkpoint now is located at the building's public entrance, off of the Huron Street plaza adjacent to city hall.]

There’s a general acknowledgement that the artwork would be better viewed from inside the lobby, she said, and there are councilmembers who would like to use the lobby for receptions and gatherings. It’s an attractive place, she said. But the question of how to handle the security checkpoint is different from the public art piece, Briere noted. When the council approved the artwork, they asked city staff to look into the cost of possibly moving the checkpoint. No decision on that has been reached.

For more details on options for the security checkpoint, see Chronicle coverage: “Access, Security and Art at Justice Center.”

New Projects: Forest Avenue Plaza, Ellsworth Roundabout

Action on proposals for two new projects had been tabled at AAPAC’s June 2012 meeting – because the commission ran out of time. The proposals are for public art at: (1) Forest Avenue Plaza, next to the Forest Avenue parking structure near South University; and (2) a future roundabout at Ellsworth and South State.

Forest Plaza

Forest Avenue Plaza, facing west. On the left is the Forest Avenue parking structure. Pizza House is visible at the end of the alley, across Church Street. The plaza abuts the back entrance of Pinball Pete's and the U.S. post office.

Both projects are being proposed by city staff, as part of broader initiatives. The Forest Avenue Plaza proposal was submitted by Amy Kuras, the city’s park planner, and Susan Pollay, executive director of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. The city has held two public meetings to seek input on improving the small plaza, and has about $40,000 in funding for the project. The city would like additional public art funding – suggested at between $10,000 to $20,000 – for artwork to be placed in the plaza.

Regarding the second item, the roundabout at State and Ellsworth is a major capital project at one of the busiest intersections south of town, with construction planned for the summer of 2013. There’s some interest from one of the local Rotary clubs in partnering with the city to add public art and landscaping to the roundabout.

At the July 25 meeting, Theresa Reid proposed holding off on these projects until task forces for each city quadrant are formed. Then, those task forces could take over management of the projects. But because the task forces won’t likely be in place until October, some commissioners felt that was too long to wait.

After further discussion, it emerged that several commissioners hadn’t visited the two sites for the proposed projects. Bob Miller suggested waiting until next month to take action, and to allow time for commissioners to make site visits.

Outcome: No formal vote was taken. The items will be addressed again at AAPAC’s August meeting. 

General Statement of Qualifications (SOQ) Process

At last month’s AAPAC meeting, commissioners approved a statement of qualifications (SOQ) that will be issued by the city to create a pool of muralists for future projects. [.pdf of mural SOQ] The objective, as stated in the SOQ, is to “find professional muralists and other artists whose work meets a set of standards and to pre-qualify them for City of Ann Arbor mural projects to be contracted in 2012 to 2014.” [That SOQ is currently being reviewed by the city's legal staff.]

Commissioners were also interested in creating a pool of pre-qualified artists for more general projects. They directed Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, to check with the city’s procurement staff to see if this would be possible.

In his written report for the July 25 meeting, Seagraves stated that when releasing an SOQ for a specific project, the city can include a form to be completed that would solicit information about a broader range of the artist’s qualifications. This form could request that applicants give permission to be included in an ongoing pre-qualified pool. The SOQ could be released annually – or at any scheduled period – and there would be no need for an artist to reapply if they granted their permission for continual inclusion in this pre-qualified pool. This could form the basis of an artist registry. Seagraves indicated that he would work with the city’s procurement staff to develop a qualifications form, and would present it to AAPAC for approval.

Marsha Chamberlin said Seagraves had clarified everything in his written report, and she supported the process. After a brief discussion, commissioners voted on the proposal.

Outcome: AAPAC unanimously voted to establish an SOQ process that creates an artist registry/database for projects in the next three years. Seagraves will develop a qualifications form for AAPAC to review.

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

Absent: Tony Derezinski.

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012 at 4:30 p.m. at city hall, 301 E. Huron St. [Check Chronicle events listing to confirm date]

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  1. By Alan Goldsmith
    July 30, 2012 at 12:26 pm | permalink

    “Kotarski proposed moving the meetings to different locations throughout the city, such as schools or other public sites, to make it easier for more people to attend. Commissioners had reservations about that idea too, nor was there much support voiced for a suggestion to record the meetings for broadcast by CTN.”

    In a nice snapshot, I’ve think we’ve isolated the problem.

  2. July 31, 2012 at 8:17 am | permalink

    How appropriate that the Rotary clubs want to be involved in the roundabout project!

  3. By Walter Cramer
    August 1, 2012 at 7:48 am | permalink

    The Art Commission comes across as wrapped up in themselves and closed to either public participation or new ideas here, but it would be nice to get a bit of editorial on the subject from Mary.

    Does meeting later, or at various locations, really work? When there’s not much citizen attendance, do public commentary slots provide useful input, or just let a highly motivated micro-minority to re-repeat their message?

    To get representative public input, would the best plan be to grab a clipboard, stand near some public art, and just ask people?

    And is the City Attorney’s office giving the Art Commission slow or difficult service?