Art Commission Strategizes as Millage Looms

Separate campaign committee in works; AAPAC gets Dreiseitl update

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (Aug. 22, 2012): Two days after the Ann Arbor city council voted to put a millage on the Nov. 6 ballot to fund art in public places, several leaders of the arts community attended the public art commission’s regular monthly meeting to offer support for a millage campaign.

Jim Fackert, Bob Miller, John Kotarski

In front of Ann Arbor city hall, from left: electrician Jim Fackert, and Ann Arbor public art commissioners Bob Miller and John Kotarski. Fackert was again working on the system that operates the Dreiseitl water sculpture, which includes water pumps and flashing blue lights. Miller and Kotarski were headed into the Aug. 22 meeting of the public art commission. (Photos by the writer.)

Dealing with the millage wasn’t the commission’s main agenda item, but they did spend some time talking about the need for a separate campaign committee. AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin stressed that the commission itself can’t advocate for the millage, ”but we can educate out the wazoo.”

As individuals, though, commissioners will likely be very active – Chamberlin will be among those organizing the campaign, along with Arts Alliance president Deb Polich, who attended AAPAC’s Aug. 22 session. Mark Tucker of FestiFools was there too, and told commissioners that he and others were brainstorming on free or inexpensive ways to support the millage – including a “surprise” that involves football Saturdays and is “FestiFoolian in nature” to attract media coverage.

Ken Clein also volunteered to help. He was on hand to update commissioners on the status of the Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture in front of city hall, as a follow-up to concerns raised in June about the installation. Clein is a principal with Quinn Evans Architects, the Ann Arbor firm that handled the design of the new Justice Center and oversaw its construction. Though delayed, the Dreiseitl installation is nearly completed and will be handed off to the city soon, along with a two-year maintenance warranty.

The sculpture is the largest and most expensive project coordinated by the commission, and the first one approved under the Percent for Art program. The two newest public art projects were added to the pipeline at the Aug. 22 meeting, on unanimous votes. They’ll eventually be located 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.

In a written report, commissioners were given an update on available funds in the Percent for Art budget. Of the $1.668 million balance, $856,997 is earmarked for projects already approved by AAPAC, including $400,000 for artwork at the East Stadium bridges and $150,000 for Argo Cascades – but aspects of those projects are still under review by the city’s legal staff. That leaves $810,276 in unallocated funds. The largest amounts are in revenues from sewer projects ($451,955) and street millage projects ($241,951).

The commission also finalized its four-year strategic plan, and moved ahead on a new effort to involve residents in planning for public art in each of four quadrants in Ann Arbor.

Public Art Millage

On Aug. 20, the Ann Arbor city council voted unanimously to put a millage on the Nov. 6 ballot that, if approved by voters, would fund art in public places. The 0.1 mill tax would generate about $450,000 per year and be in place for four years. Those dollars would temporarily replace the current funding mechanism for the city’s Percent for Art program, which would be suspended for the duration of the millage.

The current program, created by the city council in 2007, requires that 1% of the budget for any capital improvement project be set aside for public art, up to a cap of $250,000 per project. To date, the program has generated just over $2 million. So far, two projects have been completed, or nearly so: the Dreiseitl water sculpture in front of city hall, and metal tree sculptures in West Park. Several other projects are in the works.

The arts community is generally supportive of a millage for funding art in public places, as it would provide more flexibility than the current capital funding. Because of constraints related to the funding mechanism, projects paid for with Percent for Art funds must be permanent and located on public property. The artwork can’t be temporary – so performances or artist-in-residency programs can’t be supported under the current program. The projects must also have some link to the funding source. For example, art paid for out of street millage revenues must be part of a street project, or incorporate street or transportation “themes.” This lack of flexibility has been a frequent criticism of the program. Questions also have been raised about the legality of diverting funds from dedicated millage or public utility funds in order to pay for public art.

Virtually no one in the arts community was consulted about the proposed millage, and many were shocked when it was unveiled by councilmember Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) on Aug. 9, by adding it to the council’s agenda that night from the council table. Taylor contended he simply wanted to start a conversation about it, for consideration at the Aug. 20 council meeting. He indicated that he would like input from the public art commission, whose members had not been informed about the proposal until a few days prior to the Aug. 9 announcement.

This forced AAPAC to call a special meeting on Aug. 15, which was attended by several members of the arts community who spoke during public commentary. The general sentiment was support for a millage, but a strong desire to postpone until a later election so that there would be time for a more thoughtful approach. The commission also heard from Taylor at that meeting, who raised the vague specter of risk to the current program’s funding. That perceived threat appeared to be compelling, and commissioners voted unanimously to recommend that the millage be placed on the Nov. 6 ballot.

However, during public commentary at the council’s Aug. 20 meeting, Deb Polich, president of the Arts Alliance, asked the council not to put the millage on the ballot. That reflected the clear consensus of sentiment at a cultural leaders meeting, hosted by the Arts Alliance and held earlier in the day on Aug. 20 – that it was not an urgent matter to place the question on the ballot.

Public Art Millage: Public Commentary

At the commission’s Aug. 22 meeting, four people spoke on the millage issue during public commentary.

Margaret Parker told commissioners that she was there to offer help to work on a millage campaign. For any millage, the ballot language is legalistic, convoluted and difficult to understand, she said. The trick is how to communicate to the public and let them know what they’re voting for. They need to know that if they vote yes, she said, then it will expand the types of projects that can be funded. But they also need to know that if they vote against the millage funding for public art will end, she claimed. If the public isn’t clued in, she said, that would be unfortunate.

[In fact, a defeat of the millage would not automatically end funding for public art. The current Percent for Art funding would remain in place, unless the city council voted to rescind it or possibly alter it. More likely is that it would be altered to adopt a definition of "capital project" that did not include, for example, street reconstruction projects. Some observers have expressed the view that the newly-constituted council in November would have enough votes to eliminate the Percent for Art program, and leave no alternative funding mechanism for public art – but it's not clear which six councilmembers would actually support that approach.]

Mark Tucker said he was there representing FestiFools, and possibly the University of Michigan. He also wanted to offer help on a millage campaign. There’s been a lot of talk about how much a campaign might cost, he noted. He and others have been brainstorming on some inexpensive or free ways to publicize the millage, but he didn’t want to reveal them publicly and give away the surprise. However, he indicated that it would revolve around UM football Saturdays and would be “FestiFoolian in nature” to attract the media.

Shary Brown, former director of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, also attended the Aug. 22 meeting. Her public commentary was brief: “Go, team!”

Speaking at both opportunities for public commentary, Thomas Partridge said he had no doubt that the millage would pass, but it’s a question about how the money is used. He advocated for public access to art education, as well as for art that represents real people – like the Diego Rivera mural at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Public Art Millage: Commission Discussion

Marsha Chamberlin began by circulating a communications plan that the city had developed for the 2011 street millage renewal – she suggested that this could be used as a model for the public art millage. [.pdf of street millage communications plan]

As a commission, they can’t advocate for the millage or solicit money for a campaign, Chamberlin said, ”but we can educate out the wazoo.” She reported that Jeremy Peters had volunteered to help with a campaign, and noted that he has experience running political campaigns. A public relations professional has also indicated interest in helping, she said.

An entity separate from the art commission needs to be organized quickly, Chamberlin said, with people like Peters, Margaret Parker, and Deb Polich of the Arts Alliance.

Deb Polich

Deb Polich, shown here at an Aug. 20 meeting of arts and cultural leaders, is president of the Arts Alliance, which hosted the meeting. She attended the Aug. 22 meeting of the Ann Arbor public art commission and is volunteering to help lead a campaign to pass the proposed millage for art in public places. Ann Arbor city council voted to put the millage on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, reported that he was working on an ad to put in the fall issue of the city’s WasteWatcher newsletter, which is mailed to city residents by the city’s solid waste and recycling unit. It will be on the same page as the ad for the city’s park maintenance and capital improvements millage, he said. He’ll also be putting together a Q&A about the millage and creating a website with information, modeled after the park millage site.

Connie Brown noted that a lot of concern has been expressed about communicating a clear message to the public. Saying they can’t take too long to develop a statement, she wondered what the plan would be to engage the broader community.

Chamberlin felt there should be a consistent message on the website, WasteWatcher ad and elsewhere, and commissioners should have a role in crafting that message. Cathy Gendron agreed. The commission takes an active role in communicating about public art in Ann Arbor, she said, and there’s no reason why they can’t be involved in developing the message for the millage.

Regarding the campaign itself, Chamberlin said that commissioners can work on it as individuals – they just can’t use city resources. She, Polich, Peters and a few others would form a small strategic committee to organize it, she said, then figure out a way to implement the campaign with volunteers.

John Kotarski said he assumed that someone would be leading the campaign – would the commission do that? Chamberlin explained that while the commission would help in developing a message and educating the public about the millage, there needs to be a separate entity that works on advocacy.

Polich said it’s clear to the Arts Alliance and others that passage of this millage is critical, so they want to be deeply engaged in the campaign. She’s heard from others who want to be involved, including Conan Smith. [Smith, an Ann Arbor resident, is chair of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. He has been active in many Democratic political campaigns and is married to Rebekah Warren, a state senator representing District 18.] Polich said that Smith and Peters have worked together on political campaigns in the past.

Outcome: There was no formal action on this item.

Later in the meeting, the commission discussed holding public forums as part of a new effort to conduct strategic planning based on four quadrants of the city. At the end of AAPAC’s Aug. 22 meeting, Polich told commissioners that they should expect to hear questions from the public about the proposed millage at these forums, so they should be prepared to respond. She recommended having an “open flow of information” between the commission and millage campaign committee. It’s important to make sure they’re all communicating the same message in terms of definitions and other information, she said.

Strategic Planning

The commission has been developing a strategic plan for several months. At AAPAC’s July 25 meeting, the group discussed a draft four-year strategic plan, which identified several major goals to pursue through 2016. They voted to approve the plan, with the understanding that AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin would make revisions based on the consensus they had reached during the discussion. None of the changes were substantive.

On Aug. 22, Chamberlin presented the revised version. [.pdf of strategic plan] These are the plan’s broad goals (each of them are fleshed out with more detailed objectives):

  • Goal A: 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.
  • Goal B: 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)
  • Goal C: AAPAC will increase the public understanding, appreciation and support of public art through consistent public relations and education efforts.
  • Goal D: Pursue private funding for public art.

There was some uncertainty about the timeframe that was outlined in some of the objectives, and several commissioners felt that the dates should be pushed back a few months. Specifically, the dates for these two objectives were pushed back to January 2013:

  • Goal A, Objective 1: At the beginning of each fiscal year, the Percent for Public Art funds will be divided to fund public art within each of the four city areas, beginning with FY 2013.
  • Goal B, Objective 1: Task Forces for each city area will be approved by the commission no later than October 15, 2012 and serve a term of one year and will be comprised of at least one resident of the quadrant, one business person whose business is in the area, a commission member, and an artist.

Chamberlin observed that the plan might need to be tweaked, depending on the outcome of the Nov. 6 millage vote. She said the plan sets direction and tone for AAPAC, but the commission is not bound to follow it strictly. It creates a structure for how AAPAC operates and engages the public, she said.

Outcome: The commission voted unanimously to approve the revised strategic plan.

Strategic Planning: Quadrants

Later in the meeting, Connie Rizzolo Brown presented a specific proposal to move forward with the strategic plan’s Goal B: Establishing a standing task force in each of the city quadrants to recommend public art projects. This idea had been floated by Malverne Winborne at AAPAC’s four-hour planning retreat in late February 2012, and discussed again at their June 27 meeting. The quadrants are designated in the city’s master plan “land use elements” section: west, central, south and northeast. [.pdf map of quadrants]

Two or more of the nine AAPAC members would be assigned to each quadrant, generally based on where they live. Tentatively, that assignment is: (1) West – Connie Brown, John Kotarski; (2) Central – Marsha Chamberlin, Bob Miller, Wiltrud Simbuerger; (3) South – Malverne Winborne; and (4) Northeast – Tony Derezinski, Cathy Gendron and Theresa Reid. One of the commissioners in the central or northeast quadrant will likely shift to join Winborne in the south.

Brown’s proposal included an outline of guidelines for the quadrant work:

A. Engage the public to create a plan for the quadrant.

Step 1: Set up three meetings in each quadrant at three different public locations.

Step 2: Hold the meetings. They should include a short presentation on public art in general, and on Ann Arbor’s specific Percent for Art program.

Step 3: Work with interested residents to discover and understand your quadrant. This process should include mapping the location of existing art, natural features, parks, well-traveled areas, and both great and “rotten” potential places for public art.

Step 4: Evaluate and make both qualitative and quantitative decisions about locations, type of projects – long-term, mid-term and short-term – and budget, among other things.

Step 5: Review the decisions and evaluate the challenges and proposed outcomes.

Step 6: Assign a percentage of the quadrant’s budget to the project(s) and bring a proposal to AAPAC. [No budgets have been proposed yet.]

Step 7: Keep the information flowing.

B. Form a task force for each specific project. Members would include AAPAC representatives, a city council liaison, artists, design professionals, the city administrator or his designee, one or more representatives from city units that have responsibility for the site, one or more representatives of organizations with a professional interest in the project.

C. Put the project into motion. It would ultimately come before AAPAC and then city council for approval before being implemented.

Commissioners thanked Brown and expressed enthusiasm for this effort. John Kotarski said he liked it because it allowed commissioners to educate neighborhoods – and neighborhoods to educate AAPAC. It puts an emphasis on listening, he said.

Theresa Reid suggested using a presentation that Kotarski had given on public art at AAPAC’s February 2012 retreat, modified for these quadrant meetings. He offered to shorten it and incorporate suggestions and images from other commissioners.

Marsha Chamberlin described the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s Connecting William Street effort. She noted that the DDA began by talking with small groups to refine its message, and is now making presentations to larger groups. [See Chronicle coverage of the DDA's presentation to the planning commission: "Planning Group Briefed on William St. Project."]

Chamberlin suggested that AAPAC take a similar approach, so that they’d each be giving essentially the same presentation in their quadrants.

Brown said she’d like to start holding the meetings in October, even though she knew they’d also be busy with the millage campaign. She hoped to work with the schools to do outreach, saying that it’s easier to get the attention of parents at the beginning of the school year. Commissioners discussed other options for getting the word out, and for the logistics of the meetings.

Chamberlin concluded the discussion by calling it a huge step forward.

Outcome: There was no formal vote on this project.

Dreiseitl Sculpture Update

At their July 25 meeting, commissioners had been updated on several ongoing projects, including a follow-up on concerns raised in June about the Dreiseitl installation in front of city hall. The discussion in July resulted in a request by commissioners to invite someone from the project to talk to them about its status.

Ken Clein, Marsha Chamberlin

Ken Clein of Quinn Evans Architects and Marsha Chamberlin, chair of the Ann Arbor public art commission. Clein was on hand to give an update on the Dreiseitl sculpture in front of city hall. He was also recently appointed to the city’s planning commission.

That someone was Ken Clein, a principal and project manager with Quinn Evans Architects who oversaw the Dreiseitl installation. He had also submitted a memo that summarized its current status. [.pdf of Clein's memo] Also attending the Aug. 22 meeting was Patrick Judd of Conservation Design Forum, a firm that helped with the sculpture’s design.

Clein began by telling commissioners that he also wanted to volunteer for the public art millage campaign. After briefly describing the different companies involved in the project, as subcontractors hired by Quinn Evans, Clein apologized that the Dreiseitl piece hadn’t yet been completed. You can’t just go to the store and buy the pumps and other devices needed to operate it, he said – because it’s all custom work, made under the guidance of Dreiseitl. This was a different approach from the way Dreiseitl typically handles his projects, Clein said, so there was a learning curve.

Clein noted that Dreiseitl had intended the sculpture to reflect the seasons, but it has been unusually dry, he said. These drought conditions caused the two large tanks that hold water for the piece – a total of about 2,500 gallons – to run dry. Another factor is that the bronze front of the sculpture faces south and heats up, which causes water to evaporate. Calculations by the Conservation Design Forum estimated that 75-100 gallons would evaporate each day. But water was being lost in excess of that, Clein said, so they looked for – and found – leaks in the system, which were resealed. That helped, Clein said, as did the fact that there’s been more rain in July and August.

Dreiseitl intended the water in the sculpture to be rainwater, Clein said. Certainly it would be possible to hook it up to a different water supply, he added, but that’s not how it was envisioned.

Clein also talked about problems with the six small water pumps, which originally were mounted inside the sculpture. The filters in the pumps became clogged with cigarette butts and other debris, and prevented water from flowing up to the top of the sculpture. Jim Fackert, an electrician with CAE – the subcontractor for the sculpture’s lighting and water system – replaced the smaller pumps with one larger pump that’s located outside the sculpture and is easier to reach for cleaning and maintenance.

Work is continuing, Clein said. Additional LED lights, that Dreiseitl decided to add “fairly late in the game,” will be installed this month. Fackert is working on a punch list, and is tagging all the connections in the system so that when it’s turned over to the city, the maintenance staff will know how it works. They’ll also be given training and a maintenance manual, Clein said. There’s a two-year warranty on that aspect of the sculpture, and Fackert will be back to shut it down in the winter and start it up in the spring.

Dreiseitl Sculpture Update: Commission Discussion

John Kotarski joked that he’s the one who gets credit or blame in asking for more details about the Dreiseitl project. [Kotarski has pushed for status updates and a more formal evaluation of the project.] He told Clein that the building, designed by Quinn Evans, had an awesome design and that the Dreiseitl sculpture was a world-class piece of art. He appreciated the fact that materials and fabrication had been done locally. It’s an example of the kind of thing he’d like to promote, Kotarski said.

When he and other commissioners go out into the community, Kotarski said, there’s a big target on their backs – they have to answer questions, and they don’t have all the answers. He said he wanted to sound knowledgeable about the work. The review is not intended to lay blame, he said, but to identify how things worked and look for ways to improve the process.

Kotarski said he’d been told that holes were recently drilled to allow water to run down from the roof into the tanks that store water for the fountain. He wondered how much water came from the roofs of the Justice Center and city hall. Clein replied that the 8-inch-diameter pipe can handle a maximum of 800 gallons per minute.

Connie Brown reported that according to Fackert, the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum is planning to develop a display based on the rainwater system that the sculpture is part of. It’s a great way for kids to understand art and technology, she said. Bob Miller pointed out that it’s the kind of thing that the commission has discussed – creating a sign to show how the rain garden and sculpture are part of the site’s stormwater management system.

Patrick Judd of the Conservation Design Forum said there’s also interest in using the site as a project for students in the University of Michigan College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

Outcome: This was an informational report, and no formal action was required.

New Projects: Forest Plaza, Ellsworth Roundabout

The commission took action on two proposals for artwork that had been tabled from previous meetings. The projects would be located in: (1) a plaza next to the Forest Avenue parking structure near South University; and (2) a future roundabout at Ellsworth and South State.

New Projects: Forest Plaza

The Forest Avenue Plaza proposal had been submitted to AAPAC earlier this year 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 intake form stated that the city would like additional public art funding – suggested at between $10,000 to $20,000 – for artwork to be placed in the plaza.

Bob Miller began the discussion by saying he’d visited the site, and found it very challenging. There are a lot of other elements in the plaza – planters, trees, transformer boxes – in a very tight space. Putting a sculpture in the plaza would be difficult, and he suggested that a mural on the transformer boxes might be a better option.

Theresa Reid noted that feedback from the public meetings held by the city indicated that people didn’t want a mural there. Miller said he felt there should be another public meeting to talk about what would and wouldn’t work there. Connie Brown pointed out that it might be that the owners of those utility boxes wouldn’t want a mural.

John Kotarski said there were three things that excited him about the site. It’s visually boring now, which means there’s opportunity. It’s a public gathering place, and the project offers an opportunity to collaborate with other entities. Artists love challenges, he noted. It might be worth trying to flesh out the proposal – perhaps even more money would be available than what was suggested.

Marsha Chamberlin described it as a “plug ugly” site. It’s getting better, because there’ll be more foot traffic in the area now. [A new apartment building on South Forest, called The Landmark, is opening for move-in on Aug. 30.] It’s been discussed for years by AAPAC and its predecessor, the Commission for Art in Public Places, she said. It seems like there’s the opportunity to do something interesting there.

Margaret Parker, a former AAPAC chair who was attending the meeting as a member of the public, reminded the group that there was money left in an account administered by the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, which had been originally set aside for a project on South University. Chamberlin clarified that about $1,100 remained in that account.

Outcome: After further discussion, commissioners voted to accept the project into AAPAC’s request for proposals (RFP) process, and allocate matching funds in the range of $10,000 to $35,000.

New Projects: Ellsworth Roundabout

The roundabout at the intersection of South 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.

Bob Miller described the location as barren. He didn’t think it was part of the city’s South State corridor study. [In fact, according to discussions held at the planning commission as well as information on the city's website, the corridor study extends along South State between Stimson and Ellsworth. For background on that project, see Chronicle coverage: "South State Corridor Gets Closer Look."]

Wiltrud Simbuerger, Cathy Gendron, John Kotarski, Patrick Judd

From left: Art commissioners Wiltrud Simbuerger, John Kotarski and Cathy Gendron. To the right is Patrick Judd of the Conservation Design Forum.

Commissioners talked about the visibility of the site, in part because of the new Costco that opened earlier this summer, off of Ellsworth just west of South State. Other businesses in the area include several Zingerman’s retail stores, and a Tim Horton’s that’s in the planning stages near the northeast corner that intersection.

John Kotarski proposed allocating $50,000 in matching funds, provided another partner would also contribute. He proposed using money in the Percent for Art funds generated by the street millage, out of the $241,951 that’s available.

Connie Brown wasn’t comfortable allocating a specific amount at this point. She also wanted the commission to consider a more holistic approach, looking at the entire corridor rather than just the roundabout. Cathy Gendron supported that expanded approach, as well as emphasizing collaboration, with local businesses or other governmental units like Pittsfield Township.

Kotarski said he’d prefer that they table or amend the proposal to incorporate the things they’d discussed. Voting it down would send the wrong message, he said. Chamberlin was reluctant to table it, noting that the proposal has been on AAPAC’s agenda since April.

After further discussion, Tony Derezinski proposed a resolution to accept the State and Ellsworth roundabout as a project for fiscal 2013, and to seek collaboration on it with the city’s South State corridor project and other interested parties.

Outcome: Commissioners voted unanimously to accept the roundabout project.

Misc. Communications

During the meeting there were several updates and other items of communication.

Misc. Communications: Minutes

As part of their routine business, commissioners were asked to approve the minutes from AAPAC’s previous meeting. John Kotarski had a couple of corrections – instances where he didn’t think the minutes accurately reflected his remarks. He then questioned the need for the level of detail that’s provided in the minutes, and encouraged Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, to condense them as much as possible.

Marsha Chamberlin, AAPAC’s chair, said she had talked with Seagraves about simplifying the minutes, but noted that he’s using minutes from other commissions as a model. One possibility would be for him to tape the meetings, she said, to ensure accuracy.

Theresa Reid said she wasn’t sure that’s the best use of his time. Chamberlin replied that undoubtedly there’s some middle ground they can reach.

Misc. Communications: Percent for Art Funds

In a written report, commissioners were given an update on available funds in the Percent for Art budget. Of the $1.668 million balance, $856,997 is earmarked for projects already approved by AAPAC, including $400,000 for artwork at the East Stadium bridges and $150,000 for Argo Cascades.

That leaves $810,276 in unallocated funds. The largest amounts are in revenues from sewer projects ($451,955) and street millage projects ($241,951).

Misc. Communications: Countywide Art Plan

Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, reported that he’d been involved in meetings about a possible countywide master plan for public art. The meetings are facilitated by the Arts Alliance, which is leading that initiative. He noted that some the discussions have focused on doing a countywide inventory of public art, and that the Ann Arbor public art commission could be involved in that. There’s already an online inventory of the city’s public art.

Earlier this year, the Arts Alliance applied for a $100,000 grant through the National Endowment for the Arts “Our Town” program to help fund development of a county master plan for public art. That grant was not awarded. Arts Alliance president Deb Polich attended AAPAC’s Aug. 22 meeting and told commissioners she’d recently spoken with an NEA representative who’d told her that the grant had been “on the bubble.” The NEA representative encouraged the alliance to re-apply for the same grant in January.

Polich also noted that there’s still interest among other partners in moving forward with a master plan, and funds have been committed to that effort. Those partners are Washtenaw County government ($25,000); ArtServe Michigan ($5,000); the city of Ann Arbor/Ann Arbor public art commission ($5,000); the Cultural Alliance of Southeast Michigan ($5,000); the University of Michigan’s ArtsEngine program ($92,825); and the Huron River Watershed Council ($10,000).

Misc. Communications: Project Updates

Three projects are still under review by the city attorney’s staff: (1) a statement of qualifications (SOQ) to develop a pool of muralists, (2) an RFP (request for proposals) for artwork at the East Stadium bridges, and (3) an SOQ for an art project at Argo Cascades.

The length of time that projects are reviewed by legal staff has been a point of concern raised at previous AAPAC meetings, most recently at their July 25 meeting. On Aug. 22, Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, reported that he’d received feedback on some of these projects from the city attorney’s staff, and that projects were moving along, though they were still being reviewed by legal staff. He didn’t know how much additional time would be needed for that review.

AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin said she recently had talked to city attorney Stephen Postema, who had expressed “frustration” that the commission’s concerns had been aired at a public meeting. Chamberlin felt that the process with the legal staff would be expedited now.

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

Absent: Malverne Winborne.

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012 at 4:30 p.m. at city hall, 301 E. Huron St. [Check Chronicle events listing to confirm date]

The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to support our artful 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. August 28, 2012 at 10:30 pm | permalink

    A recent visit to Montreal, where I saw some outdoor art, made me realize that there are two components that I believe are essential to successful public art. One is that it is in some way interactive. For instance, one piece I saw had both an opportunity to look through it (through a series of triangles) and the possibility to walk inside it. The second is that it is accompanied by an explanatory panel. Even though I didn’t love this piece of art, at least I understood what the artist was thinking!

    In this sense, the “best” piece of public art in town right now is the cube near the Michigan Union that you can push and pull and move. It would be even better if it had an explanation of it nearby!

  2. August 28, 2012 at 10:42 pm | permalink

    Yes! Agreed! The Cube!

  3. By Rod Johnson
    August 29, 2012 at 12:18 am | permalink

    I am baffled by the Forest Plaza, and by the idea that it’s a “gathering place.” It’s a dead, empty space with all the panache of a loading dock. It’s an alley with benches. The idea that tarting it up with art will alter its fundamental lack of interest seems like something that only AAPAC could believe.

  4. By Rod Johnson
    August 29, 2012 at 12:25 am | permalink

    By the Forest Plaza *project*, that was supposed to be. Forest Plaza itself just is what it is.

  5. By anna ercoli schnitzer
    August 29, 2012 at 4:51 am | permalink

    Another vote for The Cube as the best piece of public art around. Even after all these years, it still attracts positive attention from long-time Ann Arborites as well as students, and tourists to the campus. Everybody seems to learn quickly where The Cube is located, and it give “a sense of place” to the area.

  6. August 29, 2012 at 8:30 am | permalink

    Re #3, I attended a DDA meeting where it was referred to as Transformer Plaza. It is one of the celebrated open spaces downtown that the DDA is citing as being truly “urban”, obviating the need for any more green space. Putting public art there really is lipstick on the pig! Now if only that could be a flying pig…

  7. August 29, 2012 at 6:07 pm | permalink

    Be careful about educating “out the wazoo”. No public funds can be spent on a campaign. Calling a piece of lit, for example, that is clearly an advocacy piece “educational” is a violation of the state Campaign Finance Act. In the past, dubious lit has had to be destroyed.

    The Commission should take its lead from the Ann Arbor District Library and leave all the “education” to a completely independent campaign committee.

  8. By Steve Bean
    August 29, 2012 at 8:32 pm | permalink

    @7: Yes. Also,

    “Regarding the campaign itself, Chamberlin said that commissioners can work on it as individuals – they just can’t use city resources.”

    Too late. They just did. Best to remove the subject from future agendas as it’s also not within the commission’s charge.

  9. By Alan Goldsmith
    August 30, 2012 at 11:00 am | permalink

    “No public funds can be spent on a campaign. Calling a piece of lit, for example, that is clearly an advocacy piece “educational” is a violation of the state Campaign Finance Act. In the past, dubious lit has had to be destroyed.”

    One, why does this level of incompetence surprise anyone from AAPAC? And secondly, it’s touching seeing as Conan Smith wants to help. Has he paid back the funds he owes the County? Or is it time for another ‘I’m in a safe Democratic district so go screw yourself’ repeat rant in the works?

  10. By Bil Mundus
    September 16, 2012 at 1:08 pm | permalink

    No one seems to mention the “ROCK” at Hill and Washtenaw, This is a fine piece of Public Art dedicated to George Washington and maintained
    by the City of Ann Arbor.
    Since the city declared vandalism to be legal, if not an art form,
    we have been treated to this eyesore.

    Let this cleanup be the next project of the “Public Art Commission”.
    Are all the commission members BLIND?

  11. By Alan Goldsmith
    September 17, 2012 at 6:36 am | permalink

    “Are all the commission members BLIND?” Not to insult the visually challenged but the answer to this questions is obvious from most of the AAPAC’s past approved projects.