Art Commission Explores “Street Art” Program

Also: Public meetings set for October as part of new outreach effort

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (Sept. 26, 2012): In this month’s main action item, public art commissioners formed a task force to explore the possibility of starting a street art program.

Connie Rizzolo Brown

Connie Rizzolo Brown shows her colleagues on the Ann Arbor public art commission a printout of AAPAC’s redesigned website. (Photos by the writer.)

John Kotarski made the proposal, explaining that street art could include anything from pedestrian benches to artistic manhole covers – similar to those that have been created in Japanese cities. The effort could involve schools and service clubs, he said, and might evolve into something as popular as the fairy doors found throughout Ann Arbor. Commissioners seemed generally supportive of the idea. The task force will do more research and make a formal proposal to AAPAC at a later date.

Commissioners also moved ahead on a new approach to getting more people involved in the selection of public art. Task forces will be formed in four quadrants of the city, using quadrants that are designated in the city master plan’s “land use elements” section: west, central, south and northeast. [.pdf map of quadrants]

Kickoff meetings for each quadrant are scheduled for October. Connie Rizzolo Brown, who’s spearheading this effort, described the goal of the first meetings as ”very gentle fact-finding missions,” as well as recruitment for potential task force members.

Also in October – on Sunday, Oct. 28 – a dedication is planned for the new mural being completed at Allmendinger Park. The work is by Ann Arbor muralist Mary Thiefels of TreeTown Murals, incorporating artwork and found objects from students and neighbors. Images from the work-in-progress are currently featured on AAPAC’s website.

Commissioners also discussed concerns about a descriptive sign planned for the Dreiseitl sculpture in front of city hall. Some commissioners feel that the proposed location for the sign detracts from the ability to enjoy the sculpture, while others expressed frustration that AAPAC had not been consulted about the sign’s location.

The meeting also included a variety of updates about projects that are underway. One major item that was not discussed was the public art millage that will be on the Nov. 6 ballot – Proposal B. Although it was alluded to on several occasions, AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin cautioned commissioners that they could not discuss it at the meeting. However, several commissioners are involved individually in the campaign to support the millage – B for Art. Chamberlin, for example, is hosting a dinner for the campaign in October.

At an Aug. 15 special meeting, the commission had voted to recommend that the city council place a millage on the ballot, despite voicing a range of concerns. The millage had been proposed by councilmember Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), who did not consult the arts community or AAPAC before bringing  the idea forward. The ballot proposal calls for a 0.1 mill tax for four years to support public art, temporarily replacing the current Percent for Art program. For additional background, see Chronicle coverage: “Art Commission Strategizes as Millage Looms.”

Street Art Program

John Kotarski introduced the idea of exploring a street art program by saying he knew it was sudden and might seem ambitious, but it reflected the serendipitous convergence of several things.

For one, city environmental coordinator  Matt Naud had emailed AAPAC a link to an article in Grist that highlighted an artistic approach to manhole covers in Japan. Kotarski referred to the items as “access covers,” joking that because it was Ann Arbor, they needed to be politically correct. In Japan, the covers enhance the pedestrian and bicycling experience – people make tracings of the covers, which have risen to the level of art objects. That’s a type of street art that AAPAC could spearhead.

John Kotarski

Public art commissioner John Kotarski.

Kotarski also described a recent discussion he’d had with state Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-District 53), who represents Ann Arbor. Irwin would like to see more benches in downtown Ann Arbor, and thought it was an opportunity for students to get involved in the design process, Kotarski said. That’s another aspect of street art.

So Kotarski said he and Theresa Reid were proposing to form a task force that would explore the possibility of starting a street art program. They’d need to research how such a program could engage as many residents as possible, how the design process would work, and how it would coordinate with the city’s current purchase of access covers, which are pre-cast. He also mentioned the desire to have the covers fabricated locally or regionally. Schools and service clubs could be involved, he said, adding that it could become a fun thing that could possibly become as well-known as the city’s fairy doors.

He proposed forming a task force, which would bring back a formal proposal to AAPAC for a street art program.

Street Art Program: Commission Discussion

Marsha Chamberlin pointed out that AAPAC’s strategic plan called for launching one new program in the coming year. She felt that commissioners needed to put more than one idea on the table. For example, she said, street stamping – making artistic impressions on the pavement when roads are resurfaced – might be another possible program.

Her other concern related to Kotarski’s mention of local or regional fabrication. The issue comes up frequently, she said, but the city has made clear that in the context of public art, geographic restrictions can’t be imposed on the selection of artists or fabricators.

Kotarski replied that even though they’ve committed to starting one program during the year, he thinks they could do more. The only questions should be whether they have the resources to do it, and whether it fits within AAPAC’s mission. ”I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time,” he said. Kotarski also indicated that street stamping could be part of a street art program, along with access covers, benches and possibly other elements.

Chamberlin noted that this type of program could be implemented within different quadrants of the city – that was a positive. But she cautioned that the city has limited capacity, in terms of its staffing and other resources for public art.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously voted to form a task force to explore the possible creation of a street art program.

Quadrant Meetings

Commissioners had previously decided to take a new approach to engaging the community, and they thrashed out more details at their Sept. 26 meeting. The idea is that two or more of the nine AAPAC members would be assigned to one of four quadrants in the city, using quadrants that are designated in the city master plan’s “land use elements” section: west, central, south and northeast. [.pdf map of quadrants]

The assignments are: (1) West – Connie Brown, John Kotarski; (2) Central – Marsha Chamberlin, Bob Miller; (3) South – Theresa Reid, Wiltrud Simbuerger, Malverne Winborne; and (4) Northeast – Tony Derezinski, Cathy Gendron.

A handout provided to commissioners listed the locations of current AAPAC projects that are underway. Most of the projects are in the central quadrant: artwork for East Stadium bridges, the Justice Center, the Kingsley & First rain garden, Forest Avenue plaza, and the Allmendinger Park mural. Artwork for Argo Cascades is in the northeast quadrant, and public art for the planned roundabout at State and Ellsworth is in the south quadrant.

Assuming that the public art budget for fiscal 2013 were to be divided evenly among the four quadrants – as has been proposed – each quadrant would get $73,590 for public art projects.

The geographic quadrant approach was initially brought forward by Malverne Winborne  at AAPAC’s planning retreat in February 2012, and has been discussed several times since then. Most recently, commissioners incorporated the approach into their four-year strategic plan, which was part of their August meeting agenda.

Connie Brown has been spearheading the development of the quadrant proposal, and she outlined the next steps for AAPAC. Initial public forums are planned in October for each quadrant. The tentative times/dates are:

  • Central: Tuesday, Oct. 16 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. location TBD.
  • South: Thursday, Oct. 18 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Bryant Community Center, 3 West Eden Court.
  • Northeast: Tuesday, Oct. 23 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Clague Middle School media room, 2616 Nixon Road.
  • West: Tuesday, Oct. 30 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor Open School @Mack cafeteria, 920 Miller Ave.

Brown will facilitate each of the meetings, but other commissioners assigned to the quadrants will be responsible for forming task forces to carry the effort forward. She described the initial meetings as “very gentle fact-finding missions,” asking about what residents think is important, what they hate, where the “cool” places are in the neighborhoods. The meetings will also serve as an introduction to AAPAC and the Percent for Art program, and the concept of public art in general.

Malverne Winborne

Ann Arbor public art commissioner Malverne Winborne.

John Kotarski showed commissioners a couple of variations for a slide show that they could use during these quadrant meetings. The images let people know there’s already a considerable amount of public art in Ann Arbor, he said. Examples shown in the slideshow included FestiFools, mosaics at the Fourth & Washington parking structure, The Cube on the University of Michigan campus, fairy doors, and sidewalk chalk art drawings by David Zinn. [Only two pieces of public art have been funded by the city's Percent for Art program: The Dreiseitl sculpture in front of city hall, and metal tree sculptures in West Park. A third project – a mural at Allmendinger Park – is expected to be finished later this year.]

The slideshow also included examples of public art in other communities, as well as a list of definitions used in discussing art. The point of the slides is to serve as an icebreaker, Kotarski said, and to give people the vocabulary to feel confident in voicing their opinions.

Winborne cautioned that it’s important to identify who the audience will be – artists, or the general public? For the general public, the presentation needs to be simplified, he said, indicating that sometimes he gets lost at AAPAC meetings when the discussion becomes too technical.

Marsha Chamberlin, who also serves as president of the Ann Arbor Art Center, said she and her staff call it the “grandmother test.” If your grandmother can understand what you’re saying, it’s clear.

Chamberlin also noted that the slides would be shown at “another meeting that will remain anonymous.” [She was referring to a fundraiser on Friday, Sept. 28 in support of Proposal B, the city's public art millage. The event was held at Downtown Home & Garden, which is co-owned by Margaret Parker, former AAPAC chair.]

Later in the meeting, the group discussed how to publicize these initial quadrant meetings. In addition to issuing a press release and posting the meetings on the city’s online calendar, other suggestions included communicating via the Ann Arbor Public Schools, places of worship, and neighborhood/condo associations.

Kotarski suggested calling the events “Art Talks.” Chamberlin joked that she’d come up with “Public Art – Who Cares?” as a bait-and-switch, but that Kotarski’s idea sounded better.

Outcome: This was not a voting item. 

Sign for Dreiseitl Sculpture

As part of her report from the PR committee, Connie Rizzolo Brown noted that the commission’s meeting packet included a drawing that showed the location for a potential sign describing the Herbert Dreiseitl sculpture. The need for a descriptive sign has been discussed at previous meetings, as a way to highlight the work’s meaning and how it fits into the context of the plaza’s rain garden and stormwater management system. In addition to a sign for the sculpture, the city intends to install another sign that describes the LEED elements of the rain garden and building.

Drawing that shows proposed location for signs near the Dreiseitl sculpture in front of city hall, facing Huron Street.

Drawing that shows proposed location for signs near the Dreiseitl sculpture in front of city hall, facing Huron Street.

Brown said the proposed location for the signs detracts from the ability to enjoy the sculpture – it feels disruptive. The proposal by Quinn Evans Architects is to put the signs on top of a mesh fence that will be installed at the end of the walkway overlooking the sculpture. Brown noted that the signs would block part of the view, as the water flows down from the sculpture and goes under the pedestrian bridge.

Brown also reported that AAPAC has been asked to do the design, but she felt it was important that they hire someone so that it could be done professionally. “It needs to be a paid piece,” she said. Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, said it would be possible for city staff to do the graphic design. He also planned to check with Quinn Evans to see if the sign’s graphic design was within the scope of their existing contract with the city. He noted that the city had requested that the LEED sign be placed at that location, but he would see if it’s possible to change that.

Marsha Chamberlin expressed frustration that these add-ons are only now being addressed. It would have been good to know earlier so that these elements could have been incorporated into the design of the sculpture and its site. Now, these additions are messing with an otherwise strong aesthetic, she said.

John Kotarski said it struck him that AAPAC should have been consulted about the sign’s placement. It doesn’t seem like the city is keeping AAPAC in the loop, he said, even though commissioners are taking heat for the sculpture.

In response to a query from Wiltrud Simbuerger, Seagraves reminded commissioners that he’d already provided them with a draft for the sign’s text. [.pdf of text for the sign] Dreiseitl still needs to sign off on it, he added, but there’s time to change the text and add images if that’s what AAPAC wants to do.

Brown wanted to see the entire context – what will the LEED sign look like? It’s important to see all of the elements, including the text and graphics. Theresa Reid also wondered what the budget was, and how the sign would be funded.

Outcome: This was not a voting item. Aaron Seagraves indicated he’d be following up on these issues.

Project Updates

Several projects were discussed briefly during the Sept. 26 meeting, by way of updates. Additional information was also included in a written report by Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator.

Project Updates: Website, Murals

Connie Rizzolo Brown reported that several changes have been made to AAPAC’s website. She brought a printout of the site, which includes several new photographs of the work on the Allmendinger Park mural. The mural is being created by Ann Arbor muralist Mary Thiefels of TreeTown Murals, and incorporates work by students at Slauson Middle School as part of mosaics on pillars of the park’s building. A dedication is planned on Sunday, Oct. 28, with the time to-be-determined.

John Kotarski said Thiefels is well-known in the Detroit area, and is involved with the 555 Gallery there. It’s possible that the Detroit TV stations might be interested in doing a report on her mural project, he said.

Later in the meeting, Seagraves told commissioners that the city has released a statement of qualifications (SOQ) for creating a “pool” of artists for future murals. [.pdf of mural SOQ] As stated in the SOQ, the objective 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.” The deadline for submitting an SOQ is Friday, Nov. 9 at 10 a.m.

Commissioners discussed how to disseminate the SOQ, which is posted on the city’s website. Seagraves will contact other arts organizations and publications about it, and commissioners agreed to use their own networks to spread the word. The following day a notice about the SOQ was also posted on AAPAC’s Facebook page.

Project Updates: Capital Improvements Plan

Seagraves told commissioners that the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP) process has started, and he’s participating as part of the street construction “asset group.” The CIP is important to AAPAC 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.

For background on the CIP process, see Chronicle coverage: “Planning Commission Approves Capital Plan.” More information is also on the city’s CIP website.

Project Updates: Legal Review

The city attorney’s staff is reviewing SOQs (statement of qualifications) for artwork in Argo Cascades, which was sent to them in June, and for art at the Kingsley & First rain garden, which was submitted for review earlier this month.

Marsha Chamberlin

Marsha Chamberlin, chair of the Ann Arbor public art commission.

In addition, Seagraves reported that legal staff had asked that some changes be made to a draft request for proposals (RFP) for artwork at the East Stadium bridges. He characterized the changes as minor, and believed they could be made without additional review by the city attorney’s office. AAPAC had originally approved the draft RFP in April. Obliquely referring to the length of time it typically takes for legal review, Marsha Chamberlin quipped: “It ain’t over ’til it’s over!”

AAPAC has budgeted $400,000 for the project. [Chronicle coverage: "RFP for E. Stadium Bridges Art Approved"]

Project Updates: Justice Center

Plans for the hanging sculpture by Ed Carpenter for the lobby of the new Justice Center are finished, Seagraves reported, and the artist will begin site preparation in December. He said a fabricator will likely be selected soon, with installation of the final piece occurring in early 2013. [Chronicle coverage: "City Council OKs Justice Center Art"]

Bob Miller wondered whether anyone has discussed how the sculpture will be cleaned – it has many parts, he noted. [The $150,000 piece will be made of dichroic glass, aluminum, stainless steel and lighting, including LED spot and flood lighting.]

Misc. Communications

At the beginning of the Sept. 26 meeting, John Kotarski reported on two separate conversations he’d recently had – with state Rep. Jeff Irwin and Sally Petersen, the Democratic candidate for Ward 2 city council. [She is unopposed in the Nov. 6 election.]

Irwin had expressed interest in seeing more benches for pedestrians, which might be a project that AAPAC could take on. [See previous section on the possible street art program.] Petersen wants to see more resident involvement in the selection of artwork, Kotarski reported, and would like AAPAC to work more closely with local schools.

Marsha Chamberlin suggested it would be helpful to have Petersen come to an AAPAC meeting so that they could have a conversation about these issues. Several commissioners felt that the quadrant approach, which is in the early stages of launching, would address Petersen’s concerns.

Chamberlin pointed out that AAPAC doesn’t have a consistent way of communicating with the city council. Tony Derezinski, an AAPAC member who also represents Ward 2 on city council, replied that he does make reports about AAPAC’s work. However, he noted that while he’ll continue to serve on AAPAC after the Nov. 6 election as a member of the general public, he will no longer be on council. [Derezinski was defeated by Petersen in the Aug. 7 Democratic primary.] He suggested that council should appoint an ex-officio non-voting council representative, who could serve as a liaison to AAPAC. That would be especially important if the public art millage passes, he said.

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

Absent: Cathy Gendron.

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012 at 4:30 p.m. at city hall, 301 E. Huron St. [Check Chronicle events listing to confirm date]

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One Comment

  1. By Mary Morgan
    October 4, 2012 at 7:50 pm | permalink

    The dates/locations of the quadrant meetings mentioned in this article have been revised, according to a city of Ann Arbor press release issued this week. Here’s the final list:

    Monday, October 15, 7-9 pm
    Ann Arbor Art Center, 117 West Liberty Street

    Thursday, October 18, 6:30-8:30 pm
    Bryant Community Center, 3 West Eden Court

    Monday, October 22, 6:30-8:30 pm
    Clague Middle School, Media Room, 2616 Nixon Road

    Tuesday, October 30, 6:30-8:30 pm
    Open at Mack Middle School, cafeteria, 920 Miller Avenue