Art Group Reviews Public Outreach Effort

Fourth public forum set for Oct. 30; online component explored

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (Oct. 24, 2012): After three public forums held earlier this month as part of a new community outreach effort, AAPAC members got an update on those meetings and talked about how to increase participation.

Bob Miller, Marsha Chamberlin, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Public art commissioners Bob Miller and Marsha Chamberlin. (Photos by the writer.)

Turnout was lower than hoped – as only one resident attended the meeting held on Oct. 22 at Clague Middle School, though about 10 people came to a forum at Bryant Community Center the previous week. A fourth event will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 30 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor Open @Mack cafeteria, 920 Miller Ave.

John Kotarski, who had attended all the forums, felt the events had achieved their purpose of achieving a presence in the community, and introducing residents to different kinds of public art. Bob Miller advocated adding an online element for soliciting more input. Commissioners discussed the possibility of using the city’s new A2 Open City Hall, a blog-type feature that allows people to get information and give feedback on specific projects.

Commissioners took action on other projects, voting to approve a $910 budget for the dedication of a new mural at Allmendinger Park – an event to take place on Sunday, Oct. 28 from 2-4 p.m. The mural was designed by Mary Thiefels of TreeTown Murals, incorporating artwork and found objects from the community.

Also approved was the location of a sign for the Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture in front of city hall, though there was concern about the placement of a fence there. The city has decided to put the mesh metal fence on a section of the pedestrian bridge overlooking the sculpture. Some commissioners are frustrated that this safety issue wasn’t raised earlier, when it might have been addressed by the sculptor as part of the site design. Marsha Chamberlin, AAPAC’s chair, noted that Dreiseitl intended people to interact with the water that runs down from the fountain. “What’s driving this process – the aesthetics of the piece or risk management?” she asked. She ultimately abstained from the vote, stating ”I want to go on the record of being ornery about this.” It was approved by all other commissioners present at the meeting.

Commissioners were also updated on a range of other projects that are in various stages of development. The process has begun for soliciting artists for work at the East Stadium bridge and for an ongoing mural program. The deadlines for submitting statements of qualifications (SOQs) are in November. Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, expects to post another SOQ – for artwork at Argo Cascades – next month. And legal staff is reviewing a request for proposals (RFP) for art at a rain garden being built at Kingsley and First.

Seagraves also reported that installation of a $150,000 hanging glass sculpture at the Justice Center lobby will be delayed a few months, until March or April of 2013. Fabricators selected by the artist Ed Carpenter aren’t available to do the work as soon as expected.

Another potential project emerged during the meeting. Chamberlin noted that the city has about 100 old aluminum canoes that it’s planning to get rid of. She said that Cheryl Saam, facilities supervisor for the city’s canoe liveries, had raised the possibility of using the canoes for some kind of community art project. After getting feedback from other commissioners that this is an idea worth pursuing, Chamberlin said she’d work up a more formal proposal for consideration at a future meeting.

As part of the Oct. 24 meeting packet, AAPAC got a budget update of Percent for Art funds, showing a balance of $1.533 million. Of that, $847,104 has been earmarked for previously approved projects, leaving about $686,000 unallocated. [.pdf of budget summary]

One notable topic was not discussed at the meeting – a public art millage that’s on the Nov. 6 ballot. Several commissioners are involved in advocating for the millage, but have taken a conservative approach to dealing with it during their regular business, and AAPAC meetings have not included discussion on the topic since the August 28, 2012  meeting. That approach stands in contrast to a recent park advisory commission meeting, when one of the park commissioners spoke during public commentary to urge support for the parks millage renewal.

Public Outreach

John Kotarski gave a report on AAPAC’s series of outreach meetings, as part of an effort to engage the community better about public art. He delivered the report on behalf of Connie Rizzolo Brown, who’s spearheading this effort but who was running late for the Oct. 24 meeting.

This new approach uses four quadrants of Ann Arbor that are designated in the city master plan’s “land use elements” section: west, central, south and northeast. [.pdf map of quadrants] Two or more of the nine AAPAC members are responsible for each quadrant, charged with soliciting input from residents in selecting public art.

Three meetings have been held in October to kick off this effort. About 10 or so people attended each of the first two meetings, held at the Ann Arbor Art Center and the Bryant Community Center. The third meeting at Clague Middle School, which The Chronicle attended, had less of a turnout. Councilmember Sabra Briere showed up, but no one else came until about 20 minutes after the meeting’s start, when the two commissioners there – Kotarski and Brown, along with public art administrator Aaron Seagraves – had already packed up and were ready to leave. They stayed and talked to the resident for about 15 minutes.

At AAPAC’s Oct. 24 meeting, Kotarski told commissioners that the meetings so far had achieved their purpose: To make a presence in the community, and to introduce the many faces of public art. It lets residents know that AAPAC is making an effort, he said. At the final meeting held at Clague, Kotarski said the one resident who attended didn’t want to spend tax dollars on public art. The man had presented his view, and Kotarski felt the resident had left the meeting feeling that his view had been heard.

The final meeting – for the west quadrant – will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 30 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor Open @Mack cafeteria, 920 Miller Ave.

Later in the meeting, Bob Miller suggested exploring how to incorporate an online component into the process, to increase participation. He noted that in the past, AAPAC had received hundreds of responses to its online surveys. Marsha Chamberlin pointed out that the high number of responses were because a previous commissioner had alerted a large network of artists in the community via email, asking them to do the survey. “So it was a little bit of a biased sample,” she said, and distorted the response. [Chamberlin was referring to former AAPAC chair Margaret Parker.]

The group discussed using A2 Open City Hall, a new feature on the city’s website that’s used to share information about projects and solicit feedback. Seagraves was tasked with looking at that possibility and reporting back at AAPAC’s next meeting.

Allmendinger Mural

A public dedication of the new mural at Allmendinger Park is planned for Sunday, Oct. 28 from 2-4 p.m. at the park. The city commissioned Ann Arbor muralist Mary Thiefels of TreeTown Murals to do the work, which incorporates found objects and artwork by students at Slauson Middle School as part of mosaics on pillars of the park’s building.

In addition to the previously approved $12,000 budget for the project, at their Oct. 24 meeting AAPAC was asked to approve an additional $810 to cover the costs of the dedication ceremony. The total budget for the event is $910, with $100 coming from funds remaining in the original project budget. The event budget will pay for food, music, printing & postage, decorations, podium rental, and a plaque.

Responding to a Chronicle query after the meeting, Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, explained that the source of that additional $810 hasn’t yet been determined. It will come from either the Percent for Art pooled funds for parks projects, or from funds allocated for administration, he said.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously voted to approve funding for the Allmendinger Park mural dedication ceremony.

Dreiseitl Sign & Fencing

The topic of a sign for the Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture in front of city hall has been discussed at multiple AAPAC meetings. It came up again on Oct. 24.

Herbert Dreiseitl sculpture, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Proposed sign for Herbert Dreiseitl sculpture on pedestrian bridge in front of city hall.

The city has decided to install a metal mesh fence along the pedestrian bridge overlooking the sculpture, for safety reasons. Separately, AAPAC has been working on a descriptive sign for the piece. At their Sept. 26, 2012 meeting, commissioners were presented with a schematic showing the sign positioned on top of the fence. [See image to the right.] Some commissioners had objected, saying that the sign and fence detracted from the artwork. Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, promised to see if any alternative locations could be offered.

On Oct. 24, commissioners were presented with a second possibility – keeping the mesh fence in place, but positioning the sign atop an adjacent concrete wall. [.jpg of drawing that shows alternative location]

Commissioners had previously approved text for the sign. [.pdf of text for the sign] The sign’s graphic design has not been completed.

Bob Miller and Marsha Chamberlin both expressed frustration that the city now wanted to put up a fence. They felt that if safety was a concern, that issue should have been raised earlier in the process so that it could have been addressed as part of the project’s overall design. ”What’s driving this process – the aesthetics of the piece or risk management?” Chamberlin asked.

Malverne Winborne was surprised that the issue hadn’t been brought up before –  as it seemed to him an obvious concern that the city would have. Tony Derezinski, who also serves on city council, said no one had mentioned it, as far as he knew. He noted that he is a member of the city’s insurance board, indicating that it would have been a logical topic for that group.

Miller wondered where the safety concern would end. People could climb the sculpture, or someone in a wheelchair could roll over the edge, he noted – there would always be potential safety issues. At some point, personal responsibility should be a factor. Winborne said he agreed with that, but he also was aware that we live in a litigious society.

Aaron Seagraves, Ann Arbor public art commission, Percent for Art, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aaron Seagraves, Ann Arbor’s public art administrator.

John Kotarski and Derezinski both felt it was a city decision – not something for AAPAC to decide. Chamberlin agreed that it’s the city’s call, but argued that AAPAC’s role is to protect the integrity of the artwork. She noted that years ago, when a large sculpture at Sculpture Plaza was refurbished, for example, there was a lot of discussion about whether to paint it. [The Arch by David F. Heberling – located in the small city park at Fourth and Catherine – was removed, repaired and painted in 2007-08.]

Chamberlin recalled that when she talked with Dreiseitl after his sculpture’s dedication in October of 2011, he told her that he had intended for people to interact with the water – and children were playing in it that night, she said. With that in mind, the surfaces had been treated so that they’d be less slippery, she reported. Kotarski said he could confirm that – he had walked down the watery surfaces himself, to see how slippery they were, and he didn’t slip. That convinced him that there’s not a risk, but he still felt the decision should be left to the city staff.

Chamberlin wondered who was making these decisions at the city. She wanted to make an inquiry about the fencing. Matt Kulhanek, the city’s facilities supervisor, is making the call, Seagraves said. Derezinski cautioned that if AAPAC makes an inquiry about it, they should “be prepared to accept the answer.”

“I’m not going to take this lying down,” Chamberlin replied. AAPAC might have to accept the fence this time, she added, but they need to be very clear in the future that it’s not acceptable.

Miller asked if transparent glass could be used, rather than metal mesh. Seagraves reported that maintenance would be a concern with glass. He noted that Dreiseitl preferred having the sign attached to the top of the fence, rather than the alternate option.

Outcome: Commissioners voted to support the placement of the Dreiseitl sign atop the new fence on the pedestrian bridge. Marsha Chamberlin abstained, stating ”I want to go on the record of being ornery about this.”

Kingsley Rain Garden Art

Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, reported that in September a request for proposals (RFP) was forwarded to the city’s legal staff for review regarding artwork for a rain garden that the city is building at the corner of Kingsley and First.

John Kotarski questioned why an RFP was being used, rather than an SOQ (statement of qualifications). For other projects – like artwork for Argo Cascades and East Stadium bridges – AAPAC is using an SOQ, he noted. That approach solicits a pool of artists from which finalists are selected. The finalists are paid a stipend to develop a proposal that’s then selected. He felt that was the proper way to proceed. With no stipends, he said, serious artists wouldn’t respond.

John Kotarski, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

John Kotarski

Seagraves explained that with this particular project, AAPAC wanted an artist to work hand-in-hand with the landscape architect who’ll be designing the rain garden. They don’t want a design done prior to that, he said. Another factor is that the city procedurally can’t issue a contract with an artist directly from an SOQ – the SOQ usually leads to an RFP. So in this case, an RFP was being used instead, skipping the SOQ step.

There was a fair amount of confusion about how the process would work. Seagraves eventually explained that the process would actually work like an SOQ. A task force will use the RFP responses to choose a group of finalists, who’ll then be interviewed before the task force recommends someone for the project. Unlike typical RFPs, however, none of the artists will be asked to develop a specific design for the project, he said. The task force recommendation will be forwarded to AAPAC for review – and if approved, at that point the city will develop a contract with the artist for the work.

Kotarski said it sounded like the city would be hiring the artist’s services, much like an artist in residence. In that light, he said it made sense to him to proceed in this way.

Outcome: This was not a voting item. 

Canoe Art

At the end of the Oct. 24 meeting, Marsha Chamberlin floated an idea for a possible art project to pursue. She noted that the city has about 100 old aluminum canoes that it’s planning to get rid of. She reported that Cheryl Saam, facilities supervisor for the city’s canoe liveries, had raised the possibility of using the canoes for some kind of community art project. One idea is to cut the canoes in half and stand them upright, to serve as a base. The visual analogy is a crèche made from an old bathtub, Chamberlin said. They could be painted, embellished, or transformed in any way – the common theme would be the canoe. The project could involve artists, the general community, or both. The final artwork could be sold, donated as a fundraiser, or used as installations throughout the city.

Chamberlin wanted feedback from other commissioners to see if this was something they’d like to pursue. There was general agreement among the five other commissioners who attended the meeting, so Chamberlin said she’d work on a more formal proposal for a future meeting.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

State & Ellsworth Roundabout

A roundabout is being built at the intersection of South State and Ellsworth, and AAPAC plans to incorporate public art into the project. Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, told commissioners that they needed to select a “champion” for the project.

Bob Miller volunteered, saying he wanted to tie in the roundabout art into a corridor study of South State that’s underway. [See Chronicle coverage: "Sustainability Goals Shape Corridor Study."]

There was some discussion among commissioners about the importance of integrating artwork not just at the roundabout, but throughout the length of the corridor as well. Marsha Chamberlin suggested developing a “visual database” of ideas that could be drawn on, showing how artwork could be integrated into the design of fencing, road dividers and signs, for example. Otherwise, art will just be “plopped” onto a site, she said.

Miller said he’d touch base with Jeff Kahan, the city planner who’s working on this corridor project, to see how AAPAC can coordinate with it.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Other Project & Budget Updates

Aaron Seagraves gave several brief project updates during the meeting. Here are some highlights:

  • Justice Center lobby sculpture: The $150,000 project will be delayed for a few months because the fabricators selected by the sculptor – Ed Carpenter – aren’t available until later this year. The installation of the hanging glass work now isn’t expected until March or April, rather than January. The sculpture, called “Radius,” was approved by city council in May of 2012 based on AAPAC’s recommendation.
  • East Stadium bridge artwork: The statement of qualifications (SOQ) has been issued for artwork at the new East Stadium bridge and nearby areas. [.pdf of SOQ-837] The deadline for submissions is Nov. 30 at 10 a.m. The $400,000 budget for that project was recommended by AAPAC in March of 2012.
  • Mural program: Also issued is a statement of qualifications (SOQ) to select a pool of artists for future mural projects. [.pdf of SOQ-835] The deadline for submissions is Nov. 9 at 10 a.m. AAPAC had approved this approach at its June 27, 2012 meeting, to facilitate faster development of mural projects.
  • Argo Cascades: The city attorney’s office has signed off on an SOQ for artwork at Argo Cascades. Seagraves expects that the SOQ will be released in November. [SOQs for the city are posted online here.] AAPAC approved a $150,000 budget for that project in April of 2012.
  • Forest Avenue Plaza: Seagraves reported that Marsha Chamberlin and Bob Miller had met with park planner Amy Kuras earlier in the month, and would be meeting again in November with other task force members who’ll be selected from the neighborhood. AAPAC voted at its Aug. 22, 2012 meeting to move ahead on a public art project for the plaza, located next to the Forest Avenue parking structure near South University.

Seagraves also provided commissioners with a budget summary on Percent for Art funds, showing a balance of $1.533 million. Of that, $847,104 has been earmarked for previously approved projects, leaving about $686,000 unallocated. [.pdf of budget summary] There was no discussion of the budget.

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

Absent: Cathy Gendron, Theresa Reid, Wiltrud Simbuerger.

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, Nov. 28, 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. By Kitty B. Kahn
    October 28, 2012 at 6:01 pm | permalink

    Just a thought, but perhaps there are some people who would like to adopt the canoes? How about collecting interest in that, if the canoes are not too damaged to be used, before using them as an art installation.

  2. By Alan Goldsmith
    October 29, 2012 at 7:04 am | permalink

    Speaking of safety and risk management. Perhaps the leftover fencing from Camp Take Notice can be used. Preferably twenty to thirty feet tall, with barbed wire. Something that will totally block the piece from public view. And toss in a a couple of metal detectors. And a guard or two with weapons. Now we’re talking. You know something that speaks to the cold cruel world and how it rejects statements of beauty ala our giant urinal art project. If you can find the artist, no doubt working on other projects China, perhaps he can assist with ideas used with other government approved ‘art’.

  3. By abc
    October 29, 2012 at 9:34 am | permalink

    A doctor’s diagnosis can hinge on something small and subtle. “Does it hurt when I do this?” “Can you cough… again.” We all know the drill.

    Just the mention of ‘Canoe Art’ by those who are supposed to… well I am not sure what they are supposed to do. But I sure am thinking that they are supposed to have a background in, or at least a strong curiosity about, art.

    Since the 1980’s an artist by the name of Nancy Rubins has been making sculpture with, among other things, CANOES; an example is located in Las Vegas in the understated location known as CityCenter. You can also find a few other examples scattered around the country. [link]

    A brief search also verifies that there is indeed both a ‘canoehenge’ and a ‘boathenge’ already in existence in America. And which one of us has not seen boats / canoes chainsawed in half decorating restaurants, boat clubs, marinas, as well as man caves.

    Maybe when the AAPAC coughed this is what was heard “. They could be painted, embellished, or transformed in any way – the common theme would be the canoe.” You see the canoe is not, and cannot be, the theme. It is the medium, like paint or clay. It would be the thing that the artist would transform. Not getting this right is a symptom.

    Using the canoes could result in a wonderful thing or an awful thing but I am afraid that I cannot bet on the former. A very typical criticism that needs to be doled out to almost every sophomore artist / designer is, “what if your description of the piece is better than the work itself?” I know that this is true for the Dreiseitl piece, and I suspect that the canoe idea will take a similar path.

  4. October 29, 2012 at 10:24 am | permalink

    The AAPAC should be applauded for their decision to separate their official actions from the political efforts to pass the Arts Millage. It is always refreshing to see someone exercise more ethical behavior than is minimally required.

  5. By Alan Goldsmith
    October 29, 2012 at 10:37 am | permalink

    “It is always refreshing to see someone exercise more ethical behavior than is minimally required.”

    In Ann Arbor the past several years, this almost calls for a parade on Main Street in celebration.

  6. By Alan Goldsmith
    October 29, 2012 at 10:50 am | permalink

    Interesting entry on budget pdf:

    Dreiseitl/Utility $30,799.24

    The project that never ends.

  7. By TJ
    October 29, 2012 at 11:20 am | permalink

    Re #1: Canoes that are not too damaged to be dangerous are typically sold by the city at an auction – but I’ve never seen anywhere near 100 at the few auctions I’ve attended. Is this a special culling of the fleet because kayaks are needed for the Cascades?

    The canoe project makes me think of the painted ponies / cows / etc that have sprung up in various cities. I’ve seen some that have had really nice pieces, but others that seemed to have run short of interested artists. And then there’s the Vasehenge project in Zanesville, OH – not very impressive at all. If you think you hear a lot of complaints about the Dreisetl piece, just set up a dorky looking canoe piece and see how quickly Dreisetl complaints fade. It could be fun, but it could be a flop.

  8. By Mary Morgan
    October 29, 2012 at 11:50 am | permalink

    Here’s a link to the Zanesville vase project referred to in #7: [link]

  9. By Andrea
    October 29, 2012 at 1:29 pm | permalink

    I kind of like the idea of a canoehenge.