Ann Arbor Voters Reject Public Art Millage

A more flexible funding mechanism for public art in Ann Arbor was defeated by voters on Nov. 6. The 0.1 mill tax – which was expected to generate around $450,000 annually – was rejected by 28,166 voters (55.86%), with support from 22,254 voters (44.14%).

The proposal won a majority of votes in just 13 out of 59 precincts with the most support coming from Ward 5, Precinct 4 where 60.5% of voters supported the public art millage. Ward 5 had six of the 13 precincts where the proposal achieved a majority. And the proposal finished in a dead heat in Ward 5, Precinct 5 with 471 voting for and against it.  Opposition among in-person voters was strongest in Ward 1, Precinct 9, where only 34.5% of voters supported it. The proposal did not win a majority of votes in any precinct of Ward 2.

The city’s current funding mechanism for public art, the Percent for Art ordinance, will remain in place unless action is taken by Ann Arbor city council to change it. It’s possible that an amendment would be brought forward to redefine what counts as an eligible project is under the ordinance. One of several previous attempts by the council to revise the ordinance had included a restriction on the eligible funds that could be used.

The Percent for Art program, in place since 2007, requires that 1% of all city capital projects be set aside for public art, up to a limit of $250,000 per project. According to the most recent budget update at the Oct. 24, 2012 meeting of the Ann Arbor public art commission, the Percent for Art program has 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]

The millage proposal had been introduced without public input in August, brought forward by city councilmember Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), to the surprise of the arts community. Leaders of many local arts organizations had urged the city council to hold off and take a more strategic approach to floating a millage. Concerns included a lack of clarity for voters about how yes or no votes would impact public funding for art, the short time frame during which a millage campaign could be mounted, and the fact that Ann Arbor voters would also be voting on two other millages on the Nov. 6 ballot: (1) renewal of a 1.1 mill tax to pay for park capital improvements and maintenance; and (2) a library millage to support construction of a new downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library. [The library bond proposal was also defeated. The parks millage renewal passed.]

Those concerns were not compelling to the majority of councilmembers, who voted on Aug. 20 to put the millage on the Nov. 6 ballot. Subsequently, supporters of the arts community formed a campaign committee (B for Art) to support the millage.

The Percent for Art funds are overseen by the Ann Arbor public art commission, which makes recommendations to the city council about spending decisions for public art. The city’s most high-profile – and controversial – project to date has been the water sculpture in front of city hall, designed by German sculptor Herbert Dreiseitl.