City To Seek Feedback On Public Art Program

Ann Arbor council committee plans to use A2 Open City Hall for input; other ideas include full-time staff, public/private partnerships

Ann Arbor city council public art committee meeting (Jan. 7, 2013): The five councilmembers on a committee looking at the future of Ann Arbor’s public art program will likely seek feedback on public art funding using the city’s online A2 Open City Hall.

Sabra Briere, Sally Petersen, Ann Arbor city council, public art, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Ann Arbor city councilmembers Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Sally Petersen (Ward 2) at the Jan. 7, 2013 council public art committee meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The group discussed this approach at its second meeting since being appointed by the full council on Dec. 3, 2012. Sally Petersen (Ward 2) had proposed a survey at the committee’s first meeting on Dec. 11, but the idea had gained no traction then. She reintroduced the proposal on Jan. 7, saying she felt the committee needed better direction about public art and the types of funding residents might support.

A2 Open City Hall allows users to give open-ended responses to questions, to select priorities, and to give votes of support to comments left by others. It’s a relatively new system, and committee members talked about the need to promote it so that more people will participate. They plan to invite Lisa Wondrash, the city’s communications manager, to come to the next committee meeting and give advice on crafting questions for Open City Hall, as well as ways to publicize it. The Open City Hall system wouldn’t be the only way to get input, Petersen stressed.

Committee members include Peterson, Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Margie Teall (Ward 4) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). At this point, the consensus of the committee appears to be for a continued public art program that would not rely exclusively on the current Percent for Art funding model. That approach sets aside 1% of the budget for each of the city’s capital projects – up to a cap of $250,000 – for public art. The ordinance was enacted in 2007, but has been controversial for a variety of reasons. [.pdf of public art ordinance] It is now being evaluating in light of a public art millage that was rejected by 56% of voters on Nov. 6, 2012.

The council has asked this committee to make recommendations about the city’s public art program by Feb. 15, 2013. The group is exploring several options, including possible public/private partnerships and hiring a full-time administrator. There seems to be general agreement that if a Percent for Art approach is kept in place, it should be modified and only provide a portion of funding for public art. Tom Crawford, the city’s chief financial officer, attended the Jan. 7 meeting and reported that the accounting for Percent for Art is “very detailed and very difficult. It’s very administratively heavy.”

Moving away from Percent for Art funding would also give the city more flexibility on the types of public art it can pursue. Currently, because funding comes from capital projects, the artwork must be permanent and linked thematically to the fund paying for the project. That means that temporary installations, or events like the annual FestiFools parade, can’t be funded in this way.

Taylor wasn’t confident that the committee could craft a new plan by its February deadline. Instead, he suggested that the committee could provide concrete direction, but perhaps the city should hire a consultant or ask city staff to review the current program and make further recommendations.

During the Jan. 7 meeting, Kunselman gave a brief update on his plan to make a request of the state attorney general’s office for an opinion about the legality of Ann Arbor’s current Percent for Art program. The request must come from a state legislator, and Kunselman said that state Rep. Jeff Irwin – a Democrat from Ann Arbor representing District 53 – has “reluctantly” agreed to help if the council passes a resolution to seek the AG opinion.

Also at the meeting, committee members heard from four people during public commentary, who gave suggestions on how to proceed: Marsha Chamberlin and John Kotarski of the Ann Arbor public art commission; former AAPAC chair Margaret Parker; and Sarah Gay, an arts administrator who grew up in Ann Arbor. Kotarski, Parker and Gay all recommended hiring a full-time administrator for Ann Arbor’s public art program.

The committee’s next meeting is set for Monday, Jan. 14 at 5:30 p.m. in the first-floor conference room at city hall, 301 E. Huron. These meetings are open to the public. This Chronicle report also provides links to online resources that are being used by the committee, including information about public art programs in other cities nationwide.

Surveying Residents on Public Art

The meeting began with Sally Petersen restating her proposal made at the committee’s first meeting: That the council needs a better sense of what residents think about public art.

She told her colleagues that initially, the committee needs to get a better sense of direction about which path to pursue. At the Dec. 11, 2012 meeting, the committee had talked about doing a survey, she noted, and she’d heard their concerns about how a survey might elicit responses only from people who are passionate one way or another – that it wouldn’t necessarily be a representative sample. Despite that, she still felt the committee needed to have a discussion about whether to keep the Percent for Art program as a funding source.

The other question is whether the city should have a public art program at all. Petersen observed that all the committee members believe there should be such a program, “however, we haven’t asked that to the community yet.” Assuming the answer is yes, she said, then the next question would be what’s the best form of funding a public art program. “I don’t think we have consensus on that in this room.”

Yes, the community elects councilmembers to represent them, Petersen said. But she felt it was worth going to the community to get their feedback on these two questions. She wanted to use A2 Open City Hall to do that.

Petersen said she knows that a lot of research went into creating the Percent for Art program back in 2007, and at the time, it seemed like a good thing, she said. “But I don’t think it’s necessarily turned out to be a good thing for Ann Arbor – which is not the same thing as saying we shouldn’t be doing public art.” She thought the city should be doing public art, just perhaps not with the current approach.

Christopher Taylor asked, “What are the contours of Open City Hall?” Once others had clarified what he meant, they talked about the features of the site.

Ann Arbor Open City Hall, Ann Arbor city council, Percent for Art, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Screen shot of A2 Open City Hall website. (Image links to site)

Tom Crawford, the city’s chief financial officer, explained that the system requires users to register, but allows them to choose to post their comments anonymously. Registration is validated by the company that operates the system – Peak Democracy – and prevents one person from posting repeatedly and skewing the results, he said. The city can post multiple questions, or allow people to prioritize options. There’s opportunity for extensive open-ended responses, Crawford said. But for each topic, a user can only post one open-ended response. Beyond that, they can vote in support of statements made by other users.

Currently, only one topic is posted – about ways that the Ann Arbor police department might use social media. Past topics have included the South State Street corridor plan, the 721 N. Main site, the city’s capital improvement plan, the fire department’s restructuring proposal, and the urban forest management plan. Those topics and responses can still be viewed on the site.

The committee talked about the fact that at this point, Open City Hall isn’t widely used. According to the site, about 500 people have registered, but far fewer have commented. Sabra Briere said the city would need to do a good job publicizing the site, to encourage more people to participate. Petersen noted that the council wouldn’t make a decision based solely on responses to Open City Hall.

The group reached a consensus to invite Lisa Wondrash, the city’s communications manager, to come to the next committee meeting on Jan. 14 and give advice on crafting questions for Open City Hall, as well as ways to publicize it.

The topic could be publicized via email to people who’ve signed up for the city’s email updates – known informally as the “red envelope” system.

Taylor felt that the committee’s first effort on Open City Hall should be viewed as a “threshold” survey – and Petersen agreed, saying the aim would be to get initial direction regarding sentiments toward putting city dollars toward public art. The consensus on the committee seemed to be to ask additional questions as well, perhaps in a separate survey at a later date.

Margie Teall was the strongest in voicing her view that a majority of residents of Ann Arbor support public art. “The feeling that I get is that people want public art program to continue to grow,” she said. The question is not just how to manage what the city has, Teall added, but: How does a public art program move forward?

Petersen ventured that the council, based on their sense of their constituents’ views, had the right to decide that the city should continue to have a public art program. In that case, the question should be what funding sources should support it, she said.

Teall agreed, but said that people need to be educated at least a little about the types of funding sources, before they’re asked to give an opinion. She noted that they city could use a combination of funding sources, not just one.

Seeking Attorney General Opinion

Steve Kunselman gave a brief update on his plan to make a request of the state attorney general’s office for an opinion about the legality of Ann Arbor’s current Percent for Art program. The request must come from a state legislator, and Kunselman said that state Rep. Jeff Irwin – a Democrat from Ann Arbor representing District 53 – has “reluctantly” agreed to help if the council passes a resolution to seek the AG opinion.

Kunselman noted that the AG is not obligated to issue an opinion, even if a request is made. “But that’s something I would still like to try to do,” he said. It would clearly need to be about the funding methodology, he added. At issue is the appropriateness of using funds that were originally designated for infrastructure like roads or utilities, and setting aside some of those funds for public art.

The city attorney for Ann Arbor, Stephen Postema, has not publicly released any opinion on the issue, though he has provided such an opinion, in the form of an “advice memo,” to councilmembers.

Kunselman said he’s confident that the attorney general’s staff will recognize that it’s not legal to use these kinds of restricted funds for public art. It’s important to get that clarity, he said, adding that he supported Sabra Briere’s proposal to cut back on the types of funding that could be used for public art, because it achieved the same ends. [Briere had made this proposal at the city council’s Nov. 19, 2012 meeting.]

Funding Options: Private, Public

At the committee’s Dec. 11 meeting, Christopher Taylor had been tasked with exploring the possibility of a public/private partnership to support public art. On Jan. 7 he reported that he had spoken to city staff and done other research, “and broadly speaking, this is within the realm of possibility.” Whether it’s possible politically is another question, he added, but he called it an area of inquiry that’s worth continuing. It might be done through an existing organization or a new organization. Whether that’s funded with money from the city is “the more-than-$64,000-question,” he said.

If the city were to continue using current funds from the Percent for Art program for staffing or projects, there would still need to be the “nexus” between the funding source and the expenditure, he noted.

Although it’s in the “reasonable realm of possibility” to construct a public/private partnership, Taylor concluded, the city would need to proceed carefully on issues like whether it’s an arm of the city, or whether it would need to comply with city bidding requirements, for example.

Committee Goals

Sabra Briere recapped some of the goals that committee members had expressed so far. She described Sally Petersen’s goal as determining whether there should be public funding for art. Steve Kunselman’s goal, she said, is to determine whether the city can legally transfer dedicated millage dollars or money from the city’s enterprise funds to use for public art. Christopher Taylor’s goal is to determine whether a public/private funding model could be used for public art.

Briere asked Margie Teall to articulate her goal for this process, saying “if we don’t know where we’re headed, we’ll be going in five different directions.” Teall replied that her goal would be to find a way to sustain a flexible public/private arts program in the city.

Briere then stated that her own goal is to change the entire program so that it will allow the city to do the things that people want such a program to do. When asked by Teall to elaborate on what those things are, Briere cited temporary art, art exhibits, stipends, materials and other things that aren’t currently allowed. She believes the Percent for Art program is legal, but is concerned that tying those public art dollars to their funding sources has created an artificial constraint “that makes it impossible for us to do the art well.” If the city could do the kinds of things she described, Briere believes the public would be much more content with the program.

Petersen asked to what extent Teall was wed to the Percent for Art approach. Teall said she felt it could be part of a broader range of funding sources, including private donations. Briere pointed out that most public art programs in other communities don’t rely on Percent for Art as a sole funding source. She said that’s why she worked with city staff to narrow the scope of qualifying capital projects, to cut back on Percent for Art dollars “and find reasons to branch out.”

By way of background, Briere’s proposal – brought forward at the city council’s Nov. 19, 2012 meeting – would be to limit the number of capital projects that would need to contribute a percent of their budgets to public art. The effect would be to reduce the amount of public art funding by about 90%. For the last two fiscal years, the Percent for Art program has generated roughly $300,000. If Briere’s proposed ordinance revisions had been in place, only about $25,000 would have been generated.

Two other proposals had been made at that Nov. 19 meeting. One from Jane Lumm (Ward 2) would have terminated the program completely. A third resolution by Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) was to appoint a committee to study the Percent for Art program and to halt the expenditure of funds currently allocated for public art, with exceptions for projects already underway.

All three resolutions were postponed until the council’s Dec. 3 meeting, when councilmembers passed the proposal from Higgins and appointed the committee of five councilmembers to study the issue.

Committee Goals: What Are Committee Deliverables?

Teall referenced a public art blueprint for the city of Santa Clarita that had been emailed to committee members. [.pdf of Santa Clarita arts commission blueprint] She felt that developing some kind of blueprint would be ideal for Ann Arbor, similar to those that are in place for other critical city issues. A blueprint could include a mission statement, and map out how to achieve its goals, she said.

Briere noted that the council never gave this committee any direction regarding the kind of deliverables they need to produce. So the committee can set its own deliverables, she concluded.

Taylor noted that any program would need certain things, including a funding stream, a project flow chart, and an organizational chart. The committee needs to decide whether it’s in a position to create a new plan between now and their February deadline. “I’m not 100% confident that we can do that,” he said. The committee could provide direction and initial thoughts, he said. But perhaps what they should strive to deliver is concrete direction and the suggestion that a consultant or city staff be tasked with reviewing the current program, and determining whether the city can create something new or revised to meet its goals.

Briere said the committee’s task is to perhaps to offer a set of directions to the council, and see if the council endorses those directions. Part of that could be to articulate an endpoint – a vision of what the city hopes to accomplish regarding public art.

Committee Goals: Eliminate Funding Complexity

For his part, Kunselman said he wanted to get the attorneys and accountants out of the public art process. The whole ordinance right now is geared toward attorneys and accountants making sure the projects are linked to their funding nexus, he said, “and that’s where everything starts falling apart.” There’s too much confusion, and too many staff members who don’t have direction, and too many people who don’t know what the ordinance means, he said. “We can talk about revamping the whole program, but if it’s still tied to the nexus, it still means attorneys and accountants, and it still means the same problems. The only way you’ll untie it is to use general fund money.”

Sally Petersen, Steve Kunselman, Ann Arbor city council, Percent for Art, public art, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ann Arbor city councilmembers Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and Steve Kunselman (Ward 3) at the council committee on public art’s Jan. 7, 2013 meeting.

Tom Crawford explained to the committee how the Percent for Art funding works now, noting that the term “pooled funds” might be confusing. Public art monies – with the exception of funds for the “Radius” sculpture at the Justice Center – are transferred from their original sources to the public art fund. [For background on confusion over the funding for "Radius," see Chronicle coverage: "Art Commission Contends with Limbo Status."]

If money came from a restricted funding source – like the streets millage – then it’s restricted within the public art fund too, and can only be used on projects that link thematically to that original source. You can take funding from various restricted funds and use that “pooled” money to fund a public art project – as long as each of those funding sources has a clear connection to the project, Crawford said. An example would be the Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture in front of city hall, which is connected to the building’s stormwater management system and drew funding from several restricted funds.

He gave an additional example, looking at street millage funds. The city collects tax dollars from the street millage. When a capital project is identified – like a road resurfacing project – the money is moved into a fund for that resurfacing project. When the resurfacing project is budgeted, 1% for public art is then moved into the Percent for Art fund.

Briere asked for confirmation of her understanding that on a road resurfacing project, it’s not just millage funds that are used. Craig Hupy, the city’s public services area administrator, indicated she was right, but most resurfacing projects use primarily street millage funds. Sally Petersen wondered why a road resurfacing would be considered a capital project, not maintenance. Briere said that’s why she wants to remove it as a Percent for Art funding source, “because I can’t explain it to myself, much less to you.” The Percent for Art ordinance includes “routine maintenance” as a capital project that’s eligible for the public art program, but Briere said it’s unclear what projects qualify as “routine.”

Crawford reported that the accounting for Percent for Art is “very detailed and very difficult. It’s very administratively heavy.” Hupy agreed: “It’s a burden to keep track of all that.”

Taylor indicated that everyone agreed that “moving away, as much as we can, from a nexus-based funding system is to be an administrative and functional benefit to the public art program.”

It needs to be acknowledged that Kunselman believes the Percent for Art approach is illegal, Taylor said, but also it should also be acknowledged that lawyers have looked at it and reached a different conclusion. [Taylor is an attorney with Hooper Hathaway.] Kunselman pointed out that no other communities in the state use this kind of funding mechanism.

Petersen noted that the legality almost doesn’t matter at this point – because there are other reasons for moving away from the Percent for Art approach. It takes a lot of time and resources to administer the program, and those resources could be used elsewhere, she said. Taylor agreed, noting that this had been his motivation for wanting to put a public art millage on the ballot.

That’s why residents need to be asked what they think, Petersen said, especially if Percent for Art is taken out of the equation. Teall noted that there were about 22,000 votes in support of a millage. But Briere observed that there was “absolutely no agreement” about what those people were actually voting for. Most people who voted for the parks and library millages knew what they were voting for, she said. But that’s not necessarily the case for people who voted for or against the public art millage – based on conversations she’s had with residents.

Taylor described the bottom line for him: Minimize the “nexus” complications and maintain a program that’s sufficiently funded and sustainable, in whatever way possible.

Briere identified a committee goal as removing routine maintenance, millage dollars, and enterprise funds – money that came with constraints – as Percent for Art funding sources. Removing those dollars would allow the public art program to be more flexible and more effective. That would drop Percent for Art funding to about $25,000 annually, which is clearly not enough money, she said. That just means the city needs to identify alternative funding sources.

Asked by Petersen for his opinion on that kind of change, Crawford replied that the complication arises when funding for a capital improvement project is pulled from multiple restricted funds. When a capital project is funded by just one source, it’s not very difficult to track the Percent for Art dollars. But when a capital project is funded with multiple sources, “it gets very complicated very quickly,” he said.

Committee Goals: Forming a Cultural Commission?

Briere introduced the idea of having a cultural commission, with a broader mandate than the current one for the Ann Arbor public art commission (AAPAC). The model of a cultural commission is one that’s used in other communities, she noted, and covers event art, ephemeral art, display art and permanent art.

Petersen wondered if cultural activities were part of the mission for the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. Marsha Chamberlin, AAPAC’s current chair who attended the council committee meeting, told the group that the CVB promotes the city of Ann Arbor in order to “put heads in beds” – that is, to bring people to this area and fill its hotels and motels. Over the past 10-15 years, the CVB has marketed the city broadly, she said, including its cultural events, sports, food and more. [By way of additional background, the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti CVBs are funded through a Washtenaw County accommodations tax, collected primarily from hotels and motels. While the city of Ann Arbor is the core of the Ann Arbor CVB's focus, the organization promotes the Ann Arbor area, not just the city.]

When Petersen offered that the CVB seemed like a good fit for the idea of a cultural commission, Taylor weighed in, saying he’d “rather hew a little closer to how we currently conceive of things.” He liked the idea of a public/private partnership, but he wasn’t really interested in broadening it to a cultural commission housed with another organization.

Petersen then asked: “What about the DDA?” – the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. “Funny,” Briere replied, laughing. “Not going there.” In general there was no enthusiasm among committee members for including the DDA.

Committee Goals: Interim Ordinance Change?

Briere then proposed an interim measure. She said she’d spent part of the last two weeks reading about public art, and had found some books about public art as an element of urban design. [See links below for a portion of Briere's reading list.]

One problem with the existing Ann Arbor Percent for Art ordinance, she said, is that when money is put aside in a project’s budget for public art, it has to remain set aside for public art – it can’t be returned to its fund of origin.

Kunselman disagreed, saying that the city council doesn’t have to follow its ordinances – it always has the ability to reappropriate funds. Briere indicated that it was important to try to follow the city’s ordinances: “Nobody gets elected to council because they break all the rules.”

Kunselman characterized the Percent for Art ordinance as nothing more than direction to the city administrator.

Briere continued, saying one thing the committee could do between now and February is to go back to the full council with an interim ordinance change that simply removes a requirement from the Percent for Art ordinance. The part of the ordinance that Briere proposed removing was from this section:

1:8315. Disbursement of public art funds.

(3) Funds for public art that are included as part of a capital improvement project or that are part of a pooled public art fund may be not be transferred to any other fund, encumbered or utilized for any purpose except the purposes specifically set forth in this chapter.

When Kunselman asked what doing this would accomplish, Briere replied that it would allow the council to return Percent for Art funds to their original funding source.

“Why would we want to do that?” Taylor asked.

Briere explained that one of the problems with the “Radius” art project was that the council had been told it couldn’t decide not to spend money on public art. The council had been told that a recommendation from AAPAC to fund the sculpture was based on money set aside for public art in the police/courts building [also known as the Justice Center].

Last year, she said, some councilmembers had suggested that the public art money not be allocated for the “Radius” sculpture. “We were told we didn’t have that choice,” she said. [See Chronicle coverage: "Public Art Rehashed by Ann Arbor Council."] Now, she noted, it turns out that “Radius” isn’t being funded through the Percent for Art program, although last year the council had been told it was. The city attorney’s staff had applied the Percent for Art ordinance to explain why the council couldn’t change its mind about putting art in that building, she said.

This has come up repeatedly, she said. If the city isn’t spending the public art money, shouldn’t the money be returned to its original source? “And we’ve repeatedly been told we can’t because it’s in the ordinance. So we could change the ordinance.”

Kunselman noted that the council would likely make several ordinance changes in this process. Petersen wondered why the council would amend the ordinance if there’s a likelihood that the ordinance will be eliminated completely.

Briere noted that even if the council decides to eliminate the Percent for Art program, the existing funds for public art are still allocated. The ordinance change she proposed would allow the council to deal with that.

Both Taylor and Teall indicated that they didn’t remember the aspect of the “Radius” conversation that Briere had described. [By way of background, during the deliberations that Briere referenced – at the council's May 7, 2012 meeting – assistant city attorney Mary Fales explicitly stated that the funds from a canceled art project have to be reallocated to another art project. To support that position, Fales had read aloud the section of the ordinance that Briere quoted on Jan. 7.]

Teall said she wouldn’t support this kind of ordinance change at this point. Taylor believed that the currently allocated funds are suboptimal, because of the nexus requirement, but “nevertheless they exist, and could easily serve as a bridge from this program to the next. To unwind it would complicate a transition.”

In that case, Briere suggested setting aside the idea, noting that the committee is still in the phase of throwing out different ideas to consider – this was just such an idea.

Public Commentary

Several people attended the Jan. 7 meeting to observe the committee’s discussion, and during the final part of the session they were asked for their thoughts.

Margaret Parker, a local artist and former chair of the Ann Arbor public art commission, said there’s one thing that hasn’t come up during discussions of the “nexus” issue. She realized that it’s complex, but the benefit is that if artwork is done in connection with a building project and is funded through that building project, then a lot of money is saved by the artwork being incorporated into a capital project as it’s being built.

Parker said the Herbert Dreiseitl piece would have been much more expensive if it had been started after the rest of the city hall/Justice Center project had been completed. [As the city's first work funded by the Percent for Art program, the Dreiseitl water sculpture and related costs totaled more than $750,000.] Margie Teall ventured that the city wouldn’t have done the sculpture at all, if it hadn’t been coordinated with the building construction.

John Kotarski, Margie Teall, Christopher Taylor, Ann Arbor city council, Percent for Art, public art, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ann Arbor public art commissioner John Kotarski, center, addresses the Ann Arbor city council committee on public art at their Jan. 7, 2013 meeting. To the right are city councilmembers Margie Teall (Ward 4) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). To the left is Margaret Parker, former chair of the Ann Arbor public art commission.

Steve Kunselman pointed to the East Stadium bridges construction as an example of public art not being incorporated into the building process. Marsha Chamberlin, chair of the Ann Arbor public art commission, noted that the bridge project came about much more quickly than the commission was able to respond. Kunselman felt that was part of the problem. He disagreed that the art commission hadn’t yet had the chance to handle projects in the way that Parker described – it’s been five years since the Percent for Art ordinance passed, he said.

Parker replied that the city has one half-time staff person working on public art. The art commission is made up of volunteers from the community. In that case, Kunselman said, maybe the city needs a full-time administrator for public art, and the art commission could take on a more advisory role. “Yes!” Parker said. “That would be infinitely better.”

Teall said she’d like to go in that direction, too.

John Kotarski, a member of the Ann Arbor public art commission, confirmed with committee members that they had received an email he’d sent outlining his views. He then proceeded to read the five-page document aloud. [.pdf of Kotarski's statement] An excerpt from his statement:

I propose that we first determine how Percent for Art could be made legal in Michigan and then temporarily make it a voluntary program. We should also make plans for an art millage, a robust partnership with businesses, and an online fundraising program modeled after crowd-funding used in recent political campaigns. Let residents donate money online for public art programs of their choice including art in neighborhood parks and playgrounds.

People who want to get rid of the Percent for Art program think it wastes dollars, but actually baking public art into our capital projects is the least expensive way to improve our town’s visual aesthetic. Having a world-class city that is the model for other Michigan cities is important. It is consistent with Pure Michigan ads that promote Ann Arbor to the world as the cultural capitol of our region.

Other ideas he suggested include:

  • create an art park that demonstrates science and technology through art;
  • partner with schools to develop a curriculum that supports public art;
  • host an international conference on public art;
  • hire experts to help in the initial vetting of public art projects;
  • allocate $200,000 to create 10 neighborhood “gateway” projects, modeled after the recent mural in Allmendinger Park;
  • allocate $200,000 for a program with the schools for students to design 20 bus stop benches and 20 manhole covers [.pdf of images provided by Kotarski to committee members, as examples];
  • use a “self-tax” (a voluntary $10 contribution from residents) to help fund FestiFools and a playground art program;
  • create a full-time staff position to administer public art programs. This could be done initially by hiring a “cultural affairs director” to begin developing a public art master plan, leading to a campaign for a public art millage.

Kotarski also brought several books to show committee members, as possible additional resources. The books included the Michigan Municipal League’s “Economics of Place“; “The Art of Placemaking: Interpreting Community Through Public Art and Urban Design,” by Ronald Lee Fleming; “Public Art by the Book” by Barbara Goldstein; and “Public Art in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County,” written by Martha Keller and published in the mid-1990s.

After Kotarski’s remarks, Kunselman noted that Kotarski had referred to the city’s new underground parking structure on South Fifth as having public art “baked into its design.” [The structure was built by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and was not subject to the Percent for Art ordinance.] Kotarski had mentioned features like the curved glass canopies over the entrance ramps, the lime green steel girder, and plaques with quotes from authors.

Kunselman said that these features could also be considered as design elements. But at the Justice Center, he said, design elements were “value engineered” out of the project so that $250,000 could be set aside for public art. Both Teall and Briere objected, with Teall saying “That’s absolutely not what happened.”

Kunselman pointed to the resolution that the council passed in February of 2009, which amended a contract with Clark Construction for the Justice Center building. The staff memo accompanying that resolution identifies “value engineering” to cut costs, as well as a reference to the 1% public art set-aside of $250,000. However, no direct connection is articulated between the two. From the staff memo:

In order to bring the project costs into budget we have been continuously refining and reducing costs by value engineering and other means. To date we have cut over $1,757,000.00. Some examples include using standard hinged doors on the new entrance instead of stainless steel revolving doors, reduced and simplified the west and south facade sunshades, eliminated an entrance canopy, reduced the quantity of terrazzo flooring, reduced interior architectural millwork, and reduced the amount of ceramic tile in the bathrooms.

Teall said those decisions were made “way before” that resolution. Kunselman again pointed to the February 2009 resolution and staff memo, when those issues were presented to the council.

Teall returned to the notion of “baking in” public art. She noted that for the Dreiseitl sculpture, “the art piece is more than just what you see.” Her reference was to its connection with the building’s stormwater management system.

Marsha Chamberlin, AAPAC’s chair, was asked to speak next. She said she didn’t have prepared remarks, but that obviously she’d done a lot of thinking about this over the years. “There’s a sense in which we need to put the past behind us,” she said. That past includes the commission being formed with citizen volunteers, she said, and then having to write their own bylaws and guidelines, before they could start actual projects.

The Dreiseitl project began before all of AAPAC’s policies and procedures were in place, she noted. It was an incredibly complex project, and if the commission were to start over today, that might not have been the first project they’d choose, she said.

By way of background, when the Dreiseitl project was first brought to AAPAC in October of 2008, Chamberlin had raised concerns about the process that the commission was following. Parker was chair at that time, and pushed for approval of the Dreiseitl proposal. From The Chronicle’s report of that meeting:

Parker said that because of the tight timeline and the fact that people on the task force were excited by Dreiseitl’s observations about the project, [the task force had] decided to ask him to make a proposal to do three public art pieces on the site, ideally relating to each other, for a budget of $750,000.

Some commissioners expressed surprise at the amount of funding available for the project. Marsha Chamberlin said that to make an offer without a bidding process and to not include local artists sets “a precedent I’m somewhat uncomfortable with.”

That led to a lengthy discussion about the role of the task force and the commission in making decisions like this. Task force members noted that they’d been delegated this work, and stressed the unusual nature of the project – the need to act quickly on a project that was already under way, and the opportunity to involve a high-profile artist like Dreiseitl. No one disputed that having Dreiseitl involved was a good thing. “I think Dreiseitl is a wonderful choice, and I wouldn’t have changed anything except for the process,” Cathy Gendron said.

Parker ultimately proposed that the full commission vote on whether to extend an invitation to Dreiseitl for this project with a $750,000 budget and the understanding that if he did submit a proposal, the commission would vote on whether to accept it. The group unanimously supported that resolution.

On Jan. 7, Chamberlin described a recent meeting she’d attended with Igor Kotlyar, one of the city’s project engineers. He spoke very eloquently about public art, she said, and told her that he hoped in the future, AAPAC and city staff could work more closely to make sure that public art isn’t just an add-on. It might mean things like spending an extra $50,000 for artist railings, she said, or to build spaces that are specifically designed for artwork.

Going forward, Chamberlin said she’d like to start from a place that doesn’t look back. She referenced a document that had been emailed earlier to the council committee members – a blueprint for public art in the city of Santa Clarita, Calif. – that included city policy, procedures and other information. AAPAC already has this kind of information for Ann Arbor’s Percent for Art program, she said. If AAPAC reformatted the materials it already has in place, it would look just like that blueprint from Santa Clarita, she said. “There is everything there to run a successful art program.”

Ann Arbor’s program isn’t a public/private partnership at this point, she said, but AAPAC has received about $12,000 in private monies for projects. She thinks there’s real potential for doing more of that private fundraising. She urged councilmembers to think about making sure everything works well, and if they have to eliminate the Percent for Art funding, how can they do it without crippling the public art program. “Give the program a chance to really move forward,” she said. “I feel like we’ve been fighting an uphill battle about funding and everything else, and burning out volunteers and others at many levels. And we’re at a place where we don’t have to do that now.”

Sarah Gay, a native of Ann Arbor, said she’s been living elsewhere for 15 years although she comes back to the city regularly. Gay said she had been really excited in 2007 when Ann Arbor started its public art program, then was subsequently alarmed to see that there was only a part-time administrator. She said she graduated from the University of Michigan and pursued a career in public art management – in Denver, in Jacksonville, Fla. during the lead-up to the 2005 Super Bowl, and now in Charlotte, N.C.

Gay said she’s seen many models for public art, both successes and failures, and attended many conferences where public art administrators talk about best practices. She’d be hesitant to totally abolish an ordinance – because it stands as the city’s commitment to public art. It sounds like the real issue is in making sure the program is administered in the right way, she said. A lot of that comes down to relationships with the city staff, how the budgeting is tracked, and how the public is involved. She felt like the program would be much stronger with a full-time experienced staff member who knows how to build relationships and make those other things happen. It’s also important to find out about the legality of the funding, so that it’s not a question.

The most successful commissions she’s seen have a strong advisory role in approving projects, with a solidly vetted process that the politicians and public are confident in. “In that sense, you get to address controversy before you have a project already on the books,” she said. Completing a few projects through a private/public partnership would get people excited about public art, and help leverage the public goodwill. But there should be staff who can do the nuts and bolts of implementing these projects, not the commission, she added, “because it’s a lot of work.”

She also felt that the University of Michigan could be enlisted to support public art. Others in the room clarified that UM already has its own public art program, and Teall explained that some UM faculty and staff have served on the city’s art commission. [The most recent UM connection on AAPAC was Theresa Reid, executive director of UM's ArtsEngine. She resigned in November of 2012.]

Gay wondered if UM might be approached for some kind of matching funds. At that, members of the council committee laughed – they didn’t think that would be likely. Kotarski noted that UM president Mary Sue Coleman was very committed to public art and had committed to a Percent for Art approach. Chamberlin pointed out that Coleman’s commitment was to the UM campus, not the city of Ann Arbor.

Other Resources

Sabra Briere has circulated several links to the council committee regarding other public art programs and resources:

In addition, Margie Teal emailed committee members a link to the public art program in Carbondale, Colorado.

Councilmembers present: Sabra Briere, Stephen Kunselman, Sally Petersen, Christopher Taylor, Margie Teall.

Also: Marsha Chamberlin and John Kotarski of the Ann Arbor public art commission; former public art commissioner Margaret Parker; Tom Crawford, the city’s chief financial officer; Craig Hupy, the city’s public services area administrator; and Sarah Gay, an Ann Arbor native who’s an arts administrator and consultant now living in Charlotte, N.C.

Next committee meeting: Monday, Jan. 14, 2013 at 5:30 p.m. in the first-floor conference room at city hall, 301 E. Huron.

The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to support our artful coverage of publicly-funded programs like the Percent for Art. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already supporting us, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!


  1. January 11, 2013 at 10:26 am | permalink

    How much did the city spend on Open City Hall, and what’s the cost per message delivered through that system? (I probably don’t want to know the latter because it will make me cringe).

  2. January 11, 2013 at 10:52 am | permalink

    Re (1) Good questions Ed. I think it would be hard to identify the cost of the Open City Hall system if it was developed in-house by City IT staff. The IT department has a pretty lavish budget, considering the City’s inability to fully staff its fire and police departments. I think IT has an annual budget of something like $6 million (out of an overall budget of about $73.5 million). That department has plenty of money to spend on projects such as the Open City Hall.

    If one could calculate how much it costs per message on the Open City Hall page, I think it would be quite high. The system is little used. I suspect that residents who are accustomed to having their statements and input in public hearings disregarded see this new system as even less likely to achieve results.

    That said, I am impressed that this arts funding committee is looking for ways to hear from residents. I do not recall any such public process when the percent for arts scheme was originally adopted.

  3. By Tom Whitaker
    January 11, 2013 at 12:48 pm | permalink

    I just wish the City’s website was easier to read and navigate. It needs a major overhaul. If it were more like Saline’s, for example, it might go a long way towards helping citizens feel more welcome and connected to their city government.

    As it is now, it feels like some kind of puzzle that needs to be solved in order to unlock information.

  4. By RUKiddingMe
    January 11, 2013 at 9:46 pm | permalink

    Is no one concerned at all that, after the DEFEAT of the public art millage, the number of people voting FOR it is such a frequent talking point? If that millage had PASSED, would we be listening to these people continuously talk about the people who voted AGAINST it?

  5. By Rod Johnson
    January 12, 2013 at 11:33 am | permalink

    The proposal was so poorly written that it’s difficult to understand the reasons of the people voting against it. The people voting for it, however, pretty unequivocally wanted to support public art in some form. So I think it’s worth noting that number.

    And yes, people often look at the losing numbers in an election. There’s been a huge amount of second-guessing about just that for the recent Federal election.

  6. By Mae Sander
    January 13, 2013 at 7:39 am | permalink

    “Kotarski, Parker and Gay all recommended hiring a full-time administrator for Ann Arbor’s public art program.” — If there’s no clear vision for public art, what good would it do to hire an administrator? The discussion reported here definitely suggests a lack of vision! If all we want is more aesthetic interiors for public buildings why not require each project to hire an artist to work with the developer and create some relevant art? Or even a good interior designer? At least we might get something as nice as the inside of the Washtenaw Community College fitness center or the downtown parking garage.

    When the Medicis in Florence wanted public art they hired Michaelangelo. He was not much good at PR but public art in Florence and the Medici Chapel which he designed and sculpted … well, it’s silly to even bring up the comparison.

  7. By Alan Goldsmith
    January 13, 2013 at 7:42 am | permalink

    “The proposal was so poorly written that it’s difficult to understand the reasons of the people voting against it.”

    We have Mr. Taylor and everyone on Council who voted to use the vaguely written proposal, to thank for this.

  8. By Observatory
    January 15, 2013 at 8:23 am | permalink

    I am tired of apologists re: AnnArbor’s terrible leadership and failed management.

  9. By Steve Bean
    January 15, 2013 at 10:10 am | permalink

    “Parker ultimately proposed…”

    The chair of a committee is usually discouraged from making proposals. Maybe AAPAC could have benefitted (still?) from some guidance as a new committee on Robert’s Rules.

    Speaking of which, does this council committee have a chair? Allowing (in fact, offering) attendees extensive time to present thoughts and discuss matters with the committee sets a precedent that the committee might not be able to maintain in the future.

  10. January 16, 2013 at 11:30 am | permalink

    Asking the public’s opinion is an improvement. But I suggest they start talking to local artists to see if the process they have in place works. As an artist, I find the process to apply to do a work of public art is highly unsatisfactory. I have applied three times. For their first projects in the Parking structure, three artists from out of state were chosen. When I asked to have my artwork returned, my 3d mock-up had been smashed and the envelope with my proposal wasn’t even opened. For the West Park seating area, I was told that I was “not on the list.” I thought that submission of proposals was an open process and that all were presented, but was told later by a panel member that my proposal was never presented. (I had spent two weeks on it) This year I finally discovered that an artist has to be “pre-registered” and “pre-qualified” through MITN before submitting an RFP. The RFQ for muralists has now expired and if you are not registered and MITN AND approved by the Public Art panel, you are disqualified from responding to an RFP for two years. Most artists would have given up at the first smashed mock-up. I’m betting the public doesn’t know this side of the story.

  11. January 16, 2013 at 3:06 pm | permalink

    Re (10): I hope our council members are reading this. I’m sure they would be as horrified as I that a person making an honest effort at answering an RFP would not be told that their proposal was not according to rules and given the information necessary to submit a proper proposal. Further, the requirements should have been part of the announcement of the RFP. It is especially horrifying to hear how the mock-up you labored over was not treated respectfully.

    What is MITN?

  12. By DrData
    January 16, 2013 at 3:32 pm | permalink

    I’m betting it is this: [link]

    Sounds like a very bungled process.

    This just lets us know that this committee is in way over its head.

  13. By Mary Morgan
    January 16, 2013 at 3:41 pm | permalink

    The public art projects go through the city’s procurement process – more information is online here: [link] The website includes a link to the Michigan Inter-Governmental Trade Network (MITN).

    Re. “For their first projects in the Parking structure….”: The Ann Arbor public art commission has not done any projects in any of the city’s parking structures. That sounds like a reference to the artwork that’s part of the Fourth & Washington parking structure, which was handled by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority prior to the formation of the city’s public art commission.

  14. January 16, 2013 at 3:47 pm | permalink

    Yes, the Fourth & Washington art was privately funded and the Art Commission (which was authorized under a different ordinance and perhaps had a different name) was mostly a facilitator, helping to sort out proposals. Obviously whoever handled the materials was not very careful. That was quite a while ago, perhaps 10 years or more.

    Still, you can tell that this one artist has had a lot of frustration in dealing with this process.

  15. By James Jefferson
    January 21, 2013 at 10:41 am | permalink

    Localartist is not the only one who thinks this process stinks. It takes a while to put together the response to each qualifying document, time and money for each duplicate needed, and then it is like sending it off to a black hole. The first one I sent, I received no response at all, I have no idea if it was received, opened, viewed, or what? The second one for the Argo cascades required a new prequalifying document, and I only found out about it by chance, despite belonging to the city email list for just such items, I thought. It turns out that you have to on many separate email lists, including the bid list for all city procurements, in order to find out about these things. Which, combined with other experiences surrounding the advisory committees in this town, makes me wonder if this obfuscation is purposeful, so that only those “in the know” can be a part of things. Or these folks are in over their heads and dont know what to do. Certainly that viewpoint is reinforced by the above conversations regarding the justice center work, who would ever make an open dollar amount offer to an artist based on their “excitement over the artists observations of the project”? That man did some serious intercontinental smoke blowing, if you will pardon the expression.