New Public Art Projects In the Works

Also: Issues with Dreiseitl sign; proposal for farmers market murals; DIA Inside|Out program coming to Ann Arbor; officer elections postponed

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (Jan. 23, 2013): Despite uncertainty about the future of the city’s public art program, commissioners discussed several projects at their most recent AAPAC meeting – including some new efforts that likely won’t use city funding.

Malverne Winborne, Marsha Chamberlin, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Ann Arbor public art commissioners Malverne Winborne and Marsha Chamberlin at AAPAC’s Jan. 23, 2013 meeting. Winborne is explaining how he had interpreted the image on a proposed sign for the Dreiseitl water sculpture – in looked like a notebook binder’s spine. (Photos by the writer.)

AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin described a collaboration with the city’s parks system to use old canoes for a community art project. The effort also involves the Main Street Area Association and Ann Arbor Convention & Visitors Bureau. She indicated the project would seek private donations and grants, but probably not funds from the city’s Percent for Art program, which is currently under review by the city council.

The commission also heard from Linda Tenza, a resident who came to the Jan. 23 meeting to make an informal proposal for creating murals on the ceilings of the farmers market shelter. Likening it to a Sistine Chapel effect, Tenza suggested painting food-themed murals on the ceilings of the structures that cover the market aisles. Possible themes include food as medicine, the local farm community, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and the history of farming.

Although Tenza’s project is still tentative, one public art project that’s definitely coming to Ann Arbor is the Detroit Institute of Arts’ Inside|Out program, which involves installing framed reproductions from the DIA’s collection at outdoor locations on building facades or in parks. Two private Ann Arbor businesses – Zingerman’s Deli and the downtown Borders store – were part of the program in 2010. Since then the DIA has been talking periodically with AAPAC and city staff about expanded participation.

The works will be hung from late March through June at several downtown locations, including on the facade of city hall and on the wall of the fire station that faces the Ann Arbor Hands On Museum. An official announcement about the project, including a listing of all locations, will be made at a Feb. 8 DIA press conference.

In other action at AAPAC’s Jan. 23 meeting, commissioners expressed frustration with the proposed design of a sign for the Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture in front of city hall, calling it too “busy” with text and images that are unclear. Nor were they pleased with the proposed description of the piece that’s included on the sign: “Sculpture with Water Feature.” Chamberlin agreed to discuss their concerns with Ken Clein of Quinn Evans Architects, which handled the design.

Commissioners were also updated on several ongoing projects, including the selection of public art for the East Stadium bridges. A public engagement proposal for that $400,000 project – which might serve as a template for other projects – elicited some debate. John Kotarski objected to a recommendation that part of each artist’s interview with a selection panel should be held in private. He felt strongly that the process should be open and transparent. Wiltrud Simbuerger, who presented the recommendation, felt that the selection panel needs a “safe place” for their deliberations.

The Jan. 23 meeting included a discussion of officer elections, which AAPAC’s bylaws call for in January. The elections were ultimately postponed because only four commissioners were present at that point in the 2.5-hour meeting. Chamberlin has been serving as chair since April of 2011. Malverne Winborne is vice chair.

Also factoring into the issue of officer elections was the uncertainty of AAPAC’s future. The city council has suspended expenditures for future projects pending review of the public art program by a council committee appointed last December. Chamberlin, who has attended all meetings of that committee, gave an update to commissioners, but noted that no decisions have yet been made. The committee is expected to give its recommendations to the full council in mid-February – its next meeting is on Feb. 7. This report includes a summary of the committee’s most recent deliberations.

Sign for Dreiseitl Water Sculpture

The issue of developing a sign for the Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture has been discussed at various AAPAC meetings for about a year. At the Jan. 23 meeting, commissioners reviewed the proposed sign that had been developed by Quinn Evans Architects and city communications staff. [.pdf of text and images for the proposed sign]

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 a sign near the Dreiseitl sculpture in front of city hall, facing Huron Street.

Commissioners raised several concerns about the sign, which would be 11 inches by 17 inches and located on top of a mesh fence that will be installed at the end of the walkway overlooking the sculpture. The sign is intended to highlight the sculpture’s meaning and how it fits into the context of the plaza’s rain garden and stormwater management system.

The wording for the sign is now different than what had previously been presented to AAPAC. [.pdf of original text for the sign] In addition to a description of the stormwater system – with several images depicting various elements of the system – the proposal also includes an artist’s statement by Dreiseitl:

The promise of water is all about the future. Like rain, it is comforting, providing renewal and refreshment for a dry and thirsty landscape in a cityscape coming out of drought conditions. It is not only a symbol, water gives hope for the potential for life.

The sculpture consists of two layers of melted metal. Slightly leaning and finding its balance, the sculpture is subtly dynamic in every way. Resembling the surface of a standing wave, the top is concave and the bottom is convex. The concave surface is associated with reception, openness, taking in what is from above, and the convex surface is associated with giving away what it has received to the earth below, thus showing the transition from the sky to the earth — what rainwater always does.

The glass spheres bring floating light into the darkness of a physical form while water flows from above to quench the thirst of the earth. Emulating the motion of water drops, light moves down the sculpture at different speeds intensely illuminating the blue glass spheres in the day and softly illuminating them at night. The glass drops, which stick out at the top, slowly recede into the sculpture then reappear on the lower region of the other side, as if they are raindrops flowing down, penetrating into the sculpture and come out again.

In general, commissioners felt the sign was too “busy” – with too much text as well as imagery that’s unclear. Malverne Winborne called the sign’s image of the sculpture a “Rorschach test,” saying he’d thought at first that it looked like the spine of a notebook binder. Several others also said they hadn’t initially realized that the image was intended to be the sculpture. One difficulty is that the sign shows the sculpture as viewed from the side, though the sign will be placed facing the back of the sculpture. Another issue is that the sign was originally conceived of as two separate signs, but at some point they were combined into one.

Winborne suggested eliminating much of the text and including a QR code that would direct people to a website with more information.

In addition to paring down the text and images, Wiltrud Simbuerger wanted to find a different name for the piece. Currently, the title on the sign is “Sculpture with Water Feature.” Bob Miller suggested naming the sculpture “The Promise of Water.” John Kotarski said it was his understanding that Dreiseitl didn’t want to give the work a title.

Marsha Chamberlin offered to sit down with Ken Clein, a principal with Quinn Evans Architects, the Ann Arbor firm that handled the design of the new Justice Center and city hall renovation, and oversaw its construction – a project that included the Dreiseitl sculpture.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Update on City Council Public Art Committee

Marsha Chamberlin gave commissioners an update on the work of a city council committee that’s reviewing the city’s public art program. [See Chronicle coverage: "City to Seek Feedback on Public Art Program" and "Council's Public Art Committee Begins Work."]

Christopher Taylor, Marsha Chamberlin, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

In the foreground is Christopher Taylor, a Ward 3 city councilmember who’s serving on a council committee to review the city’s public art program. Marsha Chamberlin, chair of the public art commission, also attended this Jan. 22 committee meeting. In the background to the left is Craig Hupy, the city’s public services area administrator.

Committee members are Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), and Margie Teall (Ward 4). They were appointed by the full council on Dec. 3, 2012 and have met five times since then, most recently on Jan. 31, working toward the goal of making recommendation about the public art program’s future by mid-February. Also on Dec. 3, the council voted to halt the spending of funds accumulated through Ann Arbor’s Percent for Art program – except for projects that are already underway. The moratorium on spending lasts until April 1, 2013.

Chamberlin reported that the committee has considered the possibility of having a full-time public art administrator. [The current administrator's position, held by Aaron Seagraves, is part-time.]

The group is also looking at possible revisions to the public art ordinance, she said, as well as ways to encourage the involvement of public art in the initial design of large capital projects. She noted that everyone on the committee seems to support public art, but they have varying ideas about the kind of art that should be funded and the type of funding source.

“I think it’s still a broad, open discussion,” Chamberlin said.

Update on City Council Public Art Committee: Additional Background

The Chronicle has attended all of these council committee meetings. At its early meetings, the committee had discussed getting feedback from the public using the city’s online A2 Open City Hall. Lisa Wondrash, the city’s communications manager, attended the Jan. 14 meeting to brief committee members on that platorm’s features.

But subsequent meetings – on Jan. 22 and Jan. 31 – have focused primarily on revisions to the public art ordinance. [.pdf of current ordinance] Possible changes discussed by the committee include limiting the tenure of commissioners to two three-year terms; revising the types of capital projects from which public art funding can be taken; and incorporating requirements for public engagement.

There seems to be some consensus among committee members – and supported by city staff – that funding for public art should be “baked in” to capital projects. That is, instead of transferring out 1% of a project’s budget into a separate public art fund, the money would be earmarked within the capital project’s budget, and project designers would be given directive to incorporate artistic elements into the design. This would make administering the public art program less administratively burdensome, and ensure that public art wouldn’t be an “add on” after the capital project is finished.

The possibility of having a full-time public art administrator has also been raised. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) wondered whether the current unallocated funds remaining in the public art fund (#0056) could be used to pay for a full-time staff person. [According to a budget distributed at AAPAC's Jan. 23 meeting, the public art fund has an available balance of $1.453 million. Of that, about $607,800 is allocated for projects already underway, including artwork for East Stadium bridges ($400,000), Argo Cascades ($150,000) and in a rain garden at First and Kingsley ($27,000). The remaining funds total about $845,000. (.pdf of budget summary)]

Responding to Briere, Tom Crawford – the city’s chief financial officer – described her suggestion as “staff seed money” for the public art program, but he wasn’t sure whether existing public art funds could be used for that purpose. He told the committee that he’d check on that.

Sabra Briere, Ann Arbor city council, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ann Arbor city councilmember Sabra Briere (Ward 1) at the Jan. 22 council committee meeting on public art.

Another idea discussed is to have certain public art projects paid for out of the city’s general fund. This approach would eliminate the need to tie an artwork’s “theme” to the source of the capital funding. It would also eliminate the need for the art to be permanent and “monumental” in nature.

While paying for public art from the general fund would give the program more flexibility – allowing for temporary installations or performance art, for example – some councilmembers expressed concern about that approach. Briere pointed out that the city’s general fund is limited, and that anything spent on public art means there’s less to spend on other priorities, including staffing for other services. If the council starts weighing public art against people, “then the art’s gone,” she said.

The issue of pursuing another vote on a public art millage was another topic of discussion. A public art millage of 0.10 mills was rejected by 56% of Ann Arbor voters on Nov. 6, 2012. But there was some sense among committee members that if the public art program is restructured and can show some clear success, voters might be more receptive to a millage.

At the end of the Jan. 31 meeting, Briere indicated that she would incorporate the committee’s discussion into a draft of a revised ordinance for review at the next meeting. She also said she’d begin drafting a report of recommendations for the full council, to be reviewed at the next committee meeting. The committee is working to bring back its recommendations to the council by mid-February.

The committee’s next meeting is set for Thursday, Feb. 7 from 11:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the sixth floor conference room in city hall.

Public Engagement

At AAPAC’s Jan. 23 meeting – in the context of the East Stadium bridges project – Wiltrud Simbuerger presented a proposal for how to engage the public better in the selection process for the city’s public art. She noted that the process had been developed for East Stadium bridges artwork, but could easily be adapted for any project. It had been put together by her, public art administrator Aaron Seagraves and Connie Pulcipher, who works in the city’s systems planning unit. [.pdf of selection process proposal]

Simbuerger reviewed several aspects of this approach, but the item that generated the most discussion among commissioners centered on a recommendation that part of each artist’s interview with a selection panel should be held in private. From the relevant passage of the selection process proposal [emphasis added – item e]:

4. The presentation process would follow this procedure:
a. At the time of issuing the RFP, the day, location and time of the presentation will be named. A schedule will also be included that lists any receptions or activities the artist is expected to attend. Artists will know well in advance of the presentation date when their work is due and what travel plans they must make.
b. The day, location, time and events will be widely publicized.
c. On the day of the presentation, the artist will present at the appointed time and place and be given 45 minutes to present their design proposal.
d. The presentation will be held in a city location that allows for live streaming (such as the council chambers). Interested public would be able to attend the live stream in a place such as the library or a room in city hall, etc. The public would be issued feedback forms with specific questions as well as room for additional feedback. It is also possible that the presentation can be conducted as a webinar, and participation also garnered by that means.
e. At the end of each presentation, the camera will be turned off for 15 min. During the 15 minutes, the Selection Panel will have discussion and the public can submit feedback. There is an option of facilitated discussion with the public.
f. The feedback forms would be collected from the public, the camera turned on again and the next presentation will commence.
g. Repeat as necessary.

John Kotarski objected to turning off the camera, calling it problematic and wrong. Simbuerger countered that it was not an open meeting, so they had the option of recording the proceedings or not. [By way of background, there is no requirement under the Michigan Open Meetings Act that a selection panel of this sort – which is not an public body subject to the statute – must be accessible to the public. But by city policy established by the city council, meetings of boards, task forces, commissions, committees and their subcommittees are supposed to hold their meetings open to the public, to the best of their abilities in the spirit of the OMA.]

Wiltrud Simbuerger, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ann Arbor public art commissioner Wiltrud Simbuerger.

Kotarski argued that all of the deliberations regarding the selection of public art should be open and transparent. Marsha Chamberlin noted that there is precedence in the proceedings of other entities. For example, meetings of the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs are open to the public, but some portions of those meetings are held in closed sessions.

Kotarski pressed for reasons why the selection panel’s deliberations should be private. Simbuerger said there needs to be a “safe place” for discussion. Members of the selection panel aren’t elected and aren’t accustomed to public deliberations, she said. [From the proposed guidelines, it's not clear whether the public would be allowed to stay in the room during the 15 minutes when the cameras are turned off.]

Kotarski didn’t see any benefit other than protecting selection panel members from scrutiny. Because they would be conducting the public’s business and making recommendations on how to spend taxpayer dollars, the panel should hold its deliberations in public, he argued. The sessions should not be private just to save panelists from embarrassment, he said. AAPAC has received intense criticism in the past for making decisions in private, he added, and to do it again would “inflame” the commission’s critics.

Chamberlin said she hadn’t heard this kind of criticism against AAPAC, but Kotarski replied that he’d heard it from dozens of people and had read it in online comments.

Malverne Winborne suggested looking at city processes. He described his experiences working with charter schools, and the ability of the governing boards to enter into closed sessions based on certain criteria that that are specified in the OMA. [Winborne is director of Eastern Michigan University’s Charter Schools Office.] Aaron Seagraves indicated that city staff will look into this issue.

Kotarski said he wasn’t against having closed sessions, but those sessions need to be consistent with city of Ann Arbor policies and best practices in other communities.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Art for Farmers Market

Linda Tenza attended AAPAC’s Jan. 23 meeting to make an informal proposal for creating murals on the ceilings of the farmers market shelter.

She began by noting that she’s an Ann Arbor resident and mother of Jeff Tenza, who’s a board member of the People’s Food Coop and involved with the Washtenaw Food Hub. “He knows all the cool people in Ann Arbor,” she joked. “I’m just the mom.”

Linda Tenza, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Linda Tenza at AAPAC’s Jan. 23 meeting.

Likening it to a Sistine Chapel effect, Tenza’s suggestion is to paint food-themed murals on the ceilings of the structures that cover the market aisles. Possible themes include food as medicine, the local farm community, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and the history of farming. The project could involve schools and students, she said, and possibly be sponsored by local farms and businesses. There could even be prizes, she said, akin to the Art Prize competition in Grand Rapids. The effort could be educational, and could result in artwork that would be a tourist attraction, Tenza said.

There are many unknowns about the cost and other factors, she continued, but this idea could be a starting point to explore those issues and work toward implementing the idea.

Marsha Chamberlin asked Tenza if she’d discussed this idea with the public market advisory commission. Tenza reported that she’d met with the group the previous week, and had talked with the market manager, Sarah DeWitt. The commission is considering it, she said. Meanwhile, DeWitt had suggested that Tenza approach AAPAC, because the market is city-owned property and public space. Tenza said she hoped to get direction from commissioners. [.pdf of AAPAC project intake form for Tenza's proposal]

Commissioners talked about the process and AAPAC’s possible involvement, in the context of uncertainty related to the city’s public art program. Chamberlin clarified that because it would be an art project on city-owned property, the project would need to go through AAPAC’s project approval process – even if Tenza raised funding from private sources.

Chamberlin indicated that the commission would likely invite Tenza to a future meeting for additional discussion, possibly at AAPAC’s next session on Feb. 27. Commissioners would need to decide whether it’s a project they think the city should pursue. If so, they’d form a task force that would likely include Tenza and other stakeholders. They’d also need to figure out whether Percent for Art funds are available – and that will depend in large part on whether the city council decides to make changes to the program.

Commissioners who attended the Jan. 23 meeting generally seemed supportive of the idea, and thanked Tenza for bringing it forward.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Project Updates

Several projects were discussed briefly during the Jan. 23 meeting, by way of updates.

Project Updates: Justice Center Lobby

Oregon artist Ed Carpenter is still looking for local firms to handle the installation of his hanging glass sculpture, called “Radius,” in the lobby of the Justice Center at 301 E. Huron, next to city hall. The project was approved by the city council in May of 2012 based on AAPAC’s recommendation, with a budget of $150,000. Members of the projects task force are: Margaret Parker, Elaine Sims, Bob Grese, Laura Rubin, Margie Teall, Ray Detter, Maureen Devine and Karl Daubmann. The fabrication of the artwork is being done in Portland and is expected to be done by April.

There was continued uncertainty about the funding source for this project. The issue had been discussed at AAPAC’s Dec. 19, 2012 meeting, after it emerged that funding for Radius is not provided under the city’s Percent for Art program, as commissioners and city councilmembers had originally thought. Rather, the budget for the Justice Center set aside $250,00 of its own funds for public art, out of which the Carpenter sculpture is being funded.

The budget summary provided to AAPAC on Jan. 23 for the first time lists the Justice Center public art funds as a separate line item – not included as part of the city’s public art fund (Fund #0056). [.pdf of budget summary]

The line item shows that $102,531 of the Justice Center’s $250,000 public art funding has already been spent, leaving a balance of $147,468. Malverne Winborne asked what the $102,531 has been spent on – because not all of it was paid to Carpenter.

Aaron Seagraves replied that some of it has gone to Carpenter. [According to the city's contract with Carpenter, which was approved by the city council on May 7, 2012, the artist will be paid in three installments: (1) $50,000 upon signing of the contract, (2) $75,000 upon completion of the artwork up to the point of shipping, and (3) $25,000 upon completion of the installation. (.pdf of contract with Carpenter) Based on the payment schedule, only $50,000 has been paid to Carpenter so far.]

Responding to a follow-up query from The Chronicle, Seagraves provided details of the $102,531 in expenditures: (1) $50,000 for the initial payment to Carpenter; (2) $3,000 for honorariums paid to Carpenter and two other finalists ($1,000 each) for art proposals in the Justice Center lobby; (3) $2,000 to Herbert Dreiseitl for consultation services in 2008; and (4) the remainder of $47,531 to Quinn Evans Architects for architect services.

Herbert Dreiseitl had originally been commissioned to complete three works, including one in the Justice Center lobby, and another inside the Larcom building atrium. But his proposals came in at higher cost than the city had budgeted, and so the only project to move forward was the water sculpture in front of city hall. The city council authorized a $750,000 budget for that work out of “pooled” funds from other capital improvement projects: drinking water ($210,000), sanitary sewer ($510,000) and stormwater ($30,000) funds.

Project Updates: East Stadium Bridges

Last year, the city had received 36 responses to an SOQ for artwork along the new East Stadium bridges. A selection panel has narrowed their choices to 5-7 of those artists. Wiltrud Simbuerger, who serves on the selection panel, said the next step is for members to set up Skype interviews with these artists and narrow down the group to as many as five finalists. The $400,000 budget for that project was recommended by AAPAC on March 28, 2012. Members of the task force/selection panel are Simbuerger, Bob Miller, Nancy Leff, David Huntoon and Joss Kiely. The project is still on track to be finished by the end of 2013, according to Seagraves.

During the Jan. 23 meeting, Simbuerger also presented a proposal for public engagement in the artist selection process. [.pdf of selection process proposal] Discussion of that proposal is reported earlier in this article.

Project Updates: Argo Cascades

A statement of qualifications (SOQ) was issued in early December for this project to place artwork in the city park along Argo Cascades, with a deadline of March 6. [SOQs for the city are posted online.] AAPAC approved a $150,000 budget for that project on April 25, 2012. Task force members are John Kotarski, Malverne Winborne, Cheryl Saam, Margaret Parker, Cathy Fleisher, Bonnie Greenspoon, Julie Grand, and Colin Smith. The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2013.

Project Updates: Kingsley & First Rain Garden

Responses are being evaluated from a request for proposals (RFP) that was issued last year for artwork to be included in a rain garden at the city-owned lot at Kingsley & First. The artwork is being handled in conjunction with the rain garden design by city staff and Conservation Design Forum. Task force members are Connie Brown, Jerry Hancock, Claudette Stern and John Walters. Aaron Seagraves reported that he expects the artist to be elected in February. The project has a budget of $27,000 with an expected completion in August of 2013.

Project Updates: Forest Avenue Plaza

A task force had been working on a public art project for the Forest Avenue Plaza, located next to the Forest Avenue parking structure near South University. It’s linked to a renovation of the plaza that’s being undertaken by the city’s parks staff. Bob Miller reported that the task force work has been sidelined, pending the city council’s decision about the future of the public art program.

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

Ann Arbor public art commissioner Bob Miller.

Aaron Seagraves noted that parks planner Amy Kuras is moving ahead with certain aspects of the plaza renovation, including repaving the area. This news was met with some frustration by Miller. He noted that at the most recent meeting of the task force – on which Kuras also serves – there had been a great discussion about how to incorporate public art into structural elements of the plaza, such as stamping designs into the concrete paving and working an artistic element into the landscaping. Now, it seemed Kuras was moving away from that approach, he said.

Seagraves replied that it might be because the parks staff needed to move forward on the project. Because no Percent for Art funding can be involved – given the city council’s directive to suspend funding – Kuras might think that AAPAC is no longer involved, either.

Marsha Chamberlin suggested that Miller contact Kuras and express AAPAC’s continued enthusiasm for being involved, even if they can’t contribute public art funding. Miller agreed to do that.

Project Updates: Senior Center

Aaron Seagraves reported that he’s talked with the facilities supervisor at the Ann Arbor Senior Center, who’s interested in putting up a rotating art exhibit in the building. The center is located in Burns Park, at 1320 Baldwin. He discussed how AAPAC might collaborate to promote the idea, such as by soliciting artists via the commission’s website and newsletter.

Marsha Chamberlin suggested also contacting the Ann Arbor Women Artists and the Arts Alliance, to help get the word out about this opportunity.

Project Updates: DIA

Another public art project coming to Ann Arbor is the Detroit Institute of Arts’ Inside|Out project, which involves installing framed reproductions from the DIA’s collection at outdoor locations on building facades or in parks. Two private Ann Arbor businesses – Zingerman’s Deli and the downtown Borders store – were part of the program in 2010, and since then the DIA has been talking periodically with AAPAC and city staff about expanded participation.

The works will be hung from late March through June at several downtown locations, including on the facade of city hall and on the wall of the downtown fire station that faces the Ann Arbor Hands On Museum. An official announcement about the project will be made at a Feb. 8 press conference at the DIA.

This project wasn’t discussed at AAPAC’s Jan. 23 meeting, but had been brought up the previous day at the city council committee on public art. At that meeting, Craig Hupy – the city’s public services area administrator – reported that the DIA had selected Ann Arbor to participate. He did not have additional information about the location of other privately-owned buildings that would be part of the project.

Report from AAPAC Chair: Canoes, CTN

In addition to communications that are reported elsewhere in this article, AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin informed commissioners about two other projects she’s pursuing.

Chair’s Report: Community Canoe Project

The idea of using old canoes for an art project had been mentioned nearly a year ago by John Kotarski, at an AAPAC retreat on Feb. 26, 2012. More recently, at the commission’s meeting on Oct. 24, 2012, Marsha Chamberlin had reported that Cheryl Saam, facilities supervisor for the city’s canoe liveries, was interested in using old canoes – boats that the city was getting rid of – for some kind of community art project. It involves several concepts, Chamberlin said, including the idea of recycling, the Huron River, and public art.

On Jan. 23, Chamberlin reported that she, Saam, public art administrator Aaron Seagraves, and representatives of the Main Street Area Association (MSAA) and Ann Arbor Convention & Visitors Bureau had met to discuss the project, and decided to move ahead with it. At this point it wasn’t clear if AAPAC would be involved, she said, so it wouldn’t be going through the commission’s project approval process.

About 50 canoes are available, and could be cut in half. They could be painted, embellished, or transformed in any way – but the common theme would be the canoe. The project could involve individual artists, community groups, public schools, and/or businesses. Chamberlin said that the MSAA has committed to 13 locations for temporary installations, and possibly more in the South State and South University districts.

Wiltrud Simbuerger thought the project would be a great fit in the Argo Cascades area. AAPAC has allocated $150,000 for public art in that area along the Huron River. But John Kotarski, who serves on a task force for the Argo Cascades project, reported that task force members had been relatively cool to the idea. He said that the task force chair, Margaret Parker, had “a different idea in mind.” [An SOQ has already been issued for that project, with a response deadline of March 6.]

Chamberlin described the next step as determining a fiduciary for the project, to handle the receipt of donations or grants.

Chair’s Report: Community Television Network

Chamberlin also said she’s following up on a suggestion previously floated by former AAPAC member Margaret Parker, about promoting the city’s public art on community access television – the Community Television Network. CTN is producing a retrospective on public art in Ann Arbor, Chamberlin said, which will include an interview with Parker as well as footage of the tree sculptures at West Park, the Dreiseitl sculpture at city hall, and the new mural at Allmendinger Park.

In addition, CTN is interested in doing a longer piece about the process for selecting artwork on East Stadium bridges, she said.

Public Artist Registry

At AAPAC’s July 25, 2012 meeting, commissioners voted to establish an SOQ (statement of qualifications) process that creates an artist registry/database. The intent is to streamline the selection of artists for future projects.

On Jan. 23, commissioners reviewed a draft SOQ that had been drawn up by city staff. [.pdf of draft SOQ] The main discussion on this agenda item related to the SOQ’s stated objective: “to find professional artists whose work meets a set of standards in which they will be pre-qualified for the City of Ann Arbor public art projects for two (2) years from 2013 to 2015.”

Bob Miller felt that two years was too brief a time, given the work involved in submitting an SOQ. Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, indicated that the two-year period was a recommendation of the city’s purchasing staff.

Miller and John Kotarski asked Seagraves to investigate how other communities handle this kind of registry, particularly as it relates to the timeframe question. Seagraves felt that there was time to do some research, especially in light of possible changes to the Percent for Art program by city council, which could impact the registry project.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously voted to postpone action on the registry SOQ.

Public Art Annual Plan

Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, reminded commissioners that the mandated public art annual plan was due to city council on April 1. The plan would cover activities that AAPAC intended to pursue in fiscal year 2014, which runs from July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2014.

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

Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator. To the left is commissioner John Kotarski.

Seagraves noted that because the council has suspended expenditures for the city’s Percent for Art program, “we’re not really sure what we’re planning for, or how much we’ll have available.” He recommended moving forward with a plan that’s based on current funds in the Percent for Art budget. According to a budget distributed at the meeting, the public art fund (#0056) has an available balance of $1.453 million. Of that, about $607,800 is allocated for projects already underway, including artwork for East Stadium bridges ($400,000), Argo Cascades ($150,000) and in a rain garden at First and Kingsley ($27,000). The remaining funds total about $845,000.

Seagraves suggested forming an ad hoc committee to help draft the plan, with ideas contributed by other commissioners via email. At AAPAC’s Feb. 27 meeting, commissioners will be briefed on the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP), which could guide future public art projects.

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.

However, the city council is now evaluating the Percent for Art program in light of a public art millage that was rejected by 56% of voters on Nov. 6, 2012. A council committee was appointed on Dec. 3, 2012 and has been meeting since then, with plans to bring recommendations to the full council in mid-February. 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. [Additional updates on this committee's work are reported earlier in this article.]

The annual public art plan for FY 2013 lists five objectives [.pdf of FY 2013 annual plan]:

  • Objective 1: In an effort to create community engagement and expedite work of the Commission, a Master Plan for 2013-2016 will be developed.
  • Objective 2: Advance the following projects that are underway, meeting all deadlines as stated. All the projects have task force oversight, approved budgets, and are in various stages of completion.
  • Objective 3: By June 2012, identify and prioritize new projects for FY 2013, allocating existing funds using agreed-upon criteria of type, location, and community involvement.
  • Objective 4: By August 1, the commission will develop and begin to implement an effective communications plan about the uses and value of public art and the operation of the commission.
  • Objective 5: Collaborate with, at least three, commissions, organizations, and agencies to accomplish public art projects.

Commissioners informally agreed to the approach recommended by Seagraves. He and AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin will work on the draft, with the goal of final approval by the commission’s March 27 meeting.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Officer Elections, Vacancies

AAPAC’s bylaws call for the commission to hold officer elections for chair and vice chair in January. By the time the group reached this agenda item, there were only four commissioners left at the meeting: Marsha Chamberlin, chair; Malverne Winborne, vice chair; Bob Miller; and John Kotarski.

There are two vacancies on the nine-member commission, following the resignation of Theresa Reid in November of 2012, and the end of Tony Derezinski’s term. Derezinski – along with Cathy Gendron and Connie Brown – had been nominated at the council’s Dec. 17 meeting for reappointment to serve terms ending Jan. 20, 2016. Both Gendron and Brown were subsequently reappointed at the council’s Jan. 7, 2013 meeting, but Derezinski’s name had been crossed out and the position he held remains vacant.

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

From left: Ann Arbor public art commissioners Marsha Chamberlin and John Kotarski.

On Jan. 23, Kotarski expressed reluctance to vote for officers, given the number of commissioners present and the uncertainty surrounding AAPAC’s future. He contended that there had not been an acting chair when he joined the commission in December of 2011, so he thought AAPAC could continue on for a few months without an election.

By way of background, AAPAC has not regularly held officer elections in January. Chamberlin has served as chair since April of 2011. The previous chair, Margaret Parker, had stepped down in late 2010, but initially no one wanted to take her place. Commissioners rotated leading the monthly meetings until Chamberlin was eventually elected permanent chair. Winborne was elected vice chair in May of 2011 – but that the position had previously been vacant since the end of 2009. No officer elections were held in 2012.

At the Jan. 23 meeting, Aaron Seagraves – the city’s public art administrator – suggested holding off on the elections until February, when more commissioners would be present. He pointed out that the bylaws aren’t legally binding, and that elections could be held at a later date.

Kotarski joked that AAPAC probably violated its bylaws at least 12 times each meeting, and he saw no harm in waiting. He wanted to wait until city council has decided what to do about the city’s public art program.

Winborne advocated for AAPAC to conduct itself as though they would continue to operate as a commission, but supported waiting until February for the officer elections.

Outcome: The four commissioners present voted to postpone officer elections until AAPAC’s Feb. 27 meeting.

Commissioners present: Marsha Chamberlin, John Kotarski, Bob Miller, Wiltrud Simbuerger, Malverne Winborne. Also Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator.

Absent: Connie Brown, Cathy Gendron.

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013 at 4:30 p.m. in the fourth floor conference room 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 Alan Goldsmith
    February 4, 2013 at 6:17 am | permalink

    “Wiltrud Simbuerger, who presented the recommendation, felt that the selection panel needs a “safe place” for their deliberations.”

    Maybe Herbert Dreiseitl’s office in Sinapore is available?

  2. February 4, 2013 at 12:37 pm | permalink

    The idea of installing a QR code on a permanent sign strikes me as odd on a couple of levels. One is that a few of us still don’t have smart phones and don’t access information that way. Another is that technology may change yet again in the lifetime of the sign.

    Are there any museum curators in the audience? This calls for good interpretive skills. I’d like to see the artist’s text more readily available than that. I’ll bet we have some local artists who would take this on as a commission. The Gallery Project, for example, excels in presenting ideas in different ways.

  3. February 4, 2013 at 4:04 pm | permalink

    It is a bit odd that AAPAC is not aware of the City Council resolution requiring all boards, committees, etc., to hold meetings that are open to the public. That resolution has been in effect for more than 20 years.

  4. By abc
    February 4, 2013 at 5:12 pm | permalink

    Mary, as always, thank you for such a thorough presentation of this meeting. It is your thoroughness that allows us (certainly me) to see how this board is working and I cannot help but conclude that this board is spinning its wheels, yet again. Similar to the meetings in 2011 where a rubric to rank submissions was offered, discussed, and then ignored (maybe because it was flawed, which I think it was) we are now reading that this board is trying to develop a process to ‘engage the public’, where the obvious is not even acknowledged.

    Any comments by a selection panel must be kept confidential until after the LAST presentation is DONE. I might even argue that panel members should consider not necessarily sharing their thoughts with other panel members prior to the last presentation, lest they artificially influence each other. I am kind of confused as to why this group did not even acknowledge that very basic aspect of any selection process. You cannot have ‘the public’ hearing the panel’s thoughts before someone else presents; they could easily text the next presenter and coach them as to what to include in their presentation. Not acknowledging or caring about the mechanics of what they are doing or saying has been one of this board’s underlying problems. They seem to want to make this political; open government / transparency / etc. I think they would be better served if they would concentrate on the nuts and bolts of what they are trying to accomplish.

    And these thoughts are not antithetical to the OMA. The OMA does not require someone to say what they are thinking the moment they are thinking it. When its appropriate the panel’s deliberations can be made public.

    I think comment ’4e’ above is troublesome and the discussion that followed from it tells me that the board cannot see it. A facilitated discussion with the public about art would be a circus. That board has been empowered to make the selection and I cannot help but think that by converting their authority into some kind of plebiscite under the guise of ‘engaging the public’ is just a way to deflect criticism. That said, I do not envy this board, their ordinance is ambiguous and their processes do not exist, or are convoluted, but they are not helping their cause by continuing to discuss things the way they do. On top of that they have spent a lot of money to do some underwhelming things, and more is on the way, and they are defensive about that.

  5. By Mark Tucker
    February 7, 2013 at 8:59 pm | permalink

    Unfortunately, the DIA’s Inside/Out project is masquerading as public art. It belongs more in the realm of billboard advertising, I wouldn’t argue with advertising the DIA’s wonderful collection, but it shouldn’t be confused with public art. Unless they (the DIA) are willing to put the actual artworks on display (haha) then the posters/reproductions that will be mounted are simply advertisements for the actual works. Privately owned businesses can do what they wish in terms of participating, but this commission should steer clear.

  6. By James Jefferson
    February 7, 2013 at 11:22 pm | permalink

    It was my understanding that the decommissioned canoes are auctioned off each year to raise money for the livery programs. They get about $200 -$250 each for them. Heck, they are worth about $100 in scrap weight if recycled. Why give them up for art? Cut them in half and bury them by the cascades? Sounds horrible. Plus, the auction is a great chance for residents to get a canoe at a decent price. This is but one of my many appalled reactions to this article. I think the worst part is seeing how the money continues to pour out for questionable benefits and services. $400k for stadium bridge art? Is that really necessary? $48k for Ken Clines architectural consulting? For what exactly? Wow it sure is easy to spend everyone else’s money.

  7. By Timothy Durham
    February 8, 2013 at 10:09 am | permalink

    (#6) The new stadium bridge (and we all) could certainly benefit from some artistic flair integrated into the bridge. Right now, it’s pretty Spartan (heh heh, can’t have that!).. The divided panels along the walkway would be a great medium for tile installations, IMHO. I don’t know what they have planned, but I could see something like that really making an impact.

    I think skillfully decorating public works projects is an excellent use of the “percent for art” program funds. It’s too bad the administrators chose to launch the program with the City Hall money pit. Reminds me of the launch of New Coke.

  8. By Roger Kuhlman
    February 27, 2013 at 5:27 pm | permalink

    The City Council and the Mayor have no business forcing all taxpayers in Ann Arbor to fund Public or Government Art. A simple moral question is involved here. Those who want Government Art should pay for it out of their own pockets.

    What needs to happen is for the Council end the % for Art Program and not let Government Art to be baked into city projects as sneaky way to continue its funding.

  9. By John Floyd
    March 1, 2013 at 7:41 pm | permalink

    @5 Mr./Ms. ABC,

    Recent councils have disdained and ignored the citizens who most closely follow local affairs, and have played the rest of the citizens for suckers who aren’t looking. Having done no work at all to discover/build consensus that public “Art” was wanted or what form it should take, council has painted itself into a corner: to start over to discover/build consensus is to admit (at least tacitly) that there IS a consensus that what they have done is out of touch in funding, selection process, and result. So, they are leaving the political work of building consensus to the commission itself, whether not this is the strength (or purpose) of the commission.


    It strikes me that selecting designs that please the eye is a legitimate part of building public infrastructure (think, Broadway bridge). I think the same thing can be said of decoration (e.g. your tiles suggestion) when design isn’t enough. Commissioning “Art” as a thing separate from the structure being built seems like a different matter.

    I’m not sure I have a strict definition that separates decoration from commissioned art, but I know it when I see it. At the very least, decoration should be an integral part of the structure, not an after-the-fact add-on.

    @8 Mr. Kuhlman,

    The only way to change policy around this town is to remove the arrogant and tone-deaf members of council. This bunch doesn’t care what you (or any other citizen) think. After all they are “Progressive Visionaries”, while you (and everyone else) are “NIMBY’s”, “Too old”, “Too selfish”, “Unenlightened” or whatever derogatory nom-de-jour this bunch wants to label the citizenry today (“Dim Bulb” was another recent favorite, for us in the 5th Ward.)