Public Art Spending Pause Extended

The Ann Arbor city council has extended a temporary halt to spending money set aside under its Percent for Art ordinance.

The city’s public art ordinance requires that 1% of all capital project budgets be set aside for public art. Originally set to run through April 1, 2013, the temporary halt on spending – except on projects already in the works – will now be extended until May 31. The extension was approved by the council at its April 1 meeting. The three projects currently in the works are installations for East Stadium Bridges, a rain garden on Kingsley Street, and Argo Cascades.

The council had originally enacted the moratorium on spending at its Dec. 3, 2012 meeting. The action came in the context of a failed millage proposal in November 2012, which was meant to provide an alternative funding mechanism to the Percent for Art approach. The millage proposal was put forward in part in response to objections that voters had not explicitly approved the Percent for Art mechanism, which taps all capital funds – even those deriving from fees and millages designated for other purposes.

At the Dec. 3 meeting, a committee consisting of Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Margie Teall (Ward 4) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) was appointed to recommend amendments to the city’s public art program.

The committee has met several times and has made recommendations on revisions to the ordinance. However, the committee is not yet ready to convey its final recommendations to the full council.

Based on previous Chronicle coverage, the main recommendation would be to eliminate in the ordinance any reference to a specific percentage for art in a capital project budget. And art funds would not be pooled as they are now – which entails setting aside money from projects into which it would be difficult to incorporate public art. Under the approach likely to be recommended by the committee, city staff would work to determine whether a specific capital improvement project should have enhanced design features baked in to a project – either enhanced architectural work or specific public art. The funding for any of the enhanced features would be included in the project’s budget and incorporated into the RFP (request for proposals) process for the capital project.

Another likely recommendation is to encourage an outside organization to solicit funds for specific community‐generated public art projects. Such funds would go into a dedicated fund for public art.

The committee is likely to recommend an increase in the employment level of its public art administrator to more than half-time – whether that is a contract employee or a direct hire. The current public art administrator’s job, held by Aaron Seagraves, is a part-time position.

The committee is also likely to recommend evaluating the changes in the ordinance after three years.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]