Contract Extension Delayed for Art Administrator

City of Ann Arbor public art administrator Aaron Seagraves will need to wait another two weeks to see if the city council will extend his contract by six months – through June 30, 2014. The council action to postpone approval of the additional $18,500 to cover the added term came at its Jan. 21, 2014 meeting. Indications are that it will likely be approved at the council’s next meeting, on Feb. 3.

The budget expenditure would have needed an eight-vote majority on the 11-member council, and it did not necessarily appear to have sufficient support. That lack of support was based on dissatisfaction with the status of funds leftover from the former Percent for Art program. The proposal to postpone came from Jack Eaton (Ward 4), who wanted to delay until the council’s next meeting, by which time a clear plan could be crafted to return the Percent for Art money to its funds of origin. The only dissenting vote on the postponement came from Margie Teall (Ward 4). [Details of the council's deliberations are reported in The Chronicle's live updates from the Jan. 21 meeting.]

Seagraves is contracted to work an average of 20 hours a week.

By way of background, the city council enacted a public art ordinance in late 2007, setting up a Percent for Art program as a funding mechanism. For each of the city’s capital projects, 1% of the budget – up to a cap of $250,000 – was set aside for public art. The Ann Arbor public art commission oversaw the expenditures. However, the approach proved controversial and the city council changed the ordinance to eliminate the Percent for Art funding mechanism at its June 3, 2013 meeting. That ordinance change came after a failed public art millage that was put before voters in the November 2012 election.

Under the new approach, city staff will work to determine whether a specific capital improvement should have enhanced design features “baked in” to the 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.

The funds accrued to the public art fund during the time of the Percent for Art program are still subject to the same legal constraints – which require a thematic link between the original source of the funds (e.g., the street millage) and the piece of art to be funded. The council debate at its June 3, 2013 meeting included wrangling about what to do with that fund balance, with Jane Lumm (Ward 2) arguing unsuccessfully that $845,029 should be returned to the funds of origin. The council voted to return only the money that had accrued to the fund in the most recent budget year – $326,464.

A budget summary provided by Seagraves in response to a Chronicle emailed query shows a current balance of $839,507 in available funds for public art, as of Jan. 14, 2014. An additional $535,853 is earmarked for three projects that are underway: artwork at East Stadium bridges ($385,709), a rain garden at Kingsley and First ($7,009), and at Argo Cascades ($143,134). [.pdf of financial summary]

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]