City Council Takes Action on Public Art

In three separate actions on public art policy, the Ann Arbor city council has: (1) directed the city administrator to establish a budget for public art administration for the next two years; (2) transferred money out of the public art fund; and (3) extended the contract for the city’s part-time public art administrator by six months. Action on those items came at the council’s March 3, 2014 meeting.

The transfer of $943,005 in Percent for Art money back to its funds of origin was made possible by an amendment to the city’s public art ordinance given final approval by the council on Feb. 18.

The $943,005 total is an amount that defunds the art project at Argo Cascades, but keeps funding for the Coleman Jewett memorial and for a project called Canoe Imagine Art. The art projects at East Stadium bridges and at the Kingsley & First rain garden would also retain their funding. Because the resolution involves a transfer of funds, it required eight votes on the 11-member council to be approved. The vote on the question was 10-1 with Margie Teall (Ward 4) dissenting.

The former Percent for Art funding mechanism required 1% of all capital fund project budgets to be set aside for public art. A new approach to public art was established on June 3, 2013, when the council eliminated the Percent for Art mechanism from the ordinance. The new approach entails including city-funded art when it’s designed as an integral part of a capital project, with council approval. Art projects also could be funded through a combination of private and public money.

So the second resolution approved by the council focused exclusively on the transition to the new public art program. The resolution directed the city administrator to ask the staff to develop a transition plan to be presented to the council by Oct. 6, 2014. The resolution also prohibits initiating additional projects using pooled Percent for Art funds, and directs the city administrator to establish a budget for public art administration for FY 2015 and FY 2016.

An initial list of requests from department heads for FY 2015, released by the city on Feb. 10, shows an $80,000 request for arts administration, which includes funds for a full-time art administrator, drawn from the general fund. FY 2015 runs from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015.

Because it did not transfer any funds, the resolution on establishing a timeline and a budget did not require more than a simple six-vote majority. Dissenting on the vote were: Mike Anglin (Ward 5), Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Jack Eaton (Ward 4).

The third resolution approved by the council on March 3 was one that extended the contract for the city’s part-time public art administrator by six months, appropriating $18,500 for that purpose – drawn from Percent for Art money. The item first appeared on the council’s Jan. 21 agenda, but the council postponed that vote until Feb. 3, when it was subsequently defeated. On Feb. 18 it was then brought back for reconsideration, but immediately postponed until March 3. The item, which required eight votes for approval, succeeded on a unanimous vote.

The council’s actions were based in part on a recommendation made by a council committee and attached to the council’s agenda as a report/communication about a year ago, for the council’s March 18, 2013 meeting. [.pdf of council committee's public art findings and recommendations]

The five councilmembers serving on that committee included Margie Teall (Ward 4), as well as all of those who have declared their intention to participate in the 2014 Democratic mayoral primary race: Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

The recommendations include a three-year time frame for review of the program:

Recommendation: The staff should review the successful implementation of any changes in the ordinance after 36 months. This timing is based on the task force’s awareness that capital improvements may take longer than two years to move from inception to completion.

The recommendations also addressed the issue of administrative support:

Recommendation: a professionally trained public art administrator can provide this level of support, but needs to be employed more than 50% of the time. The Public Art Task Force agrees that the program would benefit from the services of a trained administrator, either as a contract employee or a direct hire.

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]