Stories indexed with the term ‘Ann Arbor Public Art Commission’

Art Commission, In Transition, Takes Hiatus

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (June 18, 2014): In what might be their last formal meeting for the foreseeable future, the city’s public art commissioners discussed their role in the context of ongoing transitions for the public art program.

Aaron Seagraves, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aaron Seagraves, the city’s outgoing public art administrator.

One aspect of that transition is the departure of the part-time public art administrator, Aaron Seagraves. His current contract ends on June 30 – the final day of the current fiscal year. Seagraves has been working as the public art administrator on a contract basis since May of 2011.

In addition, one of the art commissioners – Ashlee Arder, who was appointed in March of 2013 – has resigned because of a move to Detroit. She did not attend the June 18 meeting.

Six of the nine commissioners who were present at the meeting approved a resolution about AAPAC’s near-term future. It states that the commission “will not initiate any new public arts projects, nor take any action to seek public or private funds for new projects, until it receives: direction on implementing a transition, a plan to support the Public Art Commission in the furtherance of public art, and guidelines for the funding and management of public art projects…” The resolution also states that AAPAC won’t meet until feedback is needed on the transition plan or for ongoing projects.

AAPAC chair Bob Miller, who introduced the resolution, described it as a way “to tie things up in a neat package for us, until the city has a clear direction for us to move forward.”

In other action, the commission authorized using $10,981 for a project called “PowerArt,” to be administered by the nonprofit Arts Alliance in response to a request by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. The DDA is contributing $20,000 to the first phase of the project, which involves wrapping eight traffic signal boxes in the DDA district with vinyl printed replicas of artwork. The expenditure from the city is not from Percent for Art funds, but rather from money donated to the city for public art, and held by the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation.

Discussion among commissioners focused on the fact that the Arts Alliance is proposing a roughly 40% project management fee for the first cycle – $9,100 on top of the $23,000 budget for the project expenses. The fee, as a percentage of the project’s later cycles, is expected to decrease in subsequent cycles. If the entire project is completed, an additional 34 boxes would be wrapped.

Commissioners also were updated on several ongoing projects that have been previously undertaken by AAPAC: (1) the Coleman Jewett memorial; (2) sculptures at a rain garden at Kingsley & First; (3) artwork for East Stadium bridges; and (4) Canoe Imagine Art.

Another effort that’s being developed by commissioner KT Tomey – maps for walking, cycling or running self-guided tours of public art – is also moving ahead, though it’s not an official city project. Commissioners intend to continue work on these projects to some degree, despite their decision to hold off on meetings and new initiatives. [Full Story]

Public Art Projects Move Forward

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (April 23, 2014): A major public art project for East Stadium bridges will be moving to the city council for approval, following a recommendation made at this month’s Ann Arbor public art commission meeting.

Kristin "KT" Tomey, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

KT Tomey is working on a project to develop maps for walking or running tours of public art in Ann Arbor. (Photos by the writer.)

“Arbor Winds” by Massachusetts artist Catherine Widgery features elevated, stand-alone louvered glass columns that are etched with images of trees – three on each end of the bridges, on the north side of Stadium Boulevard. The same type of louvered glass panels will also be used under the bridge along South State, affixed to the wall of the underpass – five sets on each side of South State Street. The overall project has a budget of $400,000 and has been in the works since 2011. If approved by council, it will likely be installed in 2015.

Commissioners also expressed enthusiasm for a new effort proposed by KT Tomey, who hopes to develop a mobile app for walking or running routes that highlight public art in Ann Arbor and on the University of Michigan campus. As a runner herself, she noted that people look for running routes when they visit new towns. So the app could be used to promote public art both to visitors and residents alike. Her first step is putting together .pdf maps that will be downloadable from AAPAC’s website.

Another new proposal prompted concerns about process. On the day of the meeting, John Kotarski – AAPAC’s vice chair – circulated an email to commissioners proposing that the city accept three pieces of donated art from Jim Pallas, an established Michigan artist and friend of Kotarski’s. The pieces are proposed to be located in the lobby of the Justice Center, in the atrium of city hall, and outside of city hall. Although commissioners seemed supportive of the idea, some expressed concern that the proposal wasn’t following AAPAC’s guidelines for accepting gifts of art, which include setting up a review committee.

Kotarski pointed out that Pallas is 75 years old. He noted that if artists donate artwork before they die, they can deduct the cost of materials from their taxes. But after they die, their estate is taxed on the market value of that artwork. “So these artists, at this point in their lives, have a financial incentive to find a good place for their artwork,” he said. “If we can make that process simple and easy for Jim – and pleasant – then I’m sure he’s willing to go to his friends” and encourage them to donate too.

He reported that the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority has offered a $500 honorarium to Pallas for each donated piece. Kotarski said the three pieces have a total estimated value of $100,000. He also mentioned that Pallas’ daughter, a law professor, knows city attorney Stephen Postema and that they’ve “made arrangement to resolve any legal issues necessary to facilitate this donation.”

Kotarski told commissioners that he’s tried to assure Pallas that this will work out, but “that’s why I’m a little nervous giving him these assurances, only to have this fall through at the last minute. That’s not going to be pleasant.”

Marsha Chamberlin said she recognized the benefits of encouraging Michigan artists to donate their work. “But we are a public body, and we have procedures. I just think it’s important that we observe those rules because we don’t want to make an exception for one thing, then hold someone’s feet to the fire for something else.”

Commissioners agreed that AAPAC chair Bob Miller would work with Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, to set up a gift selection committee to review this proposal and make a recommendation to AAPAC.

In other action, the commission approved its annual art plan for fiscal 2015, which begins on July 1, 2014. The plan includes projects that are already underway, as well as proposed capital projects to be enhanced with public art. The ongoing projects are: (1) artwork for East Stadium bridges; (2) public art at Arbor Oaks Park; (3) Canoe Imagine Art; and (4) the Coleman Jewett memorial. The proposed enhanced capital projects are street and sidewalk stamping, painting or stenciling in four locations to be determined, for a total cost of $30,000. The city council would need to approve these projects before they would move forward.

Commissioners also approved applying for a $10,000 National Endowment for the Arts Challenge America Fast Track grant. The money, if awarded, would require matching funds in an equivalent amount from other sources for a public art project at Arbor Oaks Park in southeast Ann Arbor, located near Bryant Elementary School and the Bryant Community Center.

Fundraising continues for the Coleman Jewett memorial at the Ann Arbor farmers market, but Canoe Imagine Art has stalled. The community art project is intended as a temporary art display in downtown Ann Arbor using old canoes from the city that would be repurposed as public art. The city had hoped that the Ann Arbor Convention & Visitors Bureau would take administrative responsibility for the project, but the CVB has declined. Chamberlin, who’s taking the lead on this effort, said that if workarounds can’t be found for some of the administrative issues, “we have to kiss this project good-bye.” [Full Story]

Art Commission OKs Stadium Bridges Art

The Ann Arbor public art commission has recommended approval of “Arbor Winds” artwork for East Stadium bridges, designed by Massachusetts artist Catherine Widgery. The action came at AAPAC’s April 23, 2014 meeting. The recommendation will be forwarded to the city council for consideration. [.pdf of proposal]

Catherine Widgery, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Catherine Widgery’s rendering of her proposed public artwork for East Stadium bridges. (Image provided in the April 23, 2014 AAPAC meeting packet.)

In early August of 2013, Catherine Widgery of Cambridge, Mass. was recommended as the artist for this project. She was picked by a selection panel from four finalists who had submitted proposals … [Full Story]

Art Commission Weighs Transitional Role

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (March 26, 2014): At its first meeting since the city council transferred most of the money out of the public art fund, public art commissioners discussed their role as the city transitions to a new model for managing public art. The former Percent for Art program had set aside 1% for art in capital project budgets, drawing on a range of different funds. The council’s March 3, 2014 action transferred that money back to its funds of origin.

Jim Simpson, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jim Simpson, the newest member of the Ann Arbor public art commission, attended his first AAPAC meeting on March 26. (Photos by the writer.)

Before the council’s action on March 3, about $943,000 had been available for future public art projects. The council had halted the Percent for Art funding mechanism last year, and subsequently directed city staff to develop a transition plan for public art. The plan will be delivered to the council in October, and will likely include an emphasis on partners in the private sector and fundraising from the community. Meanwhile, future city public art will be “baked in” to selected capital projects and approved by council on a case-by-case basis.

The proposed 2015 budget – for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2014 – includes $80,000 to cover transitional costs for public art administration. The contract for the current part-time public arts administrator, Aaron Seagraves, runs through June 30, 2014. At AAPAC’s March 26 meeting, Craig Hupy – a senior city staff member who’s drafting the transition plan – mentioned the need for a consultant to help guide this process.

Commissioners questioned what their role might be during this interim period, now that former Percent for Art funding is unavailable for future public art projects. After the discussion, AAPAC chair Bob Miller said he had initially considered suggesting that they just shut down the commission, but he’d heard input to the contrary from other commissioners. The consensus was to move forward with meetings, at least for now. AAPAC’s next meeting is on April 23 at city hall.

In other action, commissioners postponed adopting an annual public art plan, and directed Seagraves to make revisions to the draft he had proposed. They’ll consider a new version at their April meeting.

Updates about ongoing projects focused on efforts that had started before the city council pulled funding. The funds for those projects were not affected. Sculptures for a rain garden at Kingsley & First will be installed in May, and more contributions are being sought for a Coleman Jewett memorial at the Ann Arbor farmers market. A public forum to seek input on the final design for artwork at East Stadium bridges will be held on Monday, April 21 at 7 p.m. at the downtown library, 343 S. Fifth. And work on Canoe Imagine Art – a temporary art display in downtown Ann Arbor using old canoes from the city that would be repurposed as public art – continues to move forward.

It was the first meeting for Jim Simpson, who was appointed to AAPAC in February. He works for the Ann Arbor start-up Duo Security, and is an assistant at Baron Glassworks in Ypsilanti. [Full Story]

Planning Agenda: Art, Eats, Drive-Thrus

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (April 1, 2014): Ordinance revisions, site plan approval and a look at proposed artwork for the East Stadium bridge filled the planning commission’s first meeting in April.

Catherine Widgery, Ann Arbor public art commission, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

An image by artist Catherine Widgery for artwork on the East Stadium bridge. This night view shows how the structures would be lit from below, illuminating the images of trees that are etched into louvered glass panels.

John Kotarski and Bob Miller of the city’s public art commission presented images of a revised design for public art on the East Stadium bridge, a $400,000 project that includes columns of louvered glass panels on the bridge as well as underneath it, along South State Street. The artist – Catherine Widgery, who’s based in Massachusetts – had changed her original proposal at the request of a selection committee. The public art commission is seeking feedback on this new design, including at a public forum on Monday, April 21 at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library.

The public art commission likely will vote on a recommendation at its April 23 meeting. The proposal would then be forwarded to the city council for approval.

Also heading to city council is the site plan for a new Ruth’s Chris Steak House, which planning commissioners voted to recommend on April 1. The plan involves major renovations to the existing building at 314 S. Fourth Ave., which most recently housed the Dream Nite Club that closed in 2012. The renovations include adding a second-floor mezzanine level to the front of the building.

Part of the planning commission’s discussion focused on whether there might be outdoor dining in front of the restaurant. The project’s architect, Stephen Fry, indicated that at this point, outdoor seating wouldn’t be appropriate, in part because of bus traffic. The building is located near the Blake Transit Center, a hub for public transportation. “Ruth’s Chris is about a known and consistent dining experience,” Fry said, “and we just don’t feel we can control it out there.”

Fry also reported that the restaurant will likely be using valet parking, with valets positioned in front of the building. “So we’re going to activate the street with humans that are dressed up and looking good,” he said.

Commissioners also reviewed proposed ordinance revisions related to drive-thrus, and recommended that the city council approve the changes. The amendments would add a definition of a “drive-thru facility” to Chapter 55 of the city code. Currently, the term used throughout the code is “drive-in,” which is not explicitly defined in the code.

In addition, the changes would require that drive-thru projects obtain a special exception use from the planning commission, and would be allowed only in the O (office), C2B (business service) and C3 (fringe commercial) zoning districts. Basic layout requirements would also be added to the ordinance. Currently, drive-thrus are allowed in C3 districts without a special exception use. They are allowed as special exception uses in the C2B district.

The changes will give planning commissioners more discretion in approving drive-thru businesses, including restaurants, banks, pharmacies and other types of drive-thrus. [Full Story]

Commission Works on Public Art Planning

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (Jan. 29, 2014): In a three-hour session, the public art commission worked on prioritizing capital improvement projects that might be suitable for public art.

Kristin "KT" Tomey, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

On Jan. 29, Kristin “KT” Tomey attended her first regular meeting of the Ann Arbor public art commission since being appointed by the city council on Jan. 6. (Photos by the writer.)

Some commissioners expressed frustration that they had insufficient information on which to base their evaluation. And after about two hours of discussion – using a scoring rubric with seven criteria – commissioners had evaluated only a few projects: artist-designed street access (manhole) covers, art for the Springwater subdivision, and art for the corridors of Main Street and Plymouth Road. Because there were still several other items on the agenda, they voted to postpone further evaluation of possible capital projects until their next meeting.

In other action, commissioners discussed and approved a draft annual public art plan that’s officially due to the city council on Feb. 1, for projects to be undertaken in the fiscal year that begins July 1. It includes projects that are underway – like artwork for East Stadium bridges and Argo Cascades – as well as a proposal to add some enhanced capital projects, like street access covers on resurfaced roads.

The draft annual plan had been prepared by Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator. Commissioners asked for some revisions and designated commissioner John Kotarski to work with Seagraves on a final version that will likely be presented to the council on Feb. 18. Kotarski praised the draft, saying “It has as much meat as anyone wants. It shows a lot of work. It shows an art commission that gets the message from an impatient city council.”

Commissioners also discussed a proposal from the Clean Energy Coalition to select and fund an artist who would help incorporate art into a new bike share program. They tabled action on this item, wanting additional information about the CEC’s expectations for funding.

This was AAPAC’s first regular meeting since Oct. 23, 2013, although they held a retreat in December and a planning session earlier in January. Throughout the evening, concerns were raised about the future of the public art program, in light of recent city council discussions. The council had postponed a requested six-month extension of Seagraves’ contract, and will be taking up that item on Feb. 3.

Also on the council’s Feb. 3 agenda is an amendment to the city’s public art ordinance. The amendment would allow the council to return about $800,000 accumulated under the city’s former Percent for Art program to the funds from which that money was drawn, such as the street millage or sanitary sewer fund. It’s the latest in an ongoing transition for the city’s public art program – a transition that’s been unsettling for public art commissioners.

The Jan. 29 meeting marked another transition for AAPAC, which has seen considerable turnover during the past year. It was the first regular monthly meeting for the newest commissioner, Kristin “KT” Tomey, who was appointed by the city council on Jan. 6. And it was the last meeting for Malverne Winborne, whose term ended on Dec. 31. He did not seek reappointment, and was serving until the position was filled. His replacement, Jim Simpson, is expected to be confirmed in a vote at the city council’s Feb. 3 meeting.

Winborne has served as vice chair of AAPAC – but the group held new officer elections on Jan. 29. Bob Miller was re-elected to another one-year term as chair, and John Kotarski was elected vice chair. There were no competing nominations, and both votes were unanimous.

Noting that the Jan. 29 meeting had been especially challenging, Miller thanked commissioners for their work. “This is probably the most belabored meeting I think we’ve ever gone through, aside from maybe one of the retreats,” he said. “I’m tapped out.” He jokingly cajoled commissioners: “Please do come back.”

Miller also encouraged students to return, as about two dozen students from Skyline High School – and some parents – attended the Jan. 29 meeting. “It’s the most amount of people we’ve ever had at any of our meetings,” Miller noted. One student pointed out that they were all from the same government class, facing a Jan. 31 deadline to attend a public meeting. [Full Story]

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 … [Full Story]

Public Art Commission Plans for Future

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (Oct. 23, 2013): The most recent AAPAC meeting focused on an ongoing transition for Ann Arbor’s public art program.

Mags Harries and Lajos Heder, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Rendering of “Bucket Cascade” proposal by Mags Harries and Lajos Heder. It’s one of two finalists for public art at the city’s Argo Cascades.

Commissioners were briefed about the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP), which will now be integral to the public art program. AAPAC and city staff will identify projects in the CIP that might be candidates for public art “enhancements” – if the council agrees and provides additional funding for that purpose. It’s a change from the previous Percent for Art program, which the city council eliminated earlier this year.

Deb Gosselin, who oversees the CIP process, attended AAPAC’s meeting and described a decision-making matrix that’s used to help city staff prioritize capital projects. AAPAC plans to use that matrix as a model for developing its own method of prioritizing potential public art projects.

Commissioners also briefly discussed four possible capital projects that might include public art enhancements, including an enclosure of the farmers market, and a retaining wall to be built as part of a Stadium Boulevard reconstruction.

Some of these issues will likely be picked up during a retreat that’s set for Nov. 20. The idea of a retreat was proposed by one of the newer commissioners, Ashlee Arder, as a way to get to know each other better, as well as to discuss the creation of AAPAC’s annual plan, which is due to the council in early 2014. Arder also hopes to assemble a “curated team” from different sectors of the community, to help AAPAC develop ideas for fostering public art as well as the broader creative sector.

Also at their most recent meeting, commissioners acted on a specific project that’s already underway. They authorized applying for a $40,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan to fund a public art project in the Arbor Oaks/Bryant neighborhood on Ann Arbor’s southeast side. But they tabled another proposal – for artwork at the roundabout on South State and Ellsworth – until their February 2014 meeting, allowing time for commissioners to see how it might fit into an overall public art plan.

Updates were provided during the meeting on several other projects, including the Coleman Jewett memorial at the farmers market, finalists for artwork at Argo Cascades, and a plan to add an artistic element to the city’s new bike share program. [Full Story]

Public Art Commission Sets Retreat

The Ann Arbor public art commission voted to schedule a retreat on Wednesday, Nov. 20 at 4:30 p.m., at a location to be determined. The action took place at AAPAC’s Oct. 23, 2013 meeting. The item to create this committee was added to the agenda at the start of the meeting.

The point is to review the selection of projects for the commission’s annual plan, as well as to help build rapport among commissioners. Three new commissioners have joined AAPAC this year: Devon Akmon, Ashlee Arder, and Nick Zagar. The retreat will be held in place of the commission’s regular Nov. 27 meeting, which has been canceled. Update: The Nov. 20 retreat was subsequently canceled, as was AAPAC’s Nov. 27 regular … [Full Story]

Sidewalks: Repair, Build, Shovel

Local government doesn’t get more pedestrian than sidewalks.


Top: Example of a cross-lot walkway, leading from street to school. Middle: Sidewalk that was cut flush funded by the city’s sidewalk repair millage. Bottom: Recommended detention ponds in Eisenhower Park near the proposed Scio Church sidewalk.

Yet these existing and future slabs of concrete are themselves a constant topic of confusion and controversy: Who’s responsible for repairing the busted slab in front my house? Who’s supposed to shovel snow off the sidewalk in the winter?

Sidewalks also connect up to other equally important if also dull components of local governance – like stormwater management and public art.

So here’s a quick rundown of some specific sidewalk-related issues that the Ann Arbor city council will be considering.

The council’s agenda for Monday, Oct. 7, includes an item on the definition of sidewalks. If an existing walkway meets the definition of a “sidewalk,” then the city bears responsibility for its repair for the duration of the sidewalk repair millage. All other things being equal, the adjacent property owner would be responsible for snow removal in the winter.

The Oct. 7 agenda item focuses on walkways that aren’t really on the “side” of anything – walkways that connect a street to a park or school, or that connect two parallel streets. The city calls them “cross-lot” walkways. If such walkways were added into the definition of “sidewalk” – as the city council is contemplating – then the city would be responsible for repair. That’s a result welcomed by property owners. But it would put the burden for snow removal on those property owners – a less welcome result. That was the sentiment that led the council to postpone final consideration of a change to the definition of “sidewalk” three months ago, on July 1, 2013.

So on Oct. 7, the council will be asked to consider a different approach to that definitional change – one that would allow the so-called “cross-lot” paved pathways to qualify as sidewalks under the city’s ordinance, but not trigger a winter maintenance requirement for adjacent property owners.

The fresh look would mean that the council’s possible action on Oct. 7 would be considered only an initial approval of the ordinance change. Final enactment of the change would require a second vote at a subsequent council meeting. If approved, the ordinance would allow cross-lot paths to be repaired under the city’s sidewalk repair program – funded through the five-year millage approved by Ann Arbor voters in November 2011. That program is noticeable to residents in the form of pink markings that appear on sidewalk slabs – an “R” for replace and a “C” for cutting an out-of-alignment section so that it lines up flush with the next slab.

The millage can pay for repair or replacement of existing slabs of sidewalks, but not for the construction of new sidewalks. So that millage money isn’t available to build a new stretch of sidewalk along the south side of Scio Church Road (or to fill in a smaller gap on the north side) – a section of sidewalk that residents have petitioned the city to build. The petition for a sidewalk there is based on several considerations, including a desire to connect to amenities west of I-94, like the Ice Cube, Wide World of Sports and the Ann Arbor District Library’s Pittsfield branch. It’s also seen as a pedestrian safety issue, because the lack of a sidewalk on one side of the road could induce pedestrians to cross the road at places where motorists don’t expect pedestrians to cross.

The city council authorized $15,000 of general fund money for the study of alternatives along that stretch – alternatives that were presented at a meeting held on Sept. 18 at Lawton Elementary School and attended by about two dozen people. Next up for the city council, likely on Oct. 21, will be a request for a design budget, so that costs of the project can be estimated with more precision.

Among the alternatives that were considered, but not pursued in much detail, was construction of a pathway through Eisenhower Park. That’s where the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner is now recommending that a pair of detention ponds be constructed – to help mitigate overland flooding in the area. That recommendation was presented to a group of about 80 neighbors on Sept. 30 – also held at Lawton Elementary School.

And a fence that that might need to be constructed along the proposed Scio Church sidewalk – to prevent people from falling down the steep incline – received a glancing mention at a recent meeting of the Ann Arbor public art commission. A proposal to fund a public art project that would be integrated into the fence was tabled by the commission at its Sept. 25, 2013 meeting. [Full Story]

Art Commission Supports “PowerArt” Project

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (Sept. 25, 2013): The main item on this month’s AAPAC agenda was a request to partner with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority on a project called “PowerArt,” to be administered by the Arts Alliance.

Marsha Chamberlin, Devon Akmon, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ann Arbor public art commissioners Marsha Chamberlin and Devon Akmon. Akmon is AAPAC’s newest member, and was attending his first commission meeting on Sept. 25. Chamberlin is the longest-serving commissioner. (Photos by the writer.)

The project would involve wrapping about 40 traffic signal boxes in the DDA district with vinyl printed replicas of artwork. The initial pilot phase would focus on 14 boxes at a total cost of $41,000, to be split between the city and the DDA. That cost includes a 30% administrative fee paid to the Arts Alliance, which is based in Ann Arbor. Another $80,000 would be needed for the final phases.

Deb Polich, executive director for the Arts Alliance, told commissioners that the DDA board is expected to vote on the project at its Oct. 2 meeting.

Commissioners were supportive of the project, but concerned about how to approach the funding, given constraints tied to the remaining Percent for Art funds. “I want to make sure we don’t step in something that we then get slapped for,” Marsha Chamberlin said.

Ultimately, commissioners unanimously voted to approve participating in the PowerArt project, contingent on the city’s legal review of potential funding sources.

AAPAC also authorized allocations for other projects that have been discussed for several months. They approved $10,000 for a community project called Canoe Imagine Art, and $5,000 for a Coleman Jewett memorial at the Ann Arbor farmers market. Both of these projects will rely on grants and private fundraising for the majority of their budgets.

Action on three other projects was tabled, as commissioners wanted more detailed proposals before allocating funds. Those projects were: (1) artwork for a roundabout at State & Ellsworth; (2) a community art project at Arbor Oaks Park, adjacent to Bryant Elementary School; and (3) a proposal for enhancing the fence along the south side of Scio Church Road, between Maple and Delaware.

These projects prompted some discussion about broader issues, included the process that AAPAC uses to vet proposals. Ashlee Arder, one of the newer commissioners, advocated for continuing to develop a more structured approach. “I do think we need to have a larger conversation or retreat about who we are and what we’re trying to do here,” she said.

The commission has been grappling with a transition to a new funding model for public art, after the city council voted to eliminate the previous Percent for Art mechanism this summer. That model set aside 1% of the budget for each of the city’s capital projects for public art – up to a cap of $250,000. Because that money was taken from restricted funds – such as millage funds for parks or street improvements –  a thematic link must exist between the funding source and the public art expenditure. About $840,000 in Percent for Art funds remain available for projects, but there will be no additional Percent for Art funding.

Instead, the city has adopted an approach in which city staff will work with AAPAC 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. There is also an increased focus on private fundraising and partnerships.

On Sept. 25, commissioners also received several updates from Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator. He reported that a reception is planned for Thursday, Oct. 10 at 6 p.m. to dedicate the hanging sculpture Radius, located in the Justice Center lobby next to city hall. Oregon artist Ed Carpenter is expected to attend.

And two finalists for artwork at Argo Cascades – Jann Rosen-Queralt of Maryland and Mags Harries & Lajos Heder of Cambridge, Mass. – will be coming to town on Oct. 17 to present their conceptual designs to the public. A task force will make a recommendation to AAPAC on which of the artists to select for the project.

The Sept. 25 meeting was the first one for AAPAC’s newest member, Devon Akmon. Appointed by the Ann Arbor city council on Sept. 3, 2013, Akmon is director of the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn. [Full Story]

Design Approved for Rain Garden Sculptures

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (Aug. 28, 2013): The only major action item for public art commissioners was approval of Joshua Wiener’s design for artwork in a new rain garden at the southeast corner of First & Kingsley.

Joshua Wiener, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

A drawing of Joshua Wiener’s proposed rain garden sculptures at First & Kingsley. (Image provided in the AAPAC Aug. 28, 2013 meeting packet.)

His proposal entails creating white metal images of five small mouth bass, in varying sizes, that appear to be emerging from the landscape and pointed toward the Huron River. Two of the sculptures will be large enough to serve as benches.

Because the artist’s contract of $23,380 is less than $25,000, it does not require city council approval. The sculptures would likely be installed during the spring of 2014.

Commissioners also received several updates during the meeting, and reviewed a new spreadsheet designed to track more effectively current and potential projects. [.xls file project tracker] Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, reported that a selection panel picked Catherine Widgery of Cambridge, Mass., as the artist for a major public art project on the East Stadium bridges in Ann Arbor. However, the panel is asking Widgery to revise her proposal before presenting it to AAPAC and the city council for approval. The project has a $400,000 total budget.

Other updates covered projects at Argo Cascades, the city’s wastewater treatment plant, Arbor Oaks Park, a memorial for Coleman Jewett at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, and the “Canoe Imagine Art” community project. Additional potential projects were mentioned, including possible artwork for the new bike share program and the public skatepark, which is now under construction at Veterans Memorial Park.

Commissioners also viewed a short video produced by Ashlee Arder, one of the newest members of AAPAC. The intent is to promote the commission and the city’s public art program. The video is already available on YouTube, and Arder plans to post it on the commission’s website, Facebook page and Twitter account, @AAPublicArt.

The meeting was attended by six of the seven commissioners, including Marsha Chamberlin, who participated via conference call. There are two vacancies on the nine-member commission. At the city council’s Aug. 19, 2013 meeting, Devon Akmon was nominated to fill one of the vacancies. Akmon is an Ann Arbor resident and the new director of the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn. At its Sept. 3 meeting, the city council is expected to vote on Akmon’s confirmation to AAPAC .

No name has been put forward publicly for the second vacancy. One of the two vacancies resulted when Tony Derezinski was not reappointed. The other stemmed from Wiltrud Simbuerger’s resignation earlier this year. Her term would have ended Dec. 31, 2013. [Full Story]

Widgery Picked for E. Stadium Bridges Art

Catherine Widgery of Cambridge, Mass. has been recommended as the artist for a major public art project on the East Stadium bridges in Ann Arbor. She was picked by a selection panel from four finalists who had submitted proposals for the project, which has a $400,000 total budget. [.pdf of Widgery's proposal]

Catherine Widgery, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle Catherine Widgery’s “Arbor Winds” proposal for East Stadium bridge includes 12 four-by-six-foot acrylic/aluminum or glass banners etched with images of trees. There would also be etched granite panels on the South State underpass, lit with LED lights, as well as etched glass “windscreens” by Rose … [Full Story]

Public Art Group Weighs Revamping Awards

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (June 26, 2013): Much of the discussion at AAPAC’s most recent meeting focused on the themes of outreach and public engagement.

John Kotarski, Ashlee Arder, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ann Arbor public art commissioners John Kotarski and Ashlee Arder at AAPAC’s June 26, 2013 meeting. Arder was shooting B-roll for a video she’s making about the commission. (Photos by the writer.)

As part of that, a proposal to overhaul the Golden Paintbrush awards – the city’s annual recognition of individuals and organizations who support public art in Ann Arbor – received the most attention. Commissioners John Kotarski and Connie Brown had recommended four categories of public recognition to replace the Golden Paintbrush, including a lifetime achievement award, a “Random Acts of Art” award, and public art awards to be presented at a formal social event that was described as an “Academy Awards-type” ceremony.

Although there was general consensus that the Golden Paintbrush needs to be improved, some commissioners felt that the proposed public recognition program was overreaching at this point. Malverne Winborne worried about “scope creep” – going too far afield of AAPAC’s role. Marsha Chamberlin thought that making some changes to the Golden Paintbrush, including a new name, could serve the same purpose. Ultimately, commissioners decided to give the proposal more thought before acting on it.

Also related to public engagement, Kotarski and AAPAC chair Bob Miller reported on efforts to get input on proposals by four finalists for artwork at the East Stadium bridges. The two men have been making presentations to a variety of groups, and are seeking feedback via two online surveys – one on Survey Monkey, another on A2 Open City Hall. Commissioners also talked about having a regular table at the Sunday artisan market and increasing their use of social media, including the commission’s Facebook page and Twitter account – @AAPublicArt. AAPAC also will have a table at the July 15 Townie Street Party.

In other action, commissioners voted to create exploratory task forces for possible projects at Arbor Oaks Park in southeast Ann Arbor, and at the wastewater treatment plant on Dixboro Road in Ann Arbor Township. Craig Hupy, the city’s public services area administrator, had approached AAPAC about the possibility of incorporating public art into the wastewater treatment project. He noted that of the remaining amount in the Percent for Art funds, much of it came from wastewater-related projects, and must be spent on public art with a “nexus” to wastewater. [Full Story]

Skatepark, Liberty Plaza Waiver Go to Council

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (June 18, 2013): Commissioners took action on two major projects in the city’s park system: A new skatepark at Veterans Memorial Park, and efforts to improve downtown’s Liberty Plaza.

Jen Geer, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jen Geer is the newest member of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission. (Photos by the writer.)

PAC unanimously recommended approval of a $1,224,311 budget for the Ann Arbor skatepark, including a construction contract of $1,031,592 with Krull Construction of Ann Arbor. Also approved was an operating agreement between the city and the nonprofit Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark. [.pdf of operating agreement] The project, which has been years in the works, will move to the city council for final approval, possibly at its July 15 meeting.

Parks staff and commissioners praised the project, specifically citing the work of the Friends for their tenacity and ability to overcome challenges as the skatepark was developed. Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, noted that people talk a lot about collaboration, but “you’d be hard-pressed to find a better example of it than this.”

If the council approves the contract, construction could start in early August, with completion of the concrete portion of the skatepark by this November – weather permitting.

Also getting a recommendation of approval from PAC was a proposal to waive park rental fees for Liberty Plaza, a downtown park at the corner of Liberty and Division. The waiver, which requires city council approval, would be enacted on a one-year trial basis through July 1, 2014. It’s intended to help encourage more activity in what’s been described as a problem park. Several supporters of Camp Take Notice and Pizza in the Park – a weekly outreach effort to the homeless – attended the meeting, and advocated for broader fee waivers in other city parks, tied to humanitarian aid.

Commissioners also heard two presentations during the June 18 meeting. Jenna Bacolor, the director of Ann Arbor Rec & Ed, gave an update on that program, including collaborations with the city parks system. One of those collaborations is tied to the decision by the Ann Arbor Public Schools board to close middle school swimming pools, as part of broad budget cuts. Tim Berla, who serves on PAC as a liaison from the Rec & Ed recreational advisory commission, reported on discussions to explore the possibility of a new recreation millage or an enhancement millage – something that AAPS might consider putting on the ballot.

A second presentation was from two members of the city’s public art commission, seeking input on proposals for artwork at the East Stadium bridges. John Kotarski and Bob Miller highlighted proposals from four finalists: Rebar Group of San Francisco; Sheila Klein of Bow, Washington; Volkan Alkanoglu, based in Atlanta, Georgia; and Catherine Widgery of Cambridge, Mass. The project has a $400,000 budget and includes the possibility of artwork at Rose White Park, located east of the bridges.

In items of communication, PAC chair Julie Grand noted that parks and recreation manager Colin Smith had been named Do-Gooder of the Year in Current magazine’s 2013 Readers Choice Awards. He received a round of applause from commissioners.

It was the first meeting for PAC’s newest commissioner Jen Geer, whose appointment was confirmed by the city council on May 20, 2013 to replace Tim Doyle. Geer, a Burns Park resident, is the daughter of Kirk Profit, a lobbyist for the city with the Lansing firm Governmental Consultant Services Inc. (GCSI). She is married to Christopher Geer, who serves on the Ann Arbor housing commission board. [Full Story]

Public Art Group Faces “Interesting Times”

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (April 24, 2013): Pushing ahead despite a somewhat uncertain future, public art commissioners took two actions tied to the city council’s pending overhaul of Ann Arbor’s public art program.

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

Bob Miller, chair of the Ann Arbor public art commission, looks at a copy of Professional Quarterly Magazine, published by the Michigan Recreation & Park Association. The cover features a photo of Argo Cascades, for a feature story on Michigan’s unique recreational venues. A public art project for Argo Cascades is in the artist-selection stage. (Photos by the writer.)

AAPAC voted to change the submission date of its annual public art plan to the city council, making it synch more closely with the process of developing the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP). Rather than submitting the art plan by April 1, that date has been pushed up to Feb. 1 – a move that will allow the council to make budget decisions based on recommendations from AAPAC.

Shifting the date of the annual plan is linked to a major restructuring of the city’s public art program. A city council committee has been developing a proposal for revisions to the public art ordinance – including elimination of the Percent for Art funding mechanism. The proposal is expected to appear on the council’s May 6 agenda.

At its April 24 meeting, AAPAC also recommended one more ordinance change that they hope the council will consider: Adding up to two student commissioners to the nine-member body. The goal is to involve a younger demographic and to reach a segment of the community that’s not currently active in AAPAC. Commissioners approved a memo that will be sent to the city council to recommend this change.

During a discussion about these and other changes to the program – including a shift to more private fundraising and partnerships – AAPAC chair Bob Miller observed that there might be a couple of years during this transition when “we won’t be making public art.” John Kotarski ventured that AAPAC’s role is to be visionary and to act as an advisor, “as opposed to a cashier.” Ashlee Arder, one of the newest commissioners, suggested that AAPAC consider how to rebrand itself, as it becomes a more participatory entity. Craig Hupy, the city’s public services area administrator, noted: “I think you’re walking into interesting times.”

In other action at the April 24 meeting, commissioners heard updates on a wide range of projects, including the Ed Carpenter sculpture that will be installed at the Justice Center over Memorial Day weekend. Finalists for the East Stadium bridge artwork will be making formal presentations of their proposals on June 7, and the artist selected in March for artwork in the Kingsley & First rain garden will be coming to town sometime in May for a public meeting at the site. A project spearheaded by the Huron River Watershed Council – to raise awareness of how the city’s stormdrain system connects to the river – has extended its deadline for artist submissions to May 14.

The commission is also accepting nominations until May 21 for the annual Golden Paintbrush awards, recognizing contributions to public art.

AAPAC chair Bob Miller reported that Maureen Devine has been suggested to replace Wiltrud Simbuerger, who resigned in March. Devine’s name has been submitted to the mayor, who is responsible for making nominations to most of the city’s advisory boards and commissions. Devine is art coordinator for the University of Michigan’s North Campus Research Complex (NCRC).

The meeting started 30 minutes late for lack of a quorum, after it was clarified that commissioners had to be physically present in order to vote. Malverne Winborne participated in the meeting via conference call, but did not vote. [Full Story]

Public Art Commission Seeks Student Input

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (March 27, 2013): Public art commissioners hope to involve more students in their work – but no formal mechanism is yet in place to make that happen.

Connie Brown, John Kotarski, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ann Arbor public art commissioners Connie Brown and John Kotarski at AAPAC’s March 27, 2013 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

At AAPAC’s most recent meeting, John Kotarski proposed adding three students to the nine-member commission as voting members. He suggested that the student commissioners be selected by: (1) the Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education; (2) the dean of the University of Michigan School of Art & Design; and (3) the Arts at Michigan program. Deb Mexicotte, president of the AAPS board, is also program coordinator for Arts at Michigan.

Ultimately, commissioners passed a resolution on a 5-1 vote asking that the city council consider adding students to the commission. Marsha Chamberlin dissented, saying she supported the concept of student involvement but didn’t like this approach. She’d rather handle it informally, perhaps by including students in the task forces that are set up for each project.

Chamberlin also noted that any change in AAPAC’s composition would require a revision to the city’s public art ordinance.

The city council committee that’s currently undertaking dramatic revisions to the public art ordinance has nearly completed its work, with plans to present recommendations to the full council on May 6. The recommendations include eliminating the Percent for Art funding mechanism and the concept of “pooled” funds from capital projects. Instead, the city council will designate specific capital projects to be “enhanced” with extra funding allocated for public art or architectural features, based on recommendations by AAPAC. [.pdf of draft ordinance revisions] [.pdf of most recent memo to city council regarding draft recommendations]

This Chronicle report includes a summary of the council committee’s April 18 meeting, which is probably the last one prior to presenting the recommendations – likely on May 6. The committee is suggesting that the council take a final vote on June 3, after soliciting public input through A2 Open City Hall.

In other action during the March 27 meeting, AAPAC approved its annual art plan. This year, because of uncertainty regarding the program’s future and a current moratorium on spending, the plan sets general goals rather than proposing new projects. Those goals are: (1) the creation of public art in more areas of the city and a commitment to balance the number of artworks throughout the city and its neighborhoods; (2) a focus on high use and visibility as locations for public art; and (3) an emphasis on putting public art in underserved neighborhoods.

AAPAC also selected Josh Wiener, an artist from Denver, to work with landscapers and incorporate public art into a new rain garden at the corner of Kingsley and First. The $27,000 project was one of several for which funding had already been approved, prior to the council’s decision to temporarily halt spending on public art.

Commissioners discussed a range of other ongoing projects, including public art at the East Stadium bridge, Argo Cascades and the Justice Center lobby. A project that doesn’t include city funding is the Detroit Institute of Arts’ Inside|Out program. Installation of that artwork in Ann Arbor took place two days after AAPAC’s March 27 meeting. Framed replicas of paintings from the DIA collection were mounted at several locations in the downtown area, and free docent walking tours will be offered on Saturdays and Sundays, starting on April 27. The tours will leave from the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum every half-hour between noon and 3 p.m.

Looking ahead, Chamberlin reminded commissioners that it’s time to solicit nominations for the annual Golden Paintbrush awards, which recognize local contributions to public art. The award winners are selected by AAPAC, with a presentation at an Ann Arbor city council meeting in June.

March 27 was the first meeting for AAPAC’s two new commissioners, Ashlee Arder and Nick Zagar. Arder, who works for ArtServe Michigan, took action during the meeting to set up a Twitter account for the commission: @AAPublicArt. [Full Story]

Public Art Projects Move Forward

Ann Arbor public art commission special meeting (March 7, 2013): Because attendance was low at AAPAC’s regular meeting in late February, commissioners held a special meeting the following week to wrap up items that hadn’t been addressed.

Deb Polich, Bob Miller, Ann Arbor public art commission, Arts Alliance, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Bob Miller, right, is the new chair of the Ann Arbor public art commission. To the left is Deb Polich, executive director of the nonprofit Arts Alliance. They were attending the March 15 meeting of the city council’s public art committee, which is developing revisions to the city’s public art ordinance. (Photos by the writer.)

Commissioners voted to accept a memorial for Coleman Jewett as an official AAPAC project and to approve Sarah Gay as a volunteer project manager. Her duties would be to lead efforts for city council approval, donor relations and fundraising. John Kotarski advocated for less involvement from AAPAC, saying he hoped to streamline the project.

However, other commissioners felt it should be handled like other projects, with oversight by AAPAC. The proposal is for a bronze Adirondack chair at the Ann Arbor farmers market. The city’s market manager, Sarah DeWitt, attended the March 7 meeting and will help coordinate the project.

Commissioners also voted to increase the honorariums for artists who have been selected as finalists for a $400,000 project at the East Stadium bridge. The overall project amount remains unchanged, but honorariums were raised from $2,000 to $3,000 for each of the four finalists: Volkan Alkanoglu, based in Atlanta, Georgia; Sheila Klein of Bow, Washington; Rebar Group of San Francisco; and Catherine Widgery of Cambridge, Mass. They will be in town on April 1 for a site visit and public open house.

Another effort that’s in the early phases got a vote of support from commissioners, but no financial commitment at this point. The project will use old aluminum canoes from the city of Ann Arbor’s Argo canoe livery, which artists and community groups will turn into artwork that will be displayed throughout the downtown in 2014. Partners in the project include the Ann Arbor Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), the Main Street Area Association (MSAA), the Arts Alliance, and the Huron River Watershed Council. AAPAC is involved only in a supportive role, to help with public engagement.

The role of public engagement was part of a discussion regarding AAPAC’s annual public art plan, which is due to the city council on April 1. Some commissioners expressed frustration at the process, given the uncertainty of the public art program’s future. Ultimately, they gave guidance to Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, to draft a plan that includes projects in highly-visible, highly-used locations, currently underserved in terms of public art.

The March 7 meeting also included the election of officers. Bob Miller was elected the new chair, replacing Marsha Chamberlin. Kotarski abstained from voting. He noted that the commission will soon be at only 40% capacity – a reference to the fact that there are three vacancies on the nine-member commission, with an additional resignation expected by Wiltrud Simbuerger in the near future.

Two of those vacancies will likely be filled shortly. Nominations are on the city council’s March 18 agenda for confirmation: Nick Zagar, an artist and commercial real estate agent who serves on the Ann Arbor Art Center board; and Ashlee Arder, programs coordinator at ArtServe Michigan.

All of these actions come in the context of the city council’s ongoing review of the city’s public art program, which began in early December of 2012. This article begins with a report on the most recent meeting of the council’s public art committee on Friday, March 15. An update of their work will be attached to the council’s March 18 agenda as an item of communication. Their next committee meeting is scheduled for March 28. [Full Story]

Special Public Art Meeting Set; Others Canceled

A special meeting of the Ann Arbor public art commission has been called for Thursday, March 7 starting at 4:30 p.m. in the fifth floor conference room at city hall, 301 E. Huron. The possibility of a special meeting had been discussed at AAPAC’s regular meeting on Feb. 27, 2013. The main agenda item will likely be a possible memorial to Coleman Jewett – a bronze Adirondack chair at the Ann Arbor farmers market. Although a donor has come forward with funding for the project, it has not yet been formally accepted by AAPAC.

Separately, two meetings related to the city of Ann Arbor’s parks and open space programs were canceled this week. A subcommittee of the park advisory commission … [Full Story]

Art Commission Updated on Program Revamp

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (Feb. 27, 2013): Much of this month’s public art commission meeting was spent discussing the work of a city council committee that’s developing recommendations for changes to Ann Arbor’s public art program.

Marsha Chamberlin, Deb Gosselin, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Marsha Chamberlin, chair of the Ann Arbor public art commission, and Deb Gosselin, who handles the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP). Gosselin attended AAPAC’s Feb. 27 meeting to talk about the CIP process, which the commission is using as a planning tool for future public art projects. (Photos by the writer.)

Sabra Briere, who’s one of five city councilmembers on the committee, updated AAPAC on possible revisions to the city’s public art ordinance, as well as more general recommendations that are being prepared for the full council. Those proposed changes are likely to include eliminating the Percent for Art funding mechanism, creating a structure to solicit private donations and grants to support public art, directing staff to “bake in” artwork and architectural enhancements as part of overall city capital projects, and providing more administrative support – perhaps by contracting out those services.

AAPAC members had questions about the possible new approach, including questions about the commission’s own role. Briere advised them to continue working on existing projects that are funded through the Percent for Art approach, but noted that they should focus on future opportunities that don’t rely on Percent for Art funds.

The council committee continues to meet, and will eventually deliver recommendations and draft ordinance changes to the full council. This Chronicle report includes highlights from the committee’s most recent meeting on March 1. The committee next meets on March 15, before the council’s March 18 meeting. A moratorium on spending unallocated Percent for Art dollars expires on April 1.

In other action at AAPAC’s February meeting, commissioners heard from Jason Frenzel, stewardship coordinator for the Huron River Watershed Council, about a project that would raise awareness of how the city’s stormdrain system connects to the river. The project is proposed in two stages, starting with a chalk art contest at the June 14 Green Fair, during which artists would draw images and messaging around stormdrains on Main Street.

Commissioners also discussed how to move forward with a proposed memorial to Coleman Jewett – a bronze Adirondack chair at the Ann Arbor farmers market. A private donor has already committed $5,000 to the memorial, but details are still being worked out about how to manage the project. AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin indicated that she might call a special meeting in early March for commissioners to act on the proposal, which hasn’t formally been accepted by AAPAC. Update: The special meeting has been scheduled for Thursday, March 7 at 4:30 p.m. in the fifth-floor conference room at city hall, 301 E. Huron.

Other project updates were made via a written report from Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator. The report stated that a task force has selected four artists as finalists for artwork on the East Stadium bridges, and they have been invited to an April 1 site visit/open house. The finalists are: Volkan Alkanoglu, based in Atlanta, Georgia; Sheila Klein of Bow, Washington; Rebar Group of San Francisco; and Catherine Widgery of Cambridge, Mass. The project has a budget of $400,000.

Only four commissioners attended the Feb. 27 meeting, and when one commissioner left early, the meeting was adjourned for lack of a quorum – before all agenda items were addressed. In part because of attendance issues, officer elections – which AAPAC bylaws state should happen in January – have not yet occurred. Ballots were mailed to commissioners last week, and results will be announced at AAPAC’s March 27 meeting. It’s expected that vice chair Malverne Winborne will be elected chair.

And although it was not discussed at the meeting, Cathy Gendron resigned from AAPAC in late February. She had been reappointed to AAPAC at the city council’s Jan. 7, 2013 meeting for a term through Jan. 20, 2016, but had not attended the commission’s January or February meetings.

Responding to a Chronicle query, Gendron stated in an email that she had agreed to stay on the commission through March, but would be unable to attend AAPAC meetings and decided to resign. ”It’s time for someone else to take my place.” There are now three vacancies on the nine-member commission. [Full Story]

New Public Art Projects In the Works

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. [Full Story]

City To Seek Feedback On Public Art Program

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. [Full Story]

Art Commission Contends with Limbo Status

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (Dec. 19, 2012): Just over two weeks after the Ann Arbor city council voted to halt spending on the Percent for Art program, public art commissioners held their regular monthly meeting and discussed implications of that council decision. The moratorium on spending lasts until April 1, 2013.

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

Ann Arbor public art commissioner John Kotarski at the group’s Dec. 19, 2012 meeting.

Marsha Chamberlin, AAPAC’s chair, briefed commissioners on a Dec. 11 meeting of the city council committee that will be making recommendations on the future of Ann Arbor’s public art program. The committee’s work comes in the wake of a failed public art millage that voters rejected on Nov. 6. That committee includes councilmember Sabra Briere, who attended AAPAC’s Dec. 19 meeting as well.

At the meeting, Briere participated in a discussion with commissioners about the source of funding for a hanging sculpture to be installed in the lobby of the Justice Center. AAPAC and city councilmembers have been under the impression that the $150,000 project – called “Radius,” by Ed Carpenter – was part of the city’s Percent for Art budget. However, it now seems that’s not the case, based on communications from the city’s chief financial officer. The news stunned commissioners, who noted that the project appears in the budget summaries they regularly receive – including one provided in the Dec. 19 meeting packet – as a line item, under “Court/PD Facility.” [.pdf of December 2012 budget summary]

By way of background, during the May 7, 2012 city council meeting when the Radius project was ultimately approved, councilmembers debated the issue for about an hour. Specifically, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) had proposed an amendment that would have canceled Carpenter’s project and appropriated the art project funds to investments in the city hall building. Her amendment failed, with several councilmembers – and assistant city attorney Mary Fales – arguing that the public art ordinance prohibits the transfer of public art funds to other funds.

A new, different understanding that seems to have emerged is the following: The money for public art in the Justice Center building budget was not set aside as an application of the public art ordinance, but rather was set aside administratively – in February 2009, well after the building fund had been established. The building fund had been established prior to 2007, when the public art ordinance was enacted. So the 2009 set-aside was made in the spirit of the 2007 public art ordinance, applied in some sense retroactively. In a phone interview, Briere told The Chronicle that this is the understanding she has of the situation. And in response to an emailed query from The Chronicle, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) – who also serves on the council’s public art review committee – confirmed he had the same understanding. That understanding has implications for use of the balance of the $250,000 that was set aside for Justice Center art.

In other action at the Dec. 19 meeting, commissioner John Kotarski expressed concern about AAPAC’s task force process, after attending a recent session for the East Stadium bridges project. He didn’t feel the task force is getting sufficient administrative support as it works to select up to five finalists from a set of 36 submissions. To help, he proposed allocating $5,000 to hire a consultant who would serve as a curator to conduct an initial vetting of the artists. The suggestion did not gain much traction among other commissioners, at least for this project, though the idea of a facilitator seemed well-received.

Kotarski updated commissioners on a course that Roland Graf, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Art & Design, will be teaching this coming semester called “Public Art and Urban Intervention.” Graf intends to make assignments related to public art in Ann Arbor and on the UM campus, and it’s expected that students will eventually make presentations of their projects to AAPAC.

Kotarski also was the catalyst for a review of AAPAC’s long-term strategic plan for fiscal 2013-2016, prompting commissioners to identify the status of each objective. Several objectives are on hold, pending the outcome of the city council’s review of the overall Percent for Art program.

The council’s pending action also has resulted in some uncertainty regarding AAPAC appointments. Terms for Cathy Gendron and Connie Brown expire on Dec. 31, 2012. They’ve agreed to continue serving until the council makes a decision about the Percent for Art program. The vacancy left by the resignation of Theresa Reid in November remains unfilled. Nominations to AAPAC are made by the mayor and confirmed by city council. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Public Art Funding Suspended

Except for projects already in the works, spending of funds accumulated through Ann Arbor’s Percent for Art program has been suspended until April 1, 2013. The city’s public art ordinance requires that 1% of all capital project budgets be set aside for public art. The vote – taken at the council’s Dec. 3, 2012 meeting – was 10-1, with Margie Teall (Ward 4) dissenting.

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) has been appointed to recommend amendments to the city’s public art program. The committee is charged with making a recommendation to the council by Feb. 15, 2013.

The city council took the action on … [Full Story]

Public Art Commission Eyes Uncertain Future

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (Nov. 28, 2012): In their first meeting after the Nov. 6 defeat of a public art millage proposal, AAPAC members discussed the Percent for Art program’s future in the context of city council proposals that could reduce funding or eliminate the program entirely.

Margaret Parker, Ann Arbor public art commission, Percent for Art, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Margaret Parker, former chair of the Ann Arbor public art commission, attended AAPAC’s Nov. 28 meeting and volunteered to help with outreach and promotion. (Photos by the writer.)

Aaron Seagraves, the city’s part-time public art administrator, highlighted several projects that have been in the pipeline and that will likely be completed in 2013: a $150,000 hanging glass sculpture by Ed Carpenter, to be installed in the Justice Center lobby this spring; artwork for a new rain garden being built at Kingsley & First next spring; and public art for the East Stadium bridges, with a $400,000 budget. Artists haven’t yet been selected for those last two projects, but it’s hoped that the work will be finished by the end of 2013.

Much of the conversation among commissioners focused on how to  improve promotion and coordination of the work they’ve done to date, and to explain their vision for public art in Ann Arbor.

“We’ve got a fair amount of work to do in the next few months,” said Marsha Chamberlin, AAPAC’s chair.

Two members of the arts community – former AAPAC chair Margaret Parker and Deb Polich, executive director of the Arts Alliance and president of Artrain, who had also co-chaired the “B for Art” millage campaign committee – attended the meeting. During public commentary, Parker volunteered to help with outreach efforts, and gave commissioners a list of suggestions for promoting the city’s public art program.

Also attending the Nov. 28 meeting was city councilmember Sabra Briere (Ward 1). She has proposed changing the public art ordinance to narrow the type of projects that could be tapped for public art funding. The effect would be to dramatically cut the amount of funds available for public art. A second proposal, by Jane Lumm (Ward 2), would simply eliminate the program. Both of those proposals were tabled by the council on Nov. 19. But at its Dec. 3 meeting, the city council is expected to act on yet another proposal – made by Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) – to appoint a committee to study the city’s approach to public art. Her proposal would also suspend the expenditure of funds, with several exceptions, that have accumulated for public art.

Update: At their Dec. 3 meeting, the city council voted to suspend the spending of funds accumulated through Ann Arbor’s Percent for Art program until April 1, 2013 – except for projects that are already underway. 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) has been appointed to recommend amendments to the city’s public art program. The committee is charged with making a recommendation to the council by Feb. 15, 2013.

AAPAC faces other changes as well. At the Nov. 28 meeting, Chamberlin noted that Theresa Reid has resigned from the commission. Reid, who is executive director of the ArtsEngine at the University of Michigan, had been appointed to AAPAC in February 2012. In response to an email query from The Chronicle, Reid cited time commitments for work and family, and said her resignation was not related to the Nov. 6 defeat of the public art millage.

During the Nov. 28 meeting, Chamberlin urged commissioners to solicit potential candidates for a replacement. An appointment will be made with a nomination by the mayor and confirmation by the full city council. An application for all city boards and commissions is available on the city clerk’s website. [Full Story]

Art Group Reviews Public Outreach Effort

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (Oct. 24, 2012): After three public forums held earlier this month as part of a new community outreach effort, AAPAC members got an update on those meetings and talked about how to increase participation.

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

From left: Public art commissioners Bob Miller and Marsha Chamberlin. (Photos by the writer.)

Turnout was lower than hoped – as only one resident attended the meeting held on Oct. 22 at Clague Middle School, though about 10 people came to a forum at Bryant Community Center the previous week. A fourth event will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 30 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor Open @Mack cafeteria, 920 Miller Ave.

John Kotarski, who had attended all the forums, felt the events had achieved their purpose of achieving a presence in the community, and introducing residents to different kinds of public art. Bob Miller advocated adding an online element for soliciting more input. Commissioners discussed the possibility of using the city’s new A2 Open City Hall, a blog-type feature that allows people to get information and give feedback on specific projects.

Commissioners took action on other projects, voting to approve a $910 budget for the dedication of a new mural at Allmendinger Park – an event to take place on Sunday, Oct. 28 from 2-4 p.m. The mural was designed by Mary Thiefels of TreeTown Murals, incorporating artwork and found objects from the community.

Also approved was the location of a sign for the Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture in front of city hall, though there was concern about the placement of a fence there. The city has decided to put the mesh metal fence on a section of the pedestrian bridge overlooking the sculpture. Some commissioners are frustrated that this safety issue wasn’t raised earlier, when it might have been addressed by the sculptor as part of the site design. Marsha Chamberlin, AAPAC’s chair, noted that Dreiseitl intended people to interact with the water that runs down from the fountain. “What’s driving this process – the aesthetics of the piece or risk management?” she asked. She ultimately abstained from the vote, stating ”I want to go on the record of being ornery about this.” It was approved by all other commissioners present at the meeting.

Commissioners were also updated on a range of other projects that are in various stages of development. The process has begun for soliciting artists for work at the East Stadium bridge and for an ongoing mural program. The deadlines for submitting statements of qualifications (SOQs) are in November. Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, expects to post another SOQ – for artwork at Argo Cascades – next month. And legal staff is reviewing a request for proposals (RFP) for art at a rain garden being built at Kingsley and First.

Seagraves also reported that installation of a $150,000 hanging glass sculpture at the Justice Center lobby will be delayed a few months, until March or April of 2013. Fabricators selected by the artist Ed Carpenter aren’t available to do the work as soon as expected.

Another potential project emerged during the meeting. Chamberlin noted that the city has about 100 old aluminum canoes that it’s planning to get rid of. She said that Cheryl Saam, facilities supervisor for the city’s canoe liveries, had raised the possibility of using the canoes for some kind of community art project. After getting feedback from other commissioners that this is an idea worth pursuing, Chamberlin said she’d work up a more formal proposal for consideration at a future meeting.

As part of the Oct. 24 meeting packet, AAPAC got a budget update of Percent for Art funds, showing a balance of $1.533 million. Of that, $847,104 has been earmarked for previously approved projects, leaving about $686,000 unallocated. [.pdf of budget summary]

One notable topic was not discussed at the meeting – a public art millage that’s on the Nov. 6 ballot. Several commissioners are involved in advocating for the millage, but have taken a conservative approach to dealing with it during their regular business, and AAPAC meetings have not included discussion on the topic since the August 28, 2012  meeting. That approach stands in contrast to a recent park advisory commission meeting, when one of the park commissioners spoke during public commentary to urge support for the parks millage renewal. [Full Story]

Art Commission Explores “Street Art” Program

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (Sept. 26, 2012): In this month’s main action item, public art commissioners formed a task force to explore the possibility of starting a street art program.

Connie Rizzolo Brown

Connie Rizzolo Brown shows her colleagues on the Ann Arbor public art commission a printout of AAPAC’s redesigned website. (Photos by the writer.)

John Kotarski made the proposal, explaining that street art could include anything from pedestrian benches to artistic manhole covers – similar to those that have been created in Japanese cities. The effort could involve schools and service clubs, he said, and might evolve into something as popular as the fairy doors found throughout Ann Arbor. Commissioners seemed generally supportive of the idea. The task force will do more research and make a formal proposal to AAPAC at a later date.

Commissioners also moved ahead on a new approach to getting more people involved in the selection of public art. Task forces will be formed in four quadrants of the city, using quadrants that are designated in the city master plan’s “land use elements” section: west, central, south and northeast. [.pdf map of quadrants]

Kickoff meetings for each quadrant are scheduled for October. Connie Rizzolo Brown, who’s spearheading this effort, described the goal of the first meetings as ”very gentle fact-finding missions,” as well as recruitment for potential task force members.

Also in October – on Sunday, Oct. 28 – a dedication is planned for the new mural being completed at Allmendinger Park. The work is by Ann Arbor muralist Mary Thiefels of TreeTown Murals, incorporating artwork and found objects from students and neighbors. Images from the work-in-progress are currently featured on AAPAC’s website.

Commissioners also discussed concerns about a descriptive sign planned for the Dreiseitl sculpture in front of city hall. Some commissioners feel that the proposed location for the sign detracts from the ability to enjoy the sculpture, while others expressed frustration that AAPAC had not been consulted about the sign’s location.

The meeting also included a variety of updates about projects that are underway. One major item that was not discussed was the public art millage that will be on the Nov. 6 ballot – Proposal B. Although it was alluded to on several occasions, AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin cautioned commissioners that they could not discuss it at the meeting. However, several commissioners are involved individually in the campaign to support the millage – B for Art. Chamberlin, for example, is hosting a dinner for the campaign in October.

At an Aug. 15 special meeting, the commission had voted to recommend that the city council place a millage on the ballot, despite voicing a range of concerns. The millage had been proposed by councilmember Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), who did not consult the arts community or AAPAC before bringing  the idea forward. The ballot proposal calls for a 0.1 mill tax for four years to support public art, temporarily replacing the current Percent for Art program. For additional background, see Chronicle coverage: “Art Commission Strategizes as Millage Looms.” [Full Story]

Art Commission Strategizes as Millage Looms

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (Aug. 22, 2012): Two days after the Ann Arbor city council voted to put a millage on the Nov. 6 ballot to fund art in public places, several leaders of the arts community attended the public art commission’s regular monthly meeting to offer support for a millage campaign.

Jim Fackert, Bob Miller, John Kotarski

In front of Ann Arbor city hall, from left: electrician Jim Fackert, and Ann Arbor public art commissioners Bob Miller and John Kotarski. Fackert was again working on the system that operates the Dreiseitl water sculpture, which includes water pumps and flashing blue lights. Miller and Kotarski were headed into the Aug. 22 meeting of the public art commission. (Photos by the writer.)

Dealing with the millage wasn’t the commission’s main agenda item, but they did spend some time talking about the need for a separate campaign committee. AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin stressed that the commission itself can’t advocate for the millage, ”but we can educate out the wazoo.”

As individuals, though, commissioners will likely be very active – Chamberlin will be among those organizing the campaign, along with Arts Alliance president Deb Polich, who attended AAPAC’s Aug. 22 session. Mark Tucker of FestiFools was there too, and told commissioners that he and others were brainstorming on free or inexpensive ways to support the millage – including a “surprise” that involves football Saturdays and is “FestiFoolian in nature” to attract media coverage.

Ken Clein also volunteered to help. He was on hand to update commissioners on the status of the Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture in front of city hall, as a follow-up to concerns raised in June about the installation. Clein is a principal with Quinn Evans Architects, the Ann Arbor firm that handled the design of the new Justice Center and oversaw its construction. Though delayed, the Dreiseitl installation is nearly completed and will be handed off to the city soon, along with a two-year maintenance warranty.

The sculpture is the largest and most expensive project coordinated by the commission, and the first one approved under the Percent for Art program. The two newest public art projects were added to the pipeline at the Aug. 22 meeting, on unanimous votes. They’ll eventually be located at: (1) Forest Avenue Plaza, next to the Forest Avenue parking structure near South University; and (2) a future roundabout at Ellsworth and South State.

In a written report, commissioners were given an update on available funds in the Percent for Art budget. Of the $1.668 million balance, $856,997 is earmarked for projects already approved by AAPAC, including $400,000 for artwork at the East Stadium bridges and $150,000 for Argo Cascades – but aspects of those projects are still under review by the city’s legal staff. That leaves $810,276 in unallocated funds. The largest amounts are in revenues from sewer projects ($451,955) and street millage projects ($241,951).

The commission also finalized its four-year strategic plan, and moved ahead on a new effort to involve residents in planning for public art in each of four quadrants in Ann Arbor. [Full Story]

Despite Worries, Art Commission Backs Millage

Ann Arbor public art commission special meeting (Aug. 15, 2012): Ann Arbor city councilmember Christopher Taylor stunned many in the arts community by unexpectedly proposing a public arts millage for the Nov. 6 ballot. He took that action at the council’s Aug. 9 meeting – two days after the Aug. 7 primary.

Christopher Taylor, Mark Tucker

From left: Ann Arbor city councilmember Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Mark Tucker, founder of the annual FestiFools and FoolMoon events.

At that meeting, he indicated a desire to start a conversation about public arts funding, and expressed the hope of getting input from the Ann Arbor public art commission and the community in general.

Some of that conversation took place at the public art commission’s Aug. 15 meeting, which ended in a vote of support for the millage proposal.

Much of the reaction so far from the arts community has focused on the short timeframe until the November election, and the lack of clarity that a yes or no vote would indicate, based on the wording of the proposal.

In response to that perceived lack of clarity, on Friday, Aug. 17, councilmember Jane Lumm (Ward 2) added a resolution to the Aug. 20 council agenda that would lead to a choice for voters on Nov. 6 between: (1) a millage to support public spending on art; or (2) no continued accumulation of public funds to be spent on art. Her resolution would direct city attorney staff to prepare ordinance language to repeal the funding mechanism in the Percent for Art ordinance – effective July 1, 2013. The intent is to repeal the ordinance in a way that allows funds already set aside for art to be spent on art, and to provide for maintenance of existing works.

If approved by the council on Aug. 20, Lumm’s resolution would lead in late September to the first of two city council votes necessary to repeal the ordinance section. In part, Lumm’s resolution states that “to truly enfranchise residents, voters should be offered a clear, yes/no choice on public funding for public art rather than an either/or choice of the mechanism used to fund public art; …” [.pdf of Lumm's draft resolution and memo]

Lumm’s resolution hadn’t been proposed when AAPAC held its special meeting on Wednesday to focus on Taylor’s millage proposal. The commission had essentially been forced to call a special session because its next regular meeting, on Aug. 22, falls after an expected vote by the council on Aug. 20.

The special meeting drew more public commentary than at any of AAPAC’s previous meetings. Nine people spoke, including leaders of several local arts institutions: Deb Polich of the Arts Alliance, Russ Collins of the Michigan Theater, Mark Tucker of FestiFools, and former AAPAC chair Margaret Parker, among others. Several more people attended but did not formally address the commission.

It seemed clear that neither commissioners nor members of the arts community who spoke during public commentary had been consulted about the millage proposal, and only a few had been informed that it would be brought forward. While there was broad support for the idea of a public arts millage, many people questioned the timing and felt that 11 weeks until the Nov. 6 election was too short a time to mount a successful millage campaign.

When asked by commissioners who would lead such a campaign, Taylor said he assumed it would be led by the arts community, with money raised from private contributions. He felt the amount of time was sufficient, and that the millage would be approved by voters. He thought the November election would be a good time for the vote, with higher participation by students and renters – that’s a good core, he said.

During AAPAC’s meeting, Taylor told commissioners that if a millage vote is delayed, that puts the current Percent for Art program at risk. He said his sense is that the risk is growing, though he was unclear about why he believes that’s the case. Marsha Chamberlin, AAPAC’s chair, wondered whether the concern stems from a change in composition to the council, following the November election. Taylor did not respond directly to that question.

In the Aug. 7 primary election, Democrat Sally Petersen defeated incumbent Tony Derezinski in Ward 2 – Derezinski also is a member of AAPAC, though he has not attended a regular meeting since May, and did not attend the Aug. 15 special session. No incumbents ran in the Ward 1 and Ward 5 races, where Democrats Sumi Kailasapathy and Chuck Warpehoski prevailed in their respective primaries. No Republican is running against Petersen or Kailasapathy in November. And though Warpehoski faces Republican Stuart Berry in Ward 5, it’s likely that Warpehoski will win that heavily Democratic ward. Taylor is also running for re-election, but was unopposed in the Ward 3 Democratic primary and is unchallenged in November.

In a pre-election survey conducted by the Arts Alliance, Petersen indicated support for the Percent for Art program, though she suggested some changes. Warpehoski supported “looking for ways to establish a more flexible funding stream for the arts.” Kailasapathy did not respond to the survey, according to the alliance, but her campaign website did not list public art among her priorities. [.pdf of Arts Alliance candidate survey]

In general, another complicating factor with the millage proposal is a separate effort to develop a countywide plan and funding mechanism for public art. The Arts Alliance is leading that initiative, and earlier this year applied for a $100,000 grant through the National Endowment for the Arts “Our Town” program to help fund it. At AAPAC’s Aug. 15 meeting, Polich – the alliance’s executive director – advocated for more time so that a fully-developed, comprehensive strategy could be prepared.

Polich questioned how the millage rate was determined in Taylor’s proposal – a 0.1 mill tax for four years. She raised the concern that the city is “leaving money on the table” – that is, it’s possible that voters would be willing to pay more for public art than the amount proposed. Polich also mentioned concerns about the millage’s potential impact on private contributions to arts and cultural organizations, which wouldn’t necessarily get funding from a public arts millage. There might be confusion about that, making fundraising more difficult.

Despite a range of concerns, AAPAC ultimately voted unanimously to recommend that the council place the proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot. Among the commissioners, John Kotarski appeared to be the most enthusiastic supporter of the proposal, praising Taylor for bringing it forward. [Full Story]