Liberty Street gets new public artwork: 'The Spirit of Ann Arbor'
Liberty Street will brighten up this week with a high-profile new piece of public art called "The Spirit of Ann Arbor," created by acclaimed artist Charles McGee.
The new piece will hang on the face of the Carver-Gunn Building (home of Douglas J salon) at 500-506 E. Liberty St. Ann Arbor native John Carver, who owns the building, commissioned the work himself.
A public reception on Friday will celebrate the new installation.
Carver said in a phone interview that his appreciation for public art grew as he traveled to cities like Seattle. Back home, he said, he became inspired by Ann Arbor's controversial "Percent for Art" program, which sets aside 1 percent of the cost of city capital-improvement projects for publicly funded art.
Carver—who has a long history in town as the past owner of the Chances Are, Second Chance and Nectarine Ballroom music clubs—got to wondering what he could do as a private individual. Margaret Parker, former chairwoman of the city's Public Art Commission, suggested he approach McGee, a much-acclaimed Detroit artist with strong ties to Washtenaw County, including teaching at the Ann Arbor Art Center, the University of Michigan and an 18-year stint at Eastern Michigan University.
McGee came up with idea to create a piece called "The Spirit of Ann Arbor." It's 8 feet by 16 feet, made of brushed and powder-coated aluminum, McGee said in a phone interview.
"Seeing what was happening and the activity of the youth in that city, it was very energetic to me, and very beautiful," McGee said of his long association with the area and the inspiration for the sculpture. "I'm influenced by the ambience in that city, and the energy that goes through there."
Carver is delighted with the result, which is being installed early this week in preparation for the public reception, from 4:45-5:30 p.m. Friday at the artwork's site. It sits on the face of the building at the southeast corner of Liberty and Thompson streets, which houses Douglas J on the ground floor, with the University of Michigan renting the second and third floors.
"I'm real happy with it; i think it's going to liven up the area," Carver said of the piece. "It's exuberant and joyful."
Asked the cost of the piece, Carver chuckled and said, "more than a Chevy but less than a Bentley."Carver also expressed happiness with the choice of McGee to create the work: "He loves Ann Arbor and loves education and life in general," Carver said. "He's really about making the world a better place."
McGee has a number of other works in public view, including at one of the Detroit People Mover stations, both Beaumont and Henry Ford hospitals, the Detroit Institute of Arts, EMU and elsewhere. He received the Kresge Eminent Artist award in 2008.
McGee said he hopes the abstract figures in the work—dancing, falling, standing—capture the "uplifting spirituality" he sees in Ann Arbor.
photo by Margaret Parker
Both Carver and Parker said they hope the piece will lead to support for more public art—including a proposal on the November ballot for a dedicated public-art tax, which, if approved, would supplant the Percent for Art program.
In a press release, Parker said the new installation offers a good example of the power of the concept.
“This privately funded project is just what we hoped would happen when the Percent for Art ordinance was put in place in 2007. We never said that public funding would cover everything, but if the city invested some funds for art in public places around the city, then the private sector would follow with enthusiasm. This project is proving how successful we've been in only 5 years,” Parker said.