You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : noon

Liberty Street gets new public artwork: 'The Spirit of Ann Arbor'

By Bob Needham

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.


A sketch of Charles McGee's design for "The Spirit of Ann Arbor."

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."


"The Spirit of Ann Arbor"

  • Who: Created by Charles McGee; commissioned by John Carver.
  • What: Public reception to celebrate new public artwork.
  • Where: 500-506 E. Liberty St.
  • When: 4:45 to 5:30 Friday, Oct. 5.
  • How much: Free.
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.


Charles McGee, left, and John Carver

photo by Margaret Parker

And he'd like it to lead to more projects in other communities: "I hope that this may be the catalyst for some things that might influence (other) cities," he said, that they might "make art a part of the chair they sit in."

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.



Sun, Oct 7, 2012 : 12:49 a.m.

love it


Sat, Oct 6, 2012 : 12:24 p.m.

sorry did not change my mind. voting no for public art in nov

Brian McClatchey

Thu, Oct 4, 2012 : 5:39 p.m.

WOW.....It is truly sad that all the snarky bitter people feel they need to make such rude comments like they did on this piece. It used to be considered appropriate that if you don't have anything good to say it may be better to say nothing at all. I had noticed the piece this past weekend and think it looks great and am grateful to the building owner for adding to the beauty of the city.


Wed, Oct 3, 2012 : 9 p.m.

Looks very cool! And awesome that it is a local Michigan guy!! Thank you to Mr. Carver and Mr. McGeee!

Ron Granger

Wed, Oct 3, 2012 : 12:58 p.m.

While it is nice that this is a local artist, I do not agree that the Percent for Art program should favor local artists. I like to think that local artists do not need "geographic affirmative action", and their work can compete on its merits. They can submit a proposal just like anyone else.


Thu, Oct 4, 2012 : 7:13 p.m.

The idea of supporting local (which can be defined in many ways) artists is that this is more likely to keep the funds that the artist receives in our "local" community, rather than far away. It's a way of further supporting our local economy. A local artists will be more likely to use their profit from the piece to buy food, clothing, etc. locally.

A A Resident

Wed, Oct 3, 2012 : 11:53 a.m.

Carver, thanks for choosing a Michigan artist. It makes it seem even stranger that art which is payed for by local taxes mostly comes from other places. And thanks for putting it in a location where it has the potential to be enjoyed by many, not just the person who commissioned it, despite the risks involved.


Wed, Oct 3, 2012 : 2:03 a.m.

Well, this is an art loving town that has an Art Fair every year. Where millions throng upon Ann Arbor to see stuff that is so strange, it is hard to behold. Glad Ypsilanti doesn't get into this .

David Briegel

Wed, Oct 3, 2012 : 1:30 a.m.

Thank you John Carver for all you do for our community. You should be proud of all your contributions! Vivienne and others, I don't see a lot of private contributions to our publicly funded municipal buildings and parks. I think our percent for art and the committee are still the best way for those. I applaud Mr Carver and other private contributions and hope the committee will coordinate so they are complimentary where appropriate!


Wed, Oct 3, 2012 : 12:22 a.m.

will the spirit of Ann Arbor solve panhandling?


Wed, Oct 3, 2012 : 12:11 a.m.

It's an interesting piece. It's art. It's privately funded. I keep looking at it waiting to see a secret message. I look at it straight on, on its sides and upside-down, but nothing jumps out. There are 3 repeated figures, but of no seeming significance except for maybe the figure at the top and inverted / mirrored version at the bottom. Maybe a tree in there for "tree town"? Or maybe the spirit of Ann Arbor means we are two dimension caricatures of real people and inanimate objects? Whatever is going on, it seems happy and I think "uplifting" is the right word. I like it.


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 11:38 p.m.

Took a while, but I finally saw the giraffe. You always need to cross your eyes a bit to get these magic eyes to work.


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 11:30 p.m.

"Everybody was Kung Fu fighting [...]"


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 10:04 p.m.

As Steve Martin once said on SNL, "The heck is that?".


Wed, Oct 3, 2012 : 12:13 a.m.

You know he was kidding.........Steve Martin has an impressive, and valuable, collection of modern art.


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 9:55 p.m.

Thanks Mr Carver for trying to make things better!

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 9:50 p.m.

No offense to Mr. McGee but it looks a bit like some stuff my kids did in 4th grade. I wonder if they can sue for copyright infringement?

Kai Petainen

Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 9:45 p.m.

This artwork looks great! It fits nicely into the building and the surrounding area. Great art, great location, great fit. I just walked past it, and it's a fantastic addition to Liberty Street... As for vandals... it's up high and quite visible.... it'll be quite hard for them to vandalize it.

John Dentler

Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 9:06 p.m.

I cannot fathom why anyone would agree to accept 'Art Work' like this and call it SPIRIT OF ANN ABOR. This great city should NOT be depicted as nipple-sucking, groin-kcking as depicted in this repulsive piece.

Ron Granger

Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 11:30 p.m.

zOMG - I had no idea all that stuff was in there! I didn't even know you could say nipple sucking in this forum! This discovery makes this piece all the more significant, thank you Mr Dentler. The artist is brilliant. Though maybe it should be re-titled. How about "What happens on Felch Street stays on Felch Street"?


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 10:43 p.m.

I hope you're kidding Mr. Dentler. This is a happy thing. Reminiscent of Matisse's paper cut-outs.


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 10:09 p.m.

I guess art truly is in the eye of the beholder. I looked at this and saw joyous dancing. John looked at this and saw "nipple-sucking, groin-kcking as depicted in this repulsive piece." I applaud John Carver for donating public art to the people of Ann Arbor.


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 8:51 p.m.

Um, this is representational art, right? Does it represent the recent brawls with have recently represented that section of Ann Arbor? It looks like there's some karate kicking going on, some kicks to the upper thoracic region and some face-smashing. The bottom figure is definitely delivering an impressive double-kick to two others, one a kick to the groin area (upper left) and the other a devastating blow apparently to the back between the shoulder blades of the figure to the right. What delightful, Ann Arborish mayhem!!


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 7:54 p.m.

It looks great! Can't wait to see it in person. Thanks, Mr. Carver.


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 7:51 p.m.

I find it hard to believe that you can have public art without taxpayer funding and a committee appointed by hizzoner.

Elaine F. Owsley

Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 7:47 p.m.

Quick, someone put Mr. Carver on the Public Arts Commission, or whatever that selective body is called!!! I guess this shows what can be done when you don't need a committee. Nice job.


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 7:40 p.m.

What a waste of money!

Billy Bob Schwartz

Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 8:58 p.m.

It's not your money, Bubba.

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 7:36 p.m.

Art is certainly subjective. What I might like someone else might not.

Linda Peck

Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 7:34 p.m.

Fabulous! Like this concept of independent commission for local creative talent.


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 7:27 p.m.

It's great to see a local business/property owner commissioning a work by a (relatively) local artist. However (yes I know this will come off as "everybody's a critic") the piece itself feels incredibly generic and doesn't celebrate anything unique or interesting about our town. Honestly, if you showed that to someone and said it's the "Spirit of Madison" or the "Spirit of Bloomington" they would simply think "ok, sure, stylistic representation of vibrant college town with different types of people". I'm sorry to use the term, but this really is phoning it in. Still, it's no worse than most public art, and it's not costing me anything. So if others enjoy Stereotypical Mid-Sized Academic Artistic Town Sculpture, great.

Top Cat

Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 7:06 p.m.

This piece of "art" looks like a surgeon dropped all his surgical equipment on the floor. At least the taxpayers aren't stuck paying for this eye sore.

4 Fingers

Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 6:51 p.m.

Can't wait for the graffiti kids to start adding anatomy to those fancy stick figures. You know what I mean ;0


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 9:22 p.m.

LOL, geez, tough crowd though ;)


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 6:31 p.m.

This will no doubt be the piece of art that finally starts to reduce crime in Ann Arbor.


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 6:29 p.m.

Wonder if it will look better after it gets tagged by some graffiti?


Wed, Oct 3, 2012 : 12:15 a.m.

Heh. YOLO!

Vivienne Armentrout

Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 6:22 p.m.

This is how public art should happen - through private donation and also as an expression of personal taste, rather than the institutional decisions by a committee. Congratulations to this public-spirited building owner. I'm looking forward to seeing it in place.


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 9:54 p.m.

I could not agree with this more.

Brian Kuehn

Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 8:11 p.m.

Well said, Vivienne.


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 7:13 p.m.

And a big THANK YOU to John Carver, who does so much for our community.


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 7:12 p.m.

I totally agree, Vivienne!!


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 6:18 p.m.

This artwork will go a long way towards improving the quality of life of the permanent residents of Liberty Street, especially the long-time residents of Liberty Plaza. Hopefully they can enjoy the public art taxpayers have provided to them despite their own inability to contribute.


Wed, Oct 3, 2012 : 1:57 a.m.

Does it blend in well with City Halls public art work?


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 6:19 p.m.

PS I'm even happier to learn that this has been privately funded by the building's owner, and not by the city.

Stephen Landes

Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 6:09 p.m.

A private business owner commissioning public art and having it installed on his own building -- YES! This is exactly what is needed. Be an example, encourage other property owners to do the same. The heck with an "art tax".


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 6:01 p.m.

Looks great. Thanks to the building owner for adding to the Ann Arbor art scene AND commissioning a Michigan artist.


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 5:48 p.m.

It seems that the owner of the building is paying for it so there's not much to say.Kinda bums me out.I wanted to post some snarky comments about Ann Arbor ( darn ! )

Bertha Venation

Wed, Oct 3, 2012 : 5:01 p.m.

UH oh.... disregard my ignorant comment below, please.


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 5:08 p.m.

Hmmmm. Hope it looks better in the actual size and material. It is good that it's a local artist, though.


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 4:46 p.m.

so glad this is a local artist.


Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 4:18 p.m.

I can't wait to read the posted comments on this one.