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Posted on Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 6:30 a.m.

German artist's public art proposal to come back before Ann Arbor City Council

By Ryan J. Stanton

A German artist's public art proposal is scheduled to come back before the Ann Arbor City Council for approval on Dec. 7.

Margaret Parker, chairwoman of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission, addressed the matter in an e-mail sent Tuesday afternoon to the mayor and city council members. Council members expected the proposal would come before them as early as Nov. 16, but will wait an additional three weeks.

The City Council is being asked to spend nearly $850,000 on an integrated water-based art installation in the lobby and courtyard at the new police-courts building currently under construction at Huron and Fifth Avenue.

Artist Herbert Dreiseitl flew in from Germany to appear before the City Council in late July to preset his proposal for an outdoor water sculpture to be located between a new rain garden and the entrances to the court facilities. His proposal calls for a tall, tilted sculpture that incorporates metal, water, concrete and a series of LED lights intended to draw attention.

"The proposal that will be coming to you is for the outdoor piece only, as the other two pieces have design questions that have not been resolved," Parker told city officials in her e-mail. "The total amount will therefore be less than the $841,541 quote for all three pieces. Coming to an exact final amount for the one outdoor piece is the reason for the postponement."

Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on public art at a time when the city is facing serious budget challenges and there are more pressing needs - such as proving food and shelter to the homeless - has raised serious debate recently.

Quiet talks have been taking place inside city hall about abolishing the city ordinance that mandates setting aside some city dollars into a special public art fund. By the end of this fiscal year, that fund will have accumulated about $1.5 million.

An ordinance passed by the City Council in 2007 ensures 1 percent of all monies budgeted for city developments and other infrastructure projects be set aside to fund public art projects. But some question whether that's prudent now.

"It's understandable in these very difficult times to consider pulling funds from every available source for public services," Parker wrote to the mayor and council. "But it's important to remember that the funds set aside in the Percent for Art Program cannot be used for any other spending. Even if the Percent for Art Ordinance were abolished, the funds would revert to the line items and departments that funded the original capital projects: i.e. water, sewer, transportation, etc. They would not be available for public services in any case."

Parker's e-mail lists the following eight reasons she thinks Ann Arbor should include the public art piece by the German artist at the city's new municipal center:

1. The design integrates a 12-foot high steel sculpture, storm water circulation, electrical and computer systems into an interactive water piece that children can play in - $750,000 is very reasonable price for such a design. 

2. 80 percent of funds will go to Michigan fabricators, contractors, architects and designers - this means art is generating jobs for Michigan workers.

3. Both the Municipal Center Task Force and AAPAC voted unanimously for the aesthetic and civic value of this project.

4. City staff, engineers, architects and designers of the building are all wholeheartedly behind this public art installation.

5. Ann Arbor would become known as the site of a world renowned artist who specializes in environmental art. 

6. If the money were not used for this piece, it would go back to the Public Art Fund and could not be used for any other reason. Even if the Percent for Art ordinance were eliminated, the money would go back to the designated funds for the capital projects that generated them - sewer, water, transportation, etc.

7. Because the building is coming along quickly, this project is the city's only chance to make something embedded in the building's infrastructure. It would take at least another year to come up with another proposal for this primary site, and then it would simply sit in the space, not demonstrate the environmental goals of the building.

8. Art is good business. Grand Rapids proved with ArtPrize that art in public spaces can generate business, public awareness for the city, and community empowerment. This is what this project will do in Ann Arbor, but on a permanent basis. All the city needs to do is follow through with the two-year project it has been working on.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government for Reach him at or 724-623-2529.



Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 10:34 p.m.

December 7th, ehhh?!? Pearl Harbor Day. How appropriate! Probably the biggest sneak attack on unwary taxpayers since then. Hopefully the mayor and council will come to their senses, but I doubt it, so remember Pearl Harbor when the next election rolls around! I know I will.


Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 7:05 p.m.

I support the art if it is functional, i.e. it pays for itself within 7-10 years by decreasing the construction cost (reduces the amount needed for stormwater detention), by decreasing building costs (increases energy efficiency), and by decreasing the dead-zone around the city hall (becomes a plaza where people can gather). Otherwise, it might be an overpriced monolith (do I hear Strauss-like timpanis in the background?). Also, people who care should go to the public meetings. Its easy to write about this and that from your computer, but the decisions arent made in the blogospheretheyre made in person at the commissions and councils. My estimate of the interest savings are below.As I understand, the rule is 1% of capital costs with a max of $250,000, so its not really 1% for very large projects. $250k would save $215,000 (over 29 years). The entire $750k would save $650,000 (which may or may not be legal). Please check my numbers. My assumptions: original bond issued July 2008 for $27.66m with a life of 30years, compounded/paid each July with an interest rate of 4.77%. Also, I assume the city can pay early without penalty, and the and first payment in July09 cut the principal by $433k. (search for 09-0064, click file, and then look for the word doc on next page)


Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 3:49 p.m.

The sooner this ill-conceived ordinance is abolished and the money put back in the capital accounts it was pilfered from, the better. The arrogance implicit in this Art Commission list of "Eight Reasons..." is just breathtaking. Abolish the Public Art Commission, while we're at it, and put them all to work on the State Street bridge, where they will do some useful work for the taxpayers. Just one more reason we need BIG changes in city hall come next election!

I'm Ron Burgandy

Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 2:57 p.m.

This lady and her supporters must be out of their mind. Our roads and bridge are falling apart, homeless are everywhere, and they want to spend almost $1 Million on a useless sculpture? Someone please find out which council members are for this so we can vote them out of office. Alan, a2grateful and LDR all need to run for city council!!


Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 2:44 p.m.

This would be funny, if not so REAL. The public workers in Ann Arbor will be cut again this spring. Mrs Parker, would you mind explaining to their children why this German artist is more important than they are? When they lose their homes, I suppose they can come in to City Hall to get warm and look at your art. Priorities, dear. Priorities.

John Galt

Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 1:49 p.m.

They are kidding, right?

Anonymous Due to Bigotry

Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 1:12 p.m.

Mr. Stanton: Thanks for the recent articles on how the A2 government spends money on unnecessary projects that could easily be funded by individual wealthy donors in town while critical services are underfunded. Yes, let the money return to their original line items. I see no problem with that in the least. As though Transportation, for example, can't possibly use that money or something. If any of it returns to the cops, well perhaps they can use it to hire more cops.


Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 1:11 p.m.

Shame, shame, shame on MP & company for going so far outside the community with this opportunity when there is so much (hungry) talent in our midst. To me, it would be like shopping at Lowes or Home Depot instead of Stadium Hardware or that other place downton for my home & garden needs.


Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 1 p.m.

We're not asking extra funding for the homeless. But think about the Old YMCA was demolished, were those low-income housing replaced??? We lost over 100 units there, indirectly put people on the street or get them sleep on chairs at the shelter. We need to pray "Don't lose our job!" or else, sleep on chairs or being arrested for trespassing Michigan land.

Angela Smith

Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 12:54 p.m.

can we get "LDR" to write for the deuce??


Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 11:40 a.m.

A Modest Proposal: why not a Performance Art piece? Let's stage a perpetual art work. Build a plexiglass cube stage with heaters and AC, then install local (and imported, why not?) homeless, drug-addicted, mentally ill, and/or alcoholic panhandlers to staff it. Giant solar and wind powered heaters for poor citizens to sleep near during the cold months -- while swanky citizens sip $10 martinis on the other side of the plexiglass (I'd volunteer for that part!). We could require them to panhandle the city council members EVERY fraking time they walk into work. We could have separate shows or sections for drunk college students pretend fighting while others mug them for their cell phones and laptops--easier for the police to deal with. Let's have a "working" artist's soup kitchen serve free breakfast and lunch to eligible children during school breaks and holidays as an interactive family activity. Let's get the guy with the hot tub on Ashley to bring it over with a crane and party in it. Let's have a few UM executive-types walking around shoving each other saying, "Hey, don't you KNOW who I am?". "Whatd'ya mean? Don't YOU know who I am?" A couple of council embers emailing insults about all the onlookers would top it off. There are just so MANY possibilities with a performance art space for both summer and winter! It would be endless. Use Dreiseitl's expertise to build an interactive art project with the Argo dam...there, many birds (or turnips for vegans) killed with one public art fund.


Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 11:30 a.m.

And what about additional insurance expenses to cover this thing....which appears to be planned for mere feet from Huron St. Will it be repaired at taxpayer expense every time it gets hit by a car or bus or semi truck?

Kevin S. Devine

Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 11:03 a.m.

Too bad there were no local artists talented enough to be selected for the project. Sarcasm aside, overall, it sounds like a neat idea, and Mr. Dreiseitl's oeuvre, which one can easily find with a quick Google search, is certainly compelling. I'm concerned, however, with the logistics and underlying message this proposed installation presents, namely, regardless of how much it costs to design, build and install it, how will it be maintained? Who pays for the electricity to run the pumps, computers, lights, etc.? And the underlying message is that we have so much water available to us, we can play in it right in the middle of town, blocks from the nearest natural-flowing water sources and that we have such an abundance of electrical power that we can use it for play. How green is this green-themed project?


Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 11:01 a.m.

I will laugh hysterically when the big hunk of junk has mechanical faliure. as someone pointed out, it'll be frozen several months of the year. full of leaves in the fall and will cost a good amount of money to maintain perhaps the absence of art can be a nice artful statement.


Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 10:55 a.m.

You want to free up some real money to help people? How about the idiotic Greenbelt millage? Imagine if that money could be used to help living human beings who are hungry and homeless?

Fred Posner

Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 10:25 a.m.

Even if the money couldn't be used for anything else, why isn't 100% of it being directed within the area (ie within the county)? Are we to think that UM students (in arts) couldn't design something that could be built using materials purchased locally?

Laura Bien

Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 10:20 a.m.

I'm not religious, but my favorite piece of public art in AA is in St. Andrew's Church (or was, hope it still is). It is a large painted mural near the kitchen where the church runs the breakfast program. The mural shows a line of tired homeless people in shabby and worn clothes standing in a line. Halfway down the mural, Jesus is shown waiting in line with them.


Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 10:08 a.m.

#4 -- As a city staff person who will be in this new building I cannot say that I, nor anybody I know, think this is a good idea.

Janelle Baranowski

Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 10:05 a.m.

chosen1, I was thinking the same thing! Bullet Point #2: "80 percent of funds will go to Michigan fabricators, contractors, architects and designers - this means art is generating jobs for Michigan workers." How about 100% of the funds go to Michigan workers? Give the money to a Michigan artist and *bam*, mission accomplished. I like Alan Goldsmith's idea of using the money to pay down bond debt. Does anyone know how much would be saved in interest over the life of the bond if they did this? Janelle


Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 9:47 a.m.

I am not opposed to publc art per se, but doesn't anyone else think a water based project of this scale and expense in a climate that will be frozen 4-5 months of the year is utterly stupid? That, and the lack of support for a local artist(s) project really annoys me. And the fact that the artist can't get his proposals in on time (and,yes, I know who he is, I just don't're going to do art of this magnatude, that only big business or governments can pay for, you have to have more business sense or hire someone who does). I feel like the city employees who are supporting this are doing so just because they've already wasted so much money on the "consultation" they must now justify...I don't think the artist actually WANTS his work here...hence the high costs. Besides... it's ugly! I've seen Dreiseitl's other works, this is not up to par! Who's got the guts in city to just say NO? A sculpture garden of local and state artists' works would have been beautiful, educational, and supportive, ALL YEAR round. More art, less expense, less maintenance, more meaningful locally.

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 9:45 a.m.

There's a pretty good discussion on this same topic with close to 60 comments so far going on over here:


Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 9:43 a.m.

I do not like the fact that is trying to frame this as a "Public Art vs. The Homeless" issue. This should be a "Public Art vs. Police Officers" debate. I would choose Public Art over the homeless, but I would choose Police Officers over Public Art. Companies such as Google want to locate themselves in Ann Arbor because it is artsy and weird. If we create an environment where Ann Arbor is a magnet city for Midwest homeless people, these companies might think twice before locating here.

Bruce Amrine

Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 9:43 a.m.

The city seems to be pretty good at the shell game of moving money around; just look at the funding for the new police building. How about we just "Borrow" the money to help the needy and then pay it back when the economy gets better.


Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 9:26 a.m.

Just more waste by the city.The city Priorties are so mixed up. The so called Mayor should be proud.

David Cahill

Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 9:23 a.m.

Here is a link to an article about this project from A2Politico that may be helpful:


Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 9:22 a.m.

"4. City staff, engineers, architects and designers of the building are all wholeheartedly behind this public art installation." Uhh, that's not what city staff has been telling me. Maybe they just tell Margaret Parker that to keep their jobs and not cause her to fall off of her high horse.


Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 9:16 a.m.

Earth to Margaret Parker... Earth to Margaret Parker... Come in please... Earth to Margaret Parker...


Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 8:58 a.m.

a2 City government could cancel the $1 million statue and devote the money to replacing the Stadium bridge.. Then, take a giant hunk of Stadium bridge concrete and place it in the statue's proposed location at new City Hall.. Next, inscribe a plaque, placed on said bridge rubble, with the following:. "This rubble is placed to remind a2 City government of what falls on citizens' heads while government pursues folly."

Jim Mulchay

Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 8:41 a.m.

Re the statement "the money would go back to the designated funds for the capital projects that generated them - sewer, water, transportation, etc." - Does this mean that some of this money could be re-directed a part of the Argo Dam solution (whatever it is)?


Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 8:28 a.m.

yesterday, there was homeless protest in front of the Washtenaw Court House. Though reporters came, Mayor also stopped by, it was not reported. We have public Arts in Ann Arbor. The poor build different shape and design of tents, put broken tart with dust tape on it (repairing) to prevent dripping water. They live in the dark (spooky & romantic). Switching on little flash light when they need to go toilet (handmade, putting plastic bag into plastic bucket) Is it arts?? We have walking arts in downtown. Please check those people carrying all their belongings or backpacks roaming along the streets without destination every day. They are people without home. Where is the old YMCA replacement. We lost over 100 low-income housing unit few years ago. I can lead you to a free "ARTS TOUR" in Ann Arbor, but you need to promise me, when you see those invisible building arts, "DON"T CRY!"


Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 8:27 a.m.

ArtPrize was a contest inviting artists to apply and, if selected, exhibit. It is not comparable to a permanent installation. How much tourism can be attributed to the Calder piece in Grand Rapids? Why did she not use this comparison? Mike D's "There have been and will always be people in need" statement is very sad for its brutish elitism. There was a wonderful article in the NYT by David Leonhardt that expanded the concept of unemployed to include people who have given up looking for work, people who are working part time and want to be working full time, and people who are underemployed. That expanded concept pegs the rate of unemployment in this country at 17.9%. Who thinks storm drain run-off is something people should be running through? I am still upset that the project costs so much money and the City chose a non-local artist. Why spend a million? Why spend $750,000. Why so much?


Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 8:09 a.m.

are u telling me with all our art students at UM that we can't find a local artist for something? How about you use this money to help the community and stop with this ann arbor the world's best cultural center non-sense....aside from UM grads and ann arborites who have moved abroad...the world really doesn't know anything about ann arbor....stop acting like we're New York, Paris, London. Wake up o spoiled elitists of ann arbor...

Mike D.

Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 8:04 a.m.

Ryan Stanton, do you consider yourself a "journalist?" Because your own bias here is peeking through. Consider the following sentence: "Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on public art at a time when the city is facing serious budget challenges and there are more pressing needs - such as proving food and shelter to the homeless - has raised serious debate recently." If it's your personal opinion that there are "more pressing needs," that's fine, but I don't agree, and it galls me that you state this as fact. There have been and will always be people in need. We set aside money for art, and I am thrilled to have a real municipal art project in the works, not some lame sponsored parking structure mural.