German artist's public art proposal to come back before Ann Arbor City Council
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 AnnArbor.com. Reach him at email@example.com or 724-623-2529.