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Posted on Fri, Sep 23, 2011 : 11:15 a.m.

Former chairwoman explains process for approving public art projects in Ann Arbor

By Ryan J. Stanton

Margaret Parker, former chairwoman of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission, responded this week to complaints that it's taking too long for city-funded public art projects to roll out.

Parker, appearing before the Ann Arbor City Council, described to council members what it takes to start up a project. She said planning begins with a capital improvement plan, and each year different projects in the plan are evaluated by the commission.


Margaret Parker, a member of the city's Public Art Commission, made a case for the city's public art program Monday night before the City Council.

Ryan J. Stanton |

The commission analyzes site priorities and places emphasis on choosing a mix of projects, some large, some small, Parker said.

"Last, we look at which projects are going into the construction phase for this year," she said. "Then AAPAC strings together a shovel-ready project."

Parker said there also must be a public art commissioner who will champion the project to completion, and that project goes into the annual public art plan.

After that happens, she said, the commission partners with city departments, sets up a task force for community input and heads into the artist selection process.

Following that process, she said, it still could be months before an artist signs a contract, and it could be months more after that before a finished piece is installed.

"There are many ways that the process could be speeded up, yes," Parker told council members, but she said it'd be a mistake to cut funding for public art.

Parker stepped down as chairwoman this past year but continues to serve on the Public Art Commission, which oversees the city's Percent For Art Program.

Under an ordinance approved by the City Council in 2007, 1 percent of the budget for all city capital projects — up to $250,000 per project — is set aside for public art.

Nearly four years since the launch of the program, more than $2.2 million in city funds have been channeled toward public art.

As of Sept. 1, only a portion of that money had been spent. Nearly $1.7 million remained set aside and waiting to be put toward projects, according to records obtained by

Some council members have complained recently that four years into the program the commission has delivered on just two art installations: a $750,000 sculpture being installed in front of city hall (somewhere north of $400,000 has been spent so far), and a $15,000 installation in West Park that included two orange-colored tree sculptures.

However, many other projects are being planned, including an installation inside the lobby of the Justice Center building and at the site of the proposed Fuller Road Station.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's e-mail newsletters.


Elaine F. Owsley

Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 1:39 p.m.

The whole process is like Nero fiddling while Rome burned. There should be a listing of those who voted for this particular project - and the spending of three times the stated limit - so we know who is responsible for the bad taste in art and the expenditure of public funds.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 9:06 p.m.

quote: "Public "art" is an elitist concept. It has absolutely no appeal to the vast majority of the public." -- So we should adopt the Race for the Bottom across the board then?! And what about the Elitism which says that corporatism should be the source of all money, all sustenance, all rules, all esthetics and all politics? Shouldn't this be the center of our concern over elitism? Art History: is the history of the few ensuring that the esthetic life of a city does not get decided by the "vast majority" of gas station attendants, store greeters and office cubicle workers. No civilization or city ever collapsed due to excessive spending on art. Quite a few cities have collapsed or been conquered when the "vast majority" started spending their own money on circuses (today, it's such things as "reality shows") and were tearing down municipal edifices to build stone shacks.


Sat, Sep 24, 2011 : 1:38 p.m.

Thank you 'Ron Granger' and 'G'. I am amazed that so many people are anti-art. A few days ago someone noted the Chicago public being against Millennium Park. No the public clamors to get in! 1% for art is a worthy goal. Perhaps in these times it should be .5%?? Maybe the choices of art (orange trees?) should be better? Remember that during the Depression the gov't created the WPA art program. We are still benefitting from those great works of art!


Sat, Sep 24, 2011 : 11:42 a.m.

I think the issues can be summarized as follows: - too much money, in total, is being spent on art - taking a percentage of projects that aren't a new building or a major modification to an existing bldg is inappropriate - the definition of "art" is in dispute - the program should be reduced from 1% AND a time limit put on the spending of funds AND a max for the total uncommitted funds in the account AND don't count project dollars that come from outside taxes (bridge paid for by fed or state dollars doesn't count) - make entire process more transparent


Sat, Sep 24, 2011 : 6:08 a.m.

The preponderance of the voting confirms my lifelong experience with Michiganders... their view of "art" is that it is irrelavant to their own lives. That's a real shame. If an artwork is planned well, a good portion of the money required to make it can be pumped right back into the local economy in the form of construction labor, technical support, and vendors of materials. If an artwork involves public input, there can be some real buy-in on the part of the public. It can reflect local values, a local sense of humor... it can be used to change people's behavior (search "fun theory" on youtube)... and it can give visitors a fond memory to take with them to other places. It can even impress people enough with the spirit of an area that they want to invest in it. It's reasonable for the public to demand an accounting for how the money has been spent. And any project should be reviewed after the fact to see how well it adhered to the original plan, as well as to identify any unexpected benefits or consequences of the project. Publicly funded artwork should be at least partly an investment in the economy of the public who paid for it. But THIS public appears to be divided between those for whom artwork is an almost religious devotion requiring no proof of its value, and those who are certain it has none.

Hot Sam

Sat, Sep 24, 2011 : 1:55 a.m.

It used to be "the rich" that would donate or commission public they've figured out how to get the rest of us to pay for it while whining about the rich getting richer...

Ron Granger

Fri, Sep 23, 2011 : 7:23 p.m.

There will *never* be enough money for infrastructure. There will *always* be potholes. There will *always* be problems of serious crime - rape, murder, etc. By the logic some espouse, we should sell all our park land to fund those needs. If we put the art funds back into the regular budget, you wouldn't notice the impact. We'd still have all of those things on that list. I don't think it would make the slightest dent. Public art is important, just as parks are. They are not luxuries. Free, donated art is nice, but it is difficult to get even good art that way. Great art has value, and artists should be paid. The University should also contribute to the art fund; they've certainly forced more than their share of incredibly ugly architecture on this town. The art program has been poorly managed, lacks transparency, and has made questionable decisions on selection of art. It needs management changes and public participation and *input* on the art. The commission has treated the public requirement of their charter as a mere formality, and even questioned whether they need to allow input (it's in the minutes, read them).


Sat, Sep 24, 2011 : 4:59 a.m.

What a sane summary of this situation! Nice job Mr. Granger.

Ron Granger

Fri, Sep 23, 2011 : 7:21 p.m.

"However, many other projects are being planned, including an installation inside the lobby of the Justice Center building and at the site of the proposed Fuller Road Station." How absolutely pathetic that after four years, of the two completed projects, one is part of the city hall/courthouse - a place where nobody wants to go (and the public did not want to build). And the third will be inside that very same city hall/courthouse. And then we are supposed to be consoled that the fourth will be inside a University of Michigan parking structure, on what many feel is stolen public park land. As a strong supporter of publicly funded art, I pale to think that is what you have accomplished in four years.

David Cahill

Fri, Sep 23, 2011 : 6:17 p.m.

According to this article's embedded poll so far, 78% don't want to see any more public art. Parker should see the handwriting on the wall. "Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin."


Fri, Sep 23, 2011 : 4:47 p.m.

"However, many other projects are being planned, including an installation inside the lobby of the Justice Center building and at the site of the proposed Fuller Road Station." So in their defense, they highlight the following: 1.) spending more art money at the Justice Center, on top of the $750,000 fountain project. So at this point about 98-99% of the art fund money being spent is at only one location in town, at the Justice Center. 2.) planning for the "proposed" Fuller Road Station, a project that has yet to be approved by city council and if approved is still years away from completion. By then, there will be another $1 million or so accumulated within the fund. If this is the current pipeline of projects, then something is definately wrong with the whole process - funding, planning, etc.


Fri, Sep 23, 2011 : 4:39 p.m.

What has been left out of the process is "taxpayer approval".

Ashok Gopalakrishnan

Fri, Sep 23, 2011 : 4:31 p.m.

For those of us wondering about the legality of the Percent for Arts program, this piece by Ms. Vivenne Armentrout: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> serves as an excellent summary. You will notice that money we pay to the city for providing us with water, sewer and storm-water services also contribute to the Percent for Art program. The money we pay is for services received. The city cannot take a portion of that fees, and divert it to a special fund for art. If the city did not really need the money to provide us with water, then it has to reduce our fees, not divert the excess into what I would call a slush fund. The AAPAC published its annual report some time ago. There is one section in that report about donations of public art to the city. This statement is telling: &quot;No donations of artwork were offered or accepted this fiscal year.&quot; Did the AAPAC go out and actively solicit donations of art from private citizens or businesses? I guess there is no need to, when there is a citizen-funded, no-questions-asked source of money available. The matter can be resolved very simply: ask A2 citizens to vote on the 1% ordinance, and do what they say.

Craig Lounsbury

Fri, Sep 23, 2011 : 4:29 p.m.

Given that &quot;art&quot; is subjective/in the eye of the beholder I would bet there is no shortage of &quot;volunteer&quot; artists who's work would suit my eye &quot;discerning&quot; eye. I've got stuff my kids did in elementary school that looks mighty &quot;picasso-esque&quot;


Fri, Sep 23, 2011 : 4:22 p.m.

Thank goodness we have &quot;One Party&quot; rule in the Workers Paradise! That's why we have 1% of our taxes spent on Public Art. We could do a lot better using &quot;Local Artist&quot; and like our food isn't local better and &quot;GREENER&quot; (Both saving the earth and money wise)

John A2

Fri, Sep 23, 2011 : 4:09 p.m.

Down with the city's Public Arts Commission, we just don't have the finances.

John A2

Fri, Sep 23, 2011 : 4:02 p.m.

UM, are we paying this woman to uselessly spend our money? I hope not! This mismanagement is already causing negative problems across the board. I would rather have a few more cops on payroll then have a meaningless statue somewhere. Lets get our priorities in line here counsel. I don't want to pay someone $100,000.00+ annually to spend money we shouldn't have to spend.

Bertha Venation

Fri, Sep 23, 2011 : 8:52 p.m.

Bless you, John. I think just about all of us agree with you (at least I know I sure do)!!


Fri, Sep 23, 2011 : 3:58 p.m.

Public &quot;art&quot; is an elitist concept. It has absolutely no appeal to the vast majority of the public. If the city paid 15K for the two pieces of junk called tree sculptures, shame on them. The fact that the city council enacted the ordinance paying for art without letting the public vote on it just indicates their arrogance in thinking they need to dictate to the public because they know best what is good for the public. Their decision to divert funds from millages is illegal and I would hope they would all be prosecuted. They fact that the council defends it indicates their contempt for the voters.

Bertha Venation

Fri, Sep 23, 2011 : 8:51 p.m.

Elitist is right. I say we vote out our &quot;Elitist&quot; City Council AND mayor!!

John A2

Fri, Sep 23, 2011 : 4:06 p.m.

I agree whole heatedly.

Craig Lounsbury

Fri, Sep 23, 2011 : 3:41 p.m.

For a significant number of us (going out on a limb with &quot;us&quot;) the problem isn't how the process works...the problem is that the process exists.

Bertha Venation

Fri, Sep 23, 2011 : 8:50 p.m.

AMEN to THAT, my brother!


Fri, Sep 23, 2011 : 3:38 p.m.

Under an ordinance approved by the City Council in 2007, 1 percent of the budget for all city capital projects — up to $250,000 per project — is set aside for public art. you got to be kidding $250,000 PER project. time's are bad, people are not working or watching the family money. yet we spend up to $250,000 (a quarter of a mil) on an art project. now i know why the idle law is pending, the crosswalk is approved. we need money to pay for the projects. we also do not do leaf pickup. we charge home owners to repair sidewalks. we cut police and fireman. i think we have a bunch of people living in the past. money is tight people.


Fri, Sep 23, 2011 : 6:11 p.m.

Mort, It's worse than you realize. The $250,000 refers to the limit on the amount from any one project that can be set aside for public art. There appears to be no limit on the amount spent on any single piece of art--thus the $750,000 price tag for the Dreiseitl project.


Fri, Sep 23, 2011 : 3:34 p.m.

They should remove the ordnance and not spend a cent on this until the financial health of the city improves. The 1% is a unbelievable waste of money that serves almost none of the tax payers.