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, Nov 6, 2012 : 10:30 p.m.

Final verdict: Ann Arbor voters not in favor of public art millage

By Ryan J. Stanton

This story has been updated.

Only 44.1 percent of Ann Arbor voters were willing to tax themselves to pay for more public art. Voters rejected the city's public art millage on Tuesday by a final vote count of 28,166-22,254.


Mark Tucker, creator of the annual FestiFools event in Ann Arbor, campaigns for the city's public art millage outside Tappan Middle School on Tuesday morning wearing a giant head that will be featured in the next FestiFools parade on April 7, 2013. A dedicated public art tax would be able to fund events like FestiFools.

Photo by Trish Meyer

If approved, the 0.1-mill tax for art in public places would have lasted four years. The city estimates it would have cost the average property owner less than $1 per month and raised $459,273 in the first year.

That could have paid for new public murals, sculptures and temporary installations in public places, and possibly even events like FestiFools, the city's annual parade of foolish puppets on Main Street.

City Council Member Christopher Taylor, D-3rd Ward, sponsored putting the proposed tax before voters and had unanimous support from fellow council members on it.

Critics of the proposal argued it didn't give Ann Arbor voters a true choice on whether to fund public art. Rather, it was a choice between continuing to pay for public art through the current funding program or having a dedicated millage for art in public places.

The city's controversial Percent for Art Program, which has been the subject of intense debate over the last few years, remains in place now that the millage has failed.

One of the reasons the current program has been controversial is because it has diverted more than $2 million away from various city funds — including the water and sewer utilities and the streets and parks millages — to pay for art projects like the sculpture that now stands in front of city hall.

The program also has left the city's Public Art Commission with its hands tied — able to spend the revenues only on permanent art installations that somehow relate to the source of the funds.

Having a dedicated millage specifically for art — something critics of the city's public art program have been calling for — would have allowed more flexibility in what can be funded.

Mayor John Hieftje said Tuesday night he wants to reassess the city's efforts around public art after the defeat of the millage.

"The voters spoke on that one and I can understand why and what their feelings were," he said. "I think we'll need to take another look at art. There's going to have to be a conversation at City Council about how we can continue to be one of the leading cities in the state when it comes to art."

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 email newsletters.



Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 2:28 a.m.

Those that supported it might consider sending a check.


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 8:45 p.m.

The proposal to fund public art was ill timed given the numerous other proposals and ballot initiatives presented to the voters. Public art and funding for public art is important. Based on the discussions around this issue whether public art should remain an integral component in a thriving downtown or else where within the county does not appear to be the primary concern. How to properly fund a public art initiative warrants further discussion. The Percent for Art Program is not adequate and is far too restrictive to remain viable. A dedicated millage to fund public art or some other financial method that provides sufficient funds to further public art initiatives are beneficial to the community. Certainly $12/year is a pittance when compared with the potential benefit that adds aesthetic quality to the community and creates opportunities for more local and regional artists. There will always be "more important things" that need funding but the cost to taxpayers to fund this initiative was really very minimal. I think the real problem is everyone likes to be an art critic. It may not have been a wise use of funds to expend $700,000 on a water fountain, but focus the discussion on how to make the process better and more inclusive to get desired results rather than dismissing funding public art altogether.


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 11:59 a.m.

Ann Arbor has many viewable art objects and the University of Michigan has an extensive and superb collection of public art outdoors that is fully cataloged at the following website: The defeat of the art millage is also a referendum against the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission (AAPAC) whose members were appointed by the mayor and are mostly not art experts. Among the AAPAC's lesser accomplishments is paying German artist, Henry Dreiseitl, $70,000 to construct a $700,000 water sculpture in front of the Municipal Building that did not function for a year and is considered unattractive by many Ann Arbor citizens. In another effort, an exorbitant $150,000 chandelier is intended to be hung from the atrium ceiling of the Municipal Building where few will view it and even fewer will be impressed. Soon the AAPAC will also add art near the new Stadium bridges which will be seen briefly as drivers pass by and by small numbers of pedestrians. The AAPAC can not be trusted to select art that will be popular to the tax payers and seems disinclined to encourage local artists. Also, only art that costs six figures is considered worthy of consideration by the AAPAC. The defeat of the art millage is also a no confidence vote for the Mayor's AAPAC. City Council will do well to heed the message sent by voters and dissolve the AAPAC.


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 3:23 a.m.

The art fund is a point of contention with unions, in particular, firefighters who have taken cuts while forced to watch 750,000 dollars spent on a piece of useless crap fountain that continues to cost money to try to get it to work. I don't blame firefighters, but to slyly try to roll the cost inbto a millage is really devious government. By the way, was that non-working fountain built with union labor?

Wolf's Bane

Wed, Nov 7, 2012 : 4:38 p.m.

Thank goodness this was rejected. Use the money for something more important and stop pretending to be Chicago. Thank you. A2 has voted.


Wed, Nov 7, 2012 : 11:41 p.m.

Actually, one of the coolest pieces of public art in Chicago is that Cloud Gate thing (the big silver bean) that toursists always take lots of pictures of. A magnificent structure, totally cool, very expensive (although pound for pound, and coolness for coolness, nowhere even CLOSE to as expensive as our ridiculous fountain) and NOT PAID FOR WITH TAXES. So in terms of public art, we could probably do with being a little MORE like Chicago.


Wed, Nov 7, 2012 : 3:24 p.m.

yes you are right. better talk about art and how it is used, funded and spent. i am sorry but we all talk about tough times. tough times means we look at what is necessary and what is a luxury. my onion is that art falls in the later group. we sure do have better use for our money than art. sorry art people but this is the real world. we have other stuff that need help. if i had a choice i sure would put art as one of the lowest thing to think about. streets and crosswalk lights that have not yet been put up is one of them. the lights might save a person life. art does not even come close to saving a person life. so it is a no brainier.


Wed, Nov 7, 2012 : 12:57 p.m.

come on you got a mil in the bank that is enough. matter in fact that is a mil to much!


Wed, Nov 7, 2012 : 12:41 p.m.

Hopefully, Council will not misinterpret this result: residents have said 'no' to an open checkbook for pet projects in Ann Arbor. Both the millage for art and the one for the downtown library building demolition and reconstruction represent spending ideas outside the core of services. It isn't that the community doesn't value public art or libraries, but rather that we value those things hand-in-hand with fiscal sensibility. These results provide a guide to Council about the existing 1% budget allocation for art, the monorail dream, a new Grand Central rail station and so on. We have to make real choices -- real decisions -- about a prudent and responsible course going forward, so that we can have a vibrant community and be able to afford to live in it.

Mike K

Wed, Nov 7, 2012 : 2:02 p.m.

Christian - in as much as I appreciate your comments, our city can be greatly approved not necessarily by art, but by maintaining grounds and landscaping. For example, kill the darn weeds and grass growing in the cracks of concrete throughout the city....... Plant some flowering trees... Beautification needn't be art.

Christian Ward

Wed, Nov 7, 2012 : 1:10 p.m.

Thoughtful commentary on this proposal. It is a mess to mix funds dedicated to infrastructure, roads and parks with public art projects. One thing that some commentators seem to forget is that art in public spaces makes Ann Arbor a more desirable place to live, work and shop. You can't have roads with potholes, decrepit parks, and citizens without basic services. I'd say you also shouldn't have streets devoid of any art. Ann Arbor is a beautiful city. Take away art in public spaces and it's just another rust belt town.


Wed, Nov 7, 2012 : 12:35 p.m.

Dear Hieftje, et al, In case you didn't understand the vote: The citizens don't want your crappy public art, or diversions from dedicated millage funds. Here's a helpful hint: Use "artfully" misappropriated dedicated stormwater funds to fix the neighborhood flooding problems around town. If you fail to understand, then you've obviously been basking in the sun beneath one of your shadeless west park trees far too long. The trees may not be shady, but your policy of misappropriating dedicated millage funds is. Stop this folly! Restore the funds to dedicated purposes now.

Alan Goldsmith

Wed, Nov 7, 2012 : 12:08 p.m.

"Mayor John Hieftje said Tuesday night he wants to reassess the city's efforts around public art after the defeat of the millage. "The voters spoke on that one and I can understand why and what their feelings were," he said. "I think we'll need to take another look at art. There's going to have to be a conversation at City Council about how we can continue to be one of the leading cities in the state when it comes to art."" Thank you Mr. Mayor for calling people who opposed the giant ugly water fountain you rammed down our throats 'haters'. You personally are probably responsible for making the 'art' issue a political one (along with your hand picked reps on the AA Public Arts Commission) and creating the backlash that resulted in this millage defeat. In a City as progressive as Ann Arbor, that was quite an accomplishment.


Wed, Nov 7, 2012 : 11:30 a.m.

I don't have a problem with public art. But seriously, the mayor and city council think that it can't be art unless it is patently offense to the eye. Any "art" they sponsor is only going to make our beautiful city one step closer to ugly.


Wed, Nov 7, 2012 : 11:28 a.m.

Don't forget that our job's not done with voting down the Public Art millage; this just means they will CONTINUE to skim our property tax dollars meant for other purposes and use it (badly and at great expense) for public art. Step 2 is making them aware of the fact that we don't want them using our money meant for services, etc. for what their expanding commission considers Art (e.g. sculptures inside a building people only go to to pay tickets, be judged for crimes, etc.) and small yet mindbogglingly expensive fountains outside government buildings that look like they're broken when they're working, and that's not often).


Wed, Nov 7, 2012 : 8:52 a.m.

The mayor and city council will still continue to siphon money from other buckets and spend it on art. The failure to pass this millage proposal did nothing for the AA voters on deciding whether to spend tax money on art or not - and if so, how much. A lot of wasted time and effort if you ask me.


Wed, Nov 7, 2012 : 8:01 a.m.

We have more important things that need funding in our city more then public art.