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Posted on Wed, Sep 26, 2012 : 1:07 p.m.

9 questions and answers about Ann Arbor's proposed tax for art in public places

By Ryan J. Stanton

One of several ballot proposals Ann Arbor residents will vote on Nov. 6 is a question of whether the city should have a dedicated millage to fund art in public places.

City Council Member Christopher Taylor, D-3rd Ward, has been busy fielding questions about the proposal since he first introduced it last month.

It will appear on the ballot as Proposal B. If approved, the city will levy a new 0.1-mill tax to pay for public art the next four years, raising an estimated $459,273 in the first year.


City Council Member Christopher Taylor, D-3rd Ward, brought forward the proposal for a 0.1-mill tax for art in public places.

Ryan J. Stanton |

That could pay 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.

Putting the controversial issue of public art to a public vote is a move endorsed by both supporters and critics of the city's current Percent For Art Program, and was unanimously supported by the City Council.

The current program, which siphons off a percent of the money the city spends on capital projects to pay for art, would be replaced with a new millage-funded public art program if voters approve Proposal B.

The tax would cost the owner a $200,000 home about $10 a year. Taylor says the tax has been endorsed by prominent Democrats, Republicans and business leaders.

A campaign committee called Citizens For Art In Public Places formed on Aug. 28 . The group has launched a website at and is actively campaigning now.

So far, no formal opposition has come out against the proposal, but many people still have questions about its implications. In his most recent email newsletter, Taylor took a stab at answering some of them. Here are his answers to nine questions posed by residents.

Q1: Will the Proposal B support regular arts organizations?

No. Proposal B will not provide operating funds to arts organizations such as UMS, the Michigan Theatre, the Performance Network, or The Ark. These organizations (plus so many others!) are tremendous assets to our community and they will still need your support!

Q2: What sort of art would Proposal B fund? Proposal B will only fund art in public places — sculptures, murals, temporary installations, and performance art.

Q3: If Proposal B passes, what can I expect to see? What will change?

Proposal B will eliminate the current obligation to link art with capital projects and so the city will be able to place public art where it makes sense, based on public benefit alone. In other words, you should see a greater amount and diversity of art in Ann Arbor.

Q4: Will passage of millage decrease Police/Fire funding?

No. There is no connection whatsoever between Police/Fire funding and the Arts in Public Places millage.

Q5: I know that Proposal B will cost the average homeowner less than $1/month. Will this amount be increased?

No. Any increase to the millage would require a new vote of the people.

Q6: How will the city decide what projects to fund?

The Public Art Commission will work with the City Council to develop guidelines to allocate funds between permanent art, temporary art, and performance art in public places. It could be 33/33/33 or 100/0/0 — the decision making can't begin until Proposal B passes. Have an opinion — let me know and get involved!

Q7: What will happen to the One Percent for Art program if Proposal B passes?

Proposal B suspends One Percent for Art funding during the term of the millage.

Q8: What will happen to the One Percent for Art program if Proposal B fails?

Nothing immediately, although I suspect that there would be an effort on City Council to terminate the program.

Q9: Why didn’t Council suspend the One Percent for Art program before the vote in November?

Reasonable minds can differ on this issue. For my part, I had several residents speak out against the millage, but in favor of the One Percent for Art program. This response from constituents led me to believe that it is too simplistic to say that opposition to the millage absolutely equates with opposition to funding art in public places.

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.



Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 12:46 a.m.

While I appreciate having art in Ann Arbor, there are other things that I'd prioritize over NEW art - like going back to having leaf pick-up!

Snarf Oscar Boondoggle

Sat, Sep 29, 2012 : 1:44 a.m. (didn;t seea ny video ... the text is informative though)

Let me be Frank

Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 11:37 p.m.

For those interested in public art, let them form an organization (501c3) and go on a fund raising campaign so that those who willing to put THEIR money where their value are can donate accordingly. Let's get off the kick that art is a governmental function -- security and city services are what we pay our taxes for, not for these foo-foo items.


Thu, Sep 27, 2012 : 8:34 p.m.

Is this for real? With all of the needs the city has? It will probably pass, just like the greenbelt millage............

david singsank

Thu, Sep 27, 2012 : 3:45 p.m.

Why .1 %? I would certainly think plenty of 'art' can be purchased and displayed for $200,000 EACH year. Why do we have to spend nearly $500,000 per year. There are plenty of other places residents and the city can spend their hard earned dollars.


Thu, Sep 27, 2012 : 10:58 a.m.

Citizens for Art in Public Places may want to contact Ken Thompson, Flatlanders Art in Riga, MI, to inquire about the Midwest Sculpture Initiative for opportunities to display the art of midwest sculptors/artisans in public venues - already in many midwest cities............


Thu, Sep 27, 2012 : 3:49 a.m.

Makes no difference in whether or not we WANT to support the art fund for the enjoyment of public employees who have the main access to it..........we're going to pay for it one way or the other. What a waste of time and taxpayer dough. and you democrats call this democracy? Give me a break. It's a "Democon".


Thu, Sep 27, 2012 : 1:28 a.m.

i am finally glade i can vote on this subject. ART is one of the biggest jokes in the city. i am going to vote no and finally get my say. if you do not agree with me that is you choice. i will not change my mind no matter what> they have a mil still in the savings.


Thu, Sep 27, 2012 : 1:09 a.m.

It's important that all the supporters of public art think about what they have done with the money they've gotten: - Amassed a large sum and sat on it for a long time - Increased the staff of the Art Commission (they are paid with tax dollars) - Put two big orange metal trees in some park - Paid 3/4 of a million dollars for that girder thing that looks like it doesn't work right when it DOES work (which is seldom), and by the way, just saw it in all its blue-light glory tonight, and my Lord, that looks SO chinsy and awful. - Are putting a $150,000 INSIDE City Hall, where people only go to either be judged in court or pay tickets, and when they DO go, have to remove metal objects and be security screened. That's Public Art, apparently And I could be wrong, but I think that's about it. THIS IS NOT A VOTE ABOUT WHETHER ART IS IMPORTANT. IT'S A VOTE ABOUT WHETHER THEY SHOULD BE THE ONES TO TAKE YOUR MONEY AND DECIDE WHAT PUBLIC ART IS. Do yourself AND Art a favor; vote no on this so we can hopefully focus on solving the 1% problem.


Thu, Sep 27, 2012 : 11:07 a.m.

The artwork is being put where you DO have to get screened; whatever the name of that place is. The one that they said they needed to spend $154 million building because the older city hall was unusable, and now they're refurbishing and using the old one in addition anyway. And spending more money to make it look like the new one. And spending money fixing the problems they said they couldn't fix before and that's why they needed the new one. The art is going in the same one that has the $750,000 nonworking fountain outside of it. So you see the fountain art, then put your cellphone and keys in a locker and get screened to go see the other art in that building. Is that clear?

laura wolf

Thu, Sep 27, 2012 : 1:38 a.m.

you don't have to go through any screening to go in city hall, you just walk in. try it out sometime. if you go in the 'justice center' you go through the screener. don't know exactly where the artwork you're refering to is.


Thu, Sep 27, 2012 : 12:18 a.m.

I would like to have a better understanding of how the decisions are being made for the purchase of public art. There are so many artists in our region that I think there is no reason to look outside of Michigan for proposals. That way the funds will be going back into our region -- not to Germany.

Christopher Taylor

Wed, Sep 26, 2012 : 11:09 p.m.

Thanks for the conversation. I appreciate the questions. @Brad – I understand your concern here, but state law requires that ballot questions be single purpose. We can't ask IF THEN questions. @ Bcar – See above. @ Veracity – The Public Art Commission merely recommends; Council ultimately decides whether or not to purchase a piece of public art. This process, and the many public meetings held by the Art Commission in the ramp up to a recommendation and Council in ramp up to a decision, provides interested members of the public many opportunities to have their voices heard. @ Elaine – See above for the process. The Justice Center art was not made overseas; it was made in Michigan. Of the $750K, approximately $600K went to Michigan fabricators, designers, and engineers. @ Ron – I'm glad you raised this issue. Millage money could only be spent on actual art in public places; not parties, special events, or art fair promotion. If you support public art, I recommend a vote Yes!

Ron Granger

Wed, Sep 26, 2012 : 8:19 p.m.

The new program will allow "art money" to be spent on temporary activities like parties and special events. That includes promotion of art fair, etc. Are birthday cakes artistic? Well, some would say they qualify for funding under the ballot measure. I support the current one percent for art program, but not this willy-nilly expansion.


Wed, Sep 26, 2012 : 10:13 p.m.

At least we agree that the willy-nilly already outside City Hall should not be expanded ;)


Wed, Sep 26, 2012 : 8:01 p.m.

" is too simplistic to say that opposition to the millage absolutely equates with opposition to funding art in public places." So if you're in favor of the 1% budget allocation, vote no. If you're opposed to public funding, vote no. If you're in favor of not supporting non-profit art institutions, vote yes. If you don't like the 1% budget allocation, vote yes. Whatever the results of the vote, anyone and everyone will be able to interpret whatever they want from that point. And if the millage fails, Council eliminate the 1% budget allocation. Meaning, what, now?

Roger Rayle

Wed, Sep 26, 2012 : 7:40 p.m.

Learn more about this issue at Thursday night's Concentrate Speaker Event: Art In Public Places WHEN : Thursday, September 27, 2012, 4:30-6:30pm WHERE: Conor O'Neill's in downtown Ann Arbor (318 South Main Street) WHO: The event is free ... but seating is limited so RSVP at the link above. I think there is still room to come and participate in person but if not, I'll be live video streaming it on There should be some lively discussion, but I'll be there as an impartial observer since I don't live within the City limits.


Thu, Sep 27, 2012 : 3:59 p.m.

Oh great a buch of intoxicated people deciding how to spend money they don't have, what could go wrong here.

Vivienne Armentrout

Thu, Sep 27, 2012 : 2:42 a.m.

Thanks for doing those videos, Roger. I've noticed that you were there on other occasions.


Wed, Sep 26, 2012 : 7:28 p.m.

Ok....I need some money so I think I'll become a bookie.I'll give some good odds it doesn't pass.I'll keep the juice low


Wed, Sep 26, 2012 : 7:28 p.m.

I love art as much as the next person, but this is a question of priorities. With all of the unfunded mandates this city is obligated to pay and shrinking tax revenue due to UM buying up buildings and properties, why are we having this discussion now? 1% isn't the issue. That's not too burdensome. But 1% here and 1% there begins to add up. The issue is whether our city council actually understands the gravity of the pressing budgetary issues we collectively face. Spending an inordinate amount of time thinking of ways to require citizens to cough up more of their money for an art initiative at this particular time, tells me the answer is 'no'.

Elaine F. Owsley

Wed, Sep 26, 2012 : 7:19 p.m.

And then, before they buy another $750,000 foreign made washboard, they should let the tax payers vote on the actual art.


Wed, Sep 26, 2012 : 6:54 p.m.

I am against the Mayor's select group of nine commissioners having the power to pay for art which I and, possibly, the majority of Ann Arbor tax payers do not enjoy, such as the poorly functioning, undersized and unattractive Dreiseitl water sculpture (or rusty beam as I prefer to call it) that cost $770,000. I am not looking forward to the $150,000 chandelier which excited commissioners decided to hang in the foyer of the Municipal Building. Ann Arborites who worship outdoor art can find plenty scattered throughout the University of Michigan campus and which is cataloged (see Most of the art has been donated. Though I would appreciate no tax payer money being used to create a private art collection for the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission and the Mayor, the millage may be the lesser evil as less money will be collected than will be siphoned off capital project funds. If rejecting the art millage proposal will mean that City Council will terminate the 1% for arts from capital funds then I would definitely encourage defeating the millage proposal.


Wed, Sep 26, 2012 : 6:17 p.m.

How about we get to vote on this AND the 1% for art, that way anyone with a logical mind can VOTE NO on both! NO NEW TAXES!!

Billy Bob Schwartz

Wed, Sep 26, 2012 : 8:37 p.m.

Isn't the 1% and already existing tax? I always thought that new meant, well, new.


Wed, Sep 26, 2012 : 5:38 p.m.

$1 per month? Why do they even question it. Just do it.


Thu, Sep 27, 2012 : 1:04 a.m.

City Council WILL love him? With an attitude like that, I suspect he IS on City Council.


Wed, Sep 26, 2012 : 6:15 p.m.

Wow, city council will love you! Its death by 1,000 cuts with this group. They have us go to the polls for $1 / month here, $10 per month there, and pretty soon your tax bill has doubled ... for every year going forward and don't expect it to go down. Your attitude is very reckless.


Wed, Sep 26, 2012 : 5:38 p.m.

It's really inaccurate to say that this is "Putting the controversial issue of public art to a public vote ". What is being put to a vote is a choice between two ways of funding "the controversial issue of public art ". If the millage is voted down all we're left with is a half-hearted "I suspect that there would be an effort on City Council to terminate the program". Not all that convincing. I have an idea. Maybe Mr. Taylor should introduce a council resolution stating that in the interest of providing the citizens/taxpayers with a REAL choice it would be their intention to quickly terminate the "1%" ordinance should the millage be defeated. We deserve a REAL choice.


Wed, Sep 26, 2012 : 9:03 p.m.

If their lips start moving, don't believe a word that they say. Taxes will still go up. Personal agendas will still be chased.


Wed, Sep 26, 2012 : 6:20 p.m.

Exactly Brad. What do you bet that if this new millage is passed they will redirect the 1% to another pet project. Yup, peal something out of the general budget, pass a special millage for it, then use the general funds for something else. The city council MO is "how many different ways can we go after the taxpayers' wallets".

Brian Kuehn

Wed, Sep 26, 2012 : 6:11 p.m.

Well said. The millage vote should serve as a referendum on the "1%" ordinance.

Jill DeYoe

Wed, Sep 26, 2012 : 5:29 p.m.

It's a matter of what art Ann Arbor determines it should fund. I support some art, especially that which distinguishes Ann Arbor as a contemporary, conscientious, idea-challenging, out-of-the-box-thinking town, but I have zero interest in supporting decorative, civic, architecture-complementing, palliative corporate art. When I think of good public art that distinguishes cities, art that people might visit for its own sake, nothing in Ann Arbor excites me in the least. The spinning cube, of which there are so many now world wide that it's a kind of a cliche, is nonetheless Ann Arbor's most stimulating public artwork. Knowing that these tax dollars will probably go toward safe, boring projects, I say no. Get some challenging and exciting works under review and present those in anticipation of tax funds for same . . .