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Posted on Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Majority of Ann Arbor City Council members back temporary public art funding reductions

By Ryan J. Stanton

The Ann Arbor City Council took the first step toward scaling back the city's public art program Monday night, giving initial approval to a 50 precent reduction in funding levels.

Following a two-hour debate and a public comment period during which several public art supporters spoke, the council voted 8-3 in favor of the cuts to the Percent For Art Program.

Even council members who've defended the program in the past, including Mayor John Hieftje, went along with Council Member Sabra Briere's proposal, saying the public art fund has a healthy balance built up and slowing the accumulations for a while won't hurt.

The city pays for public art through the Percent For Art Program. Under the ordinance approved by the City Council in 2007, 1 percent of the budget for all city capital projects — up to a limit of $250,000 per project — is set aside in a special public art fund.


This newly installed sculpture in front of Ann Arbor's city hall is one of two major projects funded under the Percent For Art Program, which is coming under close scrutiny.

Angela J. Cesere |

Even at 1 percent, more than $2.2 million in city capital dollars have been channeled toward public art in the last four years, much of it remaining unspent, city records show.

The council gave initial approval Monday to make it so only a half-percent of the budget for all capital projects would go to public art over the next three fiscal years, starting July 1, 2012.

Total city spending across all funds is $314 million this year, and $334,660 of that is going to public art, according to city records. If capital project spending continued at the same rate next year, a 50 percent cutback means $167,330 still would go to public art.

The half-percent proposal came from Briere, D-1st Ward, who also won approval for other changes to the public art ordinance that await final approval next month.

The council rejected proposals from 2nd Ward Council Member Jane Lumm, who wanted to reduce funding for public art to a quarter-percent. The only council member to go along with Lumm was Stephen Kunselman, D-3rd Ward.

Kunselman also was the only council member to back Lumm on her proposal to make it so the public art funding wouldn't automatically revert back to 1 percent after three years. That's the current plan and that's a major selling point for Hieftje and other council members supporting the temporary cuts.

The only three who voted against the cuts were Council Members Tony Derezinski, Margie Teall and Mike Anglin. All three want to continue funding at 1 percent.

Before the 8-3 vote, Council Member Carsten Hohnke, D-5th Ward, made an attempt to keep the funding level at 1 percent — while still favoring other changes to the public art ordinance that Briere proposed — but only Derezinski, Teall and Anglin backed him.

Briere's other ordinance changes also would make it so routine maintenance and repair of sidewalks would not qualify as capital projects that contribute toward public art.

The changes also would make it so no general fund dollars could go toward public art starting July 1. Also, any dollars placed in the public art fund starting July 1 would return to the fund of origination if not allocated to a specific art project within three years.

Briere stressed that she's not against public art — she just has concerns about the city's mechanism for funding it.

"Public art is something that many of us embrace, we enjoy, we endorse, and we absolutely believe that there are different ways to fund that art," Briere said.

Briere said the city has undertaken a number of large capital improvement projects in the last four years that have put aside "a great deal of money" into the public art fund.

"And we are a little surprised at that accumulation of dollars," she said. "I would like to see that, in the next three years, that accumulation decreases."

Lumm agreed, saying she supports public art, but in challenging economic times, it's fair to question the diversion of those "scarce capital dollars."

Derezinski and Teall argued it was disingenuous for Lumm and Briere to say they support public art while at the same time proposing cuts in funding.

"The funding is intimately tied into what your value of that thing is," Derezinski said, noting this is the third time since he's been on council that attacks were made on public art.


Council Member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, is the sponsor of the changes to the city's public art ordinance that would reduce funding levels for three years.

File photo |

Kunselman suggested Teall and Derezinski were being hypocritical, pointing out they and others on council have said they support public safety yet voted to cut funding for police and fire.

In addition to Hieftje, Briere, Kunselman, Lumm, and Hohnke, the other three who voted for the cuts to public art Monday were Marcia Higgins, Sandi Smith and Christopher Taylor.

Taylor, D-3rd Ward, said he thinks the art fund is "flush" and there's more money than public art commissioners can even process given their current resources.

"In three years time, we can perhaps — with the 1 percent coming back online — fully fund a revitalized, efficient, appropriately staffed Public Art Commission," he said.

One of the speakers who addressed council in support of public art was Mark Tucker, who teaches art at the University of Michigan. He showed up wearing a suit and hat, both brightly painted different colors, and said he was prepared to make a fool of himself.

"If you could think of me as art for a moment, I'd appreciate it," he told council members, going on to reference The Heidelberg Project, a famous art project in Detroit created by artist Tyree Guyton, who painted a series of houses on Heidelberg Street with bright colors.

"One tourist stopped and asked Tyree why he painted large, colored, polka dots all over one of the houses," Tucker said. "And he responded, 'Why do you paint your house beige?'"

Hinting at removing pieces of his artistic garb, Tucker went on to tell council members he was willing to demonstrate what a half-percent for public art would look like.

"I'm just not sure which half," he said, drawing laughs. "Yes, embarrassing for me. A little awkward for you. Not pleasant to look at. But half a percent for public art means that we then talk about — what about a quarter of a percent? What about an eighth of a percent?

"A sixteenth of a percent?" Tucker continued suggestively. "We all know what zero percent looks like. Let's not go that way. Let's go the other way.

"One percent is not too much to ask to keep ourselves from being beige."

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.



Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 1:03 p.m.

Return all of the funds to where they originally came from, i.e. streets, parks, etc. I love art and would love to fill my home with expensive pieces of art, however, my budget does not allow it, so therefore go to the museums and visit other art facilities. The city cannot afford to be purchasing art when streets are in disrepair, AAFD and AAPD staff is at a all time low, etc. So, return the funds to what is truly needed.

rusty shackelford

Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 12:59 p.m.

My issue with the way the fund is run is not so much how much money it does or doesn't have but how it disperses the money. It seems to go to big ticket decorative items without much regard for the local art scene here. The money would be better spent, in my opinion, on grants for local artists and cultural orgs that don't have already have institutional (read: university) support. Many cities use this model, and it helps keep them vibrant by encouraging artists (whose income is generally low and unpredictable unpredictable) in the area. On a microscale, think of how many creative folks have moved or settled in Ypsi rather than A2 given the skyrocketing cost of living here. Commissioning lots small pieces from local people would be much better for arts in Ann Arbor than a few huge monuments from people outside the area who don't need the money anyway.

Usual Suspect

Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 12:53 p.m.

At first glance, between this news and the recent reconsideration of the crosswalk law, one might think members of City Council are scared because of a recent replacement of a council-favorite incumbent. But "upon further review," they only half-fixed the crosswalk law, and they're only half-fixing this problem, so they're obviously not scared enough. We must remain dedicated to tossing out the incumbents and replacing them with more people who have some sense of reality. The problem is that "people who have some sense of reality" can be very hard to find in Ann Arbor.


Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 12:34 p.m.

How much of this art fund now or in the future has gone out of state or out of country while there are plenty artists in Michigan we could foster? I'm against the whole fund as long as our city purchases outside of the US while making cuts to fire and police in the same breath.


Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 12:20 p.m.

The majority of Ann Arbor citizens and voters have spoken. They support the current mayor, most current city council members and must like the direction this team is taking the city. This team really can do almost anything they want.


Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 1:15 p.m.

Sombrero, is it really necessary to insult everyone who didn't see a reason to make a change? If you don't see any reason to change things, why go to the polls? Most of these races weren't contested, so why go to the polls about that? I voted, but I always vote - that doesn't say the people who didn't are "too lazy to get off their bums." It says they didn't think things required their vote. Goober, no, they can't "do almost anything they want." They know that. They can keep going in the current best-in-Michigan direction. If they did something that was really a problem, people would tell them or vote for a change. The voters (except apparently the 2nd Ward) said they didn't see any major problems with the way the city is being run. Don't forget that 'commenters and voters at' ? 'Ann Arbor residents'.

Urban Sombrero

Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 12:24 p.m.

Majority of citizens? How about "majority of people who actually showed up to vote"? The ward with the highest turnout only had 20-something percent show up to the polls this last election. That is not a majority of anything. I hate to be nitpicky, but if the majority are saying anything here, it's that they're too lazy to get off their bums and vote.

Urban Sombrero

Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 12:14 p.m.

Why is it that the percent for art program was never put up to a public vote? According to the polls here, the majority overwhelmingly disapprove of it. Yet, council (despite this most recent move) keep pushing on with it. I'm willing to bet that if it ever did come up on the ballot, it'd be soundly defeated. Art is nice and all that, but not necessary like roads, police and firefighters.


Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 1:03 p.m.

I think it completely depends on when you put it on the ballot. If you put it on the ballot when revenue is falling, you're right, it would fail. If you put it on the ballot when revenue is rising, I would bet against you. It's only 1%. A lot of us have been to other places with decent amounts of public art and wondered what our problem is. Ann Arbor can seem pretty drab in comparison. And we did vote on it, though not directly. We didn't vote directly on the train station proposal, the Stadium bridges project, the police and fire funding, the City Hall construction, etc., etc. That's why we elect representatives, to make most of the decisions for us. Millages require changes to the charter, so they require a vote. How that money gets spent within the purpose of the millage is a micromanagement decision that we leave up to council. Do you really want to vote on each and every sidewalk project that comes up? As to the polls, I'd disagree with 'so much' a bit, and say that most of the people voting probably don't live here and just enjoy making fun of Ann Arbor. It probably goads them that Ann Arbor does so well. That's probably the main reason the polls are skewed. But I'd agree that malcontents are probably the second reason.

so much nonsense

Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 12:47 p.m.

It is not possible to have the public vote on absolutely everything, that is why we have representatives to vote on our behalf. Besides Ann Arbor is known for voting yes on every millage that comes before them, even millages that have much more money involved. This is a small amount of money that the voters would easily pass.

Usual Suspect

Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 12:39 p.m.

"I'm willing to bet that if it ever did come up on the ballot, it'd be soundly defeated." You're right, and they know it, too. But when you have convinced yourself that you're smarter than everybody else in town, I guess you can sleep at night.

Urban Sombrero

Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 12:30 p.m.

Touche. But, that brings up another question: why do we have millages for things like sidewalks (that are necessary), yet a vanity project like this is decided solely by the council? Shouldn't any use of public funds, especially when they're being diverted from other "legitimate" sources, be put up to the voters to choose?

so much nonsense

Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 12:26 p.m.

Just like the sidewalk millage, right? Which passed overwhelmingly while the polls were overwhelmingly against it. The majority of the people who comment on blogs are typically anti-everything types of people.


Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 12:10 p.m.

They should make it easier on themselves and tie the funding to city revenue increases. If city revenues didn't increase this year due to growth, no funding for this year. Then they won't have to revisit the question when revenues increase again, the funding will happen automatically. As I suggested before, they should put in a 'cooling period' clause for new revenue due to millage or rate increases, so the 1% doesn't apply to those until a few years have elapsed. The problem isn't the 1%, it's setting aside the 1% while we're cutting police and fire to deal with falling revenue. should add a "city/village/township" field to our profiles too. Then when you do these polls, we could have results for people who actually live in the the place in question and results for the rest of the readership. We'd probably still get people lying about whether they live here, since it's apparently more fun to make fun of Ann Arbor, but it would be start toward useful polls. It's kind of interesting to know what people who aren't paying for this program think, but Council should only really care what the residents think.


Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 12:54 p.m.

That's funny, because the voters largely vote the same people back in, who don't seem to agree with you. I guess the facts tend to disagree with your point. But don't let the facts get in your way. And also funny that with so many things you don't agree with, we have the best local economy in the state. No comment about all that public art the University puts in??

Usual Suspect

Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 12:44 p.m.

Point: people who live in Ann Arbor make fun of Ann Arbor just as much as people who don't. Ann Arbor does so many stupid things that there's just no avoiding the ridicule. It's earned ridicule.

so much nonsense

Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 12:05 p.m.

It always amazing me that Briere still calls herself a Democrat. Everything in the past few years that comes out of her mouth is straight from the Republican talking points. Being "for" public art but not wanting to fund it completely or in a necessary amount that is realistic is exactly the same argument that the Republicans on the national stage or statewide stage use to defend their cuts for the NEA, museums, etc.. This is absolutely unacceptable. I understand the reasoning of why people think the fund is flush right now, but that is only happening because of all the projects that have recently been contributing to it. What happens when we have no years with any additional projects? Then we will have no funding for the public art. This policy is shortsighted and shows a lack of leadership. It is only being used as a political wedge to divide the public. Some of council are going along with this because of how it looks on the surface ( saving money in bad times) but it just is simply bad policy. I am so disappointed. The fact is Ann Arbor is not in that tough of times compared to almost every other city in Michigan and the US overall. To make cuts unnecessarily just for "show", just encourages the local mentality that life is so bad here, that we are suffering. We are NOT suffering. Suffering is felt in places where their libraries have closed, where 1/2 of the police and fire have been laid off in the past year, where cities have permanently closed the parks. Life is GOOD here in Ann arbor. People just need to appreciate it more.


Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 12:03 p.m.

Its like they have ADD, this will last until someone puts something shiny in their face.


Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 11:58 a.m.

That is $167,330 to much. What wrong with beige? I like it. And since it seems to matter I have a Ph.D. and don't support this program.


Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 11:54 a.m.

'The funding is intimately tied into what your value of that thing is,' Derezinski said" I think the funding is tied to a) your priorities and b) your grasp of the economic situation Michigan is in. After 10+ years of recession in Michigan, some City Council members are still partying like its 1999. Of course "Derezinski ... voted to cut funding for police and fire", so I guess he does have some priorities, even if those don't reflect the concerns of the "average" person.


Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 12:02 p.m.

@ John Q Not if they passed a ordnance called "percent for police and fire"

John Q

Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 11:56 a.m.

"Of course "Derezinski ... voted to cut funding for police and fire", so I guess he does have some priorities, even if those don't reflect the concerns of the "average" person." The two are unrelated. Even if there was no art program, there would need to be cuts in police and fire.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 11:49 a.m.

You Can Help Name the Sculpture! I want to remind everyone about our contest for the citizens who paid $750,000 for it, to name &quot;IT&quot; (naming the Dreiseitl water sculpture apparently wasn't our German sculptor's responsibility). We've accumulated all the name suggestions from both postings on and other local media, as well as from the hundreds of people who have taken the poll. Please note that we do not endorse any of the names and are just presenting them to you for your amusement! From your many suggestions, we are now up to 29 different name options to choose from! Weigh in with your opinion and vote now by going to: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Please encourage all your friends to vote in the naming contest also! We will announce interim results when &quot;IT&quot; is finally working, which it is not (yet) despite the snazzy picture above.