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Posted on Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 2:08 p.m.

Ann Arbor Public Art Commission moving forward with new project as City Council considers art cuts

By Ryan J. Stanton

Ann Arbor officials are moving forward with another public art project — this time in the form of a small installation in a near-downtown neighborhood.

The city's Public Art Commission this week voted to establish a $20,000 budget for an art project at the site of a new rain garden being constructed at Kingsley and First streets.

The project comes as cutbacks to the city's public art program are being considered by the Ann Arbor City Council, which meets Monday night to consider final approval of the cuts.

That was a subject of debate at Wednesday's art commission meeting, as commissioners offered differing opinions about how to communicate their feedback to council.


Margaret Parker, a member of the Public Art Commission, raises concerns about cutbacks to the public art program at a meeting Wednesday.

Ryan J. Stanton |

The Kingsley project is still in the planning stages. The commission's action establishes a task force that will work out more details before proposals are solicited from artists.

"Public art will be a primary feature of the space," according to a report on the rain garden presented at the meeting.

The report also acknowledges the installation "would have limited public visibility because of its location." Funding for the project is expected to come from the city's stormwater funds.

The City Council took the first step toward scaling back the public art program last month, giving initial approval to a 50 percent reduction in funding levels for the next three years.

The city has transferred a little more than $2.2 million to the public art program over the last four years, nearly $1.5 million of which remains available to spend.

But much of that money was built up because the city has taken on several large capital projects in recent years, and the money no longer is accumulating as quickly.

The city pays for public art through the 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 a limit of $250,000 per project — is set aside in a special public art fund.

That equates to $334,660 in this year's budget. If capital project spending continued at the same rate next year, a 50 percent cutback would equal $167,330.

Multiple council members have stated recently they believe the Public Art Commission has more money than it knows how to spend.

There will be a public hearing on the cutbacks at Monday's council meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. on the second floor of city hall at the corner of Fifth and Huron.

Margaret Parker, a member and former chairwoman of the volunteer art commission, indicated at this week's meeting she hopes to line up several speakers for the public hearing.

"If they're getting ready to cut our program in half — and they're basically saying, 'Look at this money that hasn't been used, it hasn't functioned well, so we're cutting it back' … I think then it has to come up," Parker said, bringing up concerns that the city hasn't dedicated enough administrative support to the public art program.

Parker said she's also concerned about an element of the proposal that would revert public art funds back to their original sources if not spent within three years.

"It's going to make it a lot harder to do the projects," she said.

Parker was more outspoken than other art commissioners who questioned whether it's their role to actively speak out on the issue.


Marsha Chamberlin, chairwoman of the Public Art Commission, listens as another commissioner speaks at Wednesday's meeting.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"We don't have a role as a political action committee," said Chairwoman Marsha Chamberlin, urging commissioners to move on to other business.

Chamberlin said she understood where council members were coming from.

"Behind the scenes, I have been in several working meetings with some council members," she said. "What some of the people on council are concerned about is that there have been $2,965,000 accumulated that haven't been spent for art. So they're just saying, until we spend that money, they would prefer not to let more accumulate."

"That number actually isn't even accurate," Parker fired back.

"Well, whether it's accurate or not, I'm just portraying what I think the thinking on this is," Chamberlin responded.

That led to a few more tense exchanges.

Records review by show Parker is correct that the nearly $3 million figure cited by Chamberlin, which shows up on art budget documents, isn't an accurate reflection of the actual amount of money that has gone to public art over the last four years.

The way the city does its accounting for the art program, that figure actually includes double counting of dedicated project dollars. The actual amount that has been channeled to public art over the last four years is closer to $2.2 million, and less than $1.5 million remains available.

Still, some art commissioners and council members alike have been confused in recent months by budget reports that make it appear nearly $3 million has gone to public art.

Aaron Seagraves, the city's public art administrator, said he's planning to design a clearer budget summary report that will be given out monthly in the future.

In addition to the Kingsley Street art project, Seagraves offered an update on other public art projects in the works on Wednesday.

Proposals from artist finalists for an art installation in the lobby of the new Ann Arbor Justice Center are due Dec. 8 and those will go before a selection panel on Dec. 12, he said. About $250,000 from the Municipal Center project budget was set aside for the installation.

Seagraves said he wasn't sure why the Herbert Dreiseitl sculpture in front of city hall wasn't yet fully operational. He said it was supposed to be done before Thanksgiving.

He also reported four finalists have been selected for a mural project at Allmendinger Park and preliminary concepts from artists are due Dec. 8. The commission plans to put $7,200 in donations toward the mural, along with another $5,000 in pooled public art funds.

Seagraves said a task force working on a public art project at the site of the Stadium bridges project also plans to meet soon to continue talks.

But a potential $250,000 art installation at the site of the Fuller Road Station project is being put on hold, Seagraves reported.

In four years, the Public Art Commission has delivered on two major projects: the $750,000 sculpture project in front of city hall and a $15,000 installation in West Park.

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.



Mon, Dec 5, 2011 : 3:41 a.m.

Just get rid of this "arts" commission and use the money to hire more police.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 10:24 p.m.

Nice photos!... seldom have the faces of cluelessness looked... well, so clueless. Having finally seen the Dreiseitl Disaster, it is, in some sense, appropriate for Hieftje Hall. As you drive by on Huron, it looks like the mayor's own fickle middle finger, showing voters exactly what he thinks of their opinions and concerns, as it juts skyward from some hidden fist behind the berm.


Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 10:42 p.m.

Once again....another example of where the govenment thinks they can spend your money better than you can spend your own money.

Seasoned Cit

Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 4:58 p.m.

How about commissioning hand painted murals on big plastic tarps that can be placed over the Occupy Ann Arbor group that have made one local park unfit for visitors?


Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 7:58 p.m.

At least it would be visible, but I think that local park is certainly fit for visitors and makes for an enjoyable area. When's the last time you visited? I've had great conversations there with my children and other family members and those enjoying the public facilities, protesting as is their constitutional right. It was a great educational experience for my kids as I explained what makes America great and showed them that there is nothing to fear from people protesting, having different opinions, and advocating for change. They enjoyed themselves.

Arno B

Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 2:52 p.m.

Well I do think that we do need more visible "Art" projects around. After all, when driving by the $750,000 jewel in front of the over-stuffed City Hall I suspect that the general response is "What! Three quarters of a million for THAT??" More projects would affirm the already high opinion about the City Hall's deep thinkers. Why doesn't someone ask the likes of Seagraves, Parker, and Chamberlin how much they donate to Art causes out of their own pockets?

Let me be Frank

Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 2 p.m.

The City Council needs to listen to all of their constituents and rescind the use of tax and millage funds to finance public art. Have the program funded by donations...that way the minority of people who sincerely value public art can put THEIR money where there mouth is. While the majority of us want our taxes and millages to finance basic public services: police, fire, roads, infrastructure, etc.


Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 12:22 p.m.

You can't fix stupid.... just another episode in the dope opera " 6 square miles surrounded by reality "...

Alan Goldsmith

Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 12:11 p.m.

It's time to abolish this three ring circus, the AAPAC, much like the City did with the Housing Board, and reestablish it from scratch with 100% new membership. Maybe a couple of real life taxpayers on the board the next time around.

Alan Goldsmith

Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 12:07 p.m.

"Seagraves said he wasn't sure why the Herbert Dreiseitl sculpture in front of city hall wasn't yet fully operational. He said it was supposed to be done before Thanksgiving." Lol. Just in time for the winter freezing season and it's STILL not functioning. Must be karma.

Alan Goldsmith

Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 12:06 p.m.

"Parker was more outspoken than other art commissioners who questioned whether it's their role to actively speak out on the issue." It was Ms. Parker failed leadership, arrogance, and lack of openness and transparency on the City Center art water fountain that assisted in derailing this train. The City's art program is facing a modest pause in collecting funds because they can't spend the money fast enough--something tax payers in this town find repulsive. It's never been about ART, its always been about arrogance and flying in an artist from Germany, making a deal behind closed doors, and then shoving it down the public's throat. The chickens have come home to roost, Ms. Parker and her supporters have made the City a laughing stock and now it is time she remove herself from the AAPAC--something she promised to do several months ago.

Go Blue

Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 3:39 a.m.

Time for a full house cleaning - time to sweep out all those that stubbornly think we need art at the expense of police and fire jobs, roads and so many other issues. The current government truly has no clue about priorities in these times. Are they so immune and incapable of hearing what the public wants?

J Shaker

Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 3:28 a.m.

Well maybe with some creative thinking in regard to all the great things about public art we can get something going that folks are actually excited about rather than getting all bent out of shape. Art Prize and Cows On Parade comes to mind.


Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 1:49 a.m.

Totally insane. These individuals are so out of touch with the reality of life. Surely hope the art doesn't burn down or get stolen because of the cut backs in the AAFD and AAPD. Get a grip on the reality of life.

Kai Petainen

Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 1:43 a.m.

ok, i'm being picky. "In four years, the Public Art Commission has delivered on two major projects: the $750,000 sculpture project in front of city hall and a $15,000 installation in West Park." correction. that is ONE major project @ $750,000. it's hard to say the other project is a "major" project, when it is only 2% of the cost of the other project. rewrite it like this: "In four years, the Public Art Commission has delivered on one major project: the $750,000 sculpture project in front of city hall. They also delivered a minor $15,000 art installation in West Park."


Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 12:25 a.m.

It seems like the Kingsley Street art project is pretty much a glorified retention pond with the city tapping into the art fund to help pay for it and to help spend down some of the money not being put to use in the art fund. This is no more art than the nonfunctioning fountain in front of city hall.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 9:43 p.m.

This is a total embarrassment for the city, what a joke. I wonder how many police officers and or firefighters could be re-hired if we re-directed those funds to that end. Public art commission....I personally can't think of a better place to cut ALL funding!!!


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 10:47 p.m.

I agree, but we have too many police officers already.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 9:04 p.m.

No art at all until we have fully staffed police and fire departments.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 8:55 p.m.

"Double counting?" oh my...sounds like somebunny is cookin the books...oh wait that's right...the general populace isn't sofeestakated to understand such complicated ciferin...after all these are A2 Art Folks...I wish no one any ill will in life, but I will say should anyone thinking the arts should come before human safety should hope one of the reduced police patrol will be close by if they need them!


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 8:52 p.m.

i'm all for public art, but the funding and commission both need to end. i love art, but i want my tax money to go to anything but art: cops, firefighters, road repair, city parks - even the humane society before this. you want to give to art? then give to ann arbor civic theater and other local, performing groups. you want art? subsidize tickets for kids to attend performances. you want art? raise the funds privately, or better yet - let's vote on an art millage, quit skimming from millages intended for other uses besides art. sadly, if that fountain wasn't so uninspiring, i'd be more supportive of my tax money going towards public art, but now i think the money is simply wasted.


Mon, Dec 5, 2011 : 3:38 a.m.

Well said. And who are these people anyway on the commission making these decisions? Are they elected? If not, are they friends of people in power in city government?


Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 1:52 p.m.

Very well written. I really love the part about supporting the theaters and subsidizing tickets for children -- that is if the fund was probably approved by the citizens.

Ryan J. Stanton

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 8:30 p.m.

In case you missed it yesterday, here's the related story on Fuller Road Station, where an art project is being delayed: <a href=""></a>


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 8:24 p.m.

Make sure that flippin garden gets plenty of &quot;rain&quot;.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 8:18 p.m.

Well, the Dreiseitl sculpture in front of City Hall had a huge price tag but is so small in size that it is lost. Moreover, despite the ribbon cutting ceremony the damn thing is turned off. And what happened to the water and the rest of the site? Time to give Chamberlin the boot.

Guinea Pig in a Tophat

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 8:13 p.m.

&quot;In four years, the Public Art Commission has delivered on two major projects: the $750,000 sculpture project in front of city hall and a $15,000 installation in West Park.&quot; Out of curiosity, have they done any minor projects? Or are the two metal trees and the City Hall art all they've done?


Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 1:51 p.m.

And both in my opinion, need to be removed.

Ryan J. Stanton

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 8:54 p.m.

I haven't seen it work, either. It was up and running the night of the unveiling when I was out of town. Haven't seen the lights going in the last two months now.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 8:49 p.m.

the city hall thing is done? is it functional? I've never seen it work.

Guinea Pig in a Tophat

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 8:31 p.m.

Thanks Ryan!

Ryan J. Stanton

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 8:20 p.m.

Those two have been completed. Other projects are in the works. Here's a link to the project tracking report if you want to download it: <a href="" rel='nofollow'>;ID=1635300&amp;GUID=8D070971-A3FA-4954-A418-75EEEA7FDB8E</a>


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 8:07 p.m.

Don't ask taxpayers to continually raise tax millages when 3 million dollars is sitting around for &quot;public art.&quot; Sorry, but times are tough and public art is not a priority.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 8:04 p.m.

&quot;What some of the people on council are concerned about is that there have been $2,965,000 accumulated that haven't been spent for art. So they're just saying, until we spend that money, they would prefer not to let more accumulate.&quot; Is this accurate? There is close to 3 million dollars sitting around waiting to be spent for art while police and firefighters are laid off? This group needs to get a grip on reality. Art is something that needs to take a back seat when budget decisions are being made that affect public security.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 8:47 p.m.

@ryan...numbes aside....none the less....there is a boat load of money sitting there not being utilized in a productive manner...the arrogance of these people is boundless...put in &quot;public&quot; art that most people won't see...hmmm wonder how many of the volunteers will be able to see this installation on a regular nearby? When will the sheeple of and the resident sheeples wake up?....the wolf is closer to us than ever...

Ryan J. Stanton

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 8:18 p.m.

Read on. The story points out that's not accurate.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 8:04 p.m.

Wow. They really don't get it. Can the city get rid of them and hire some folks who will think of the needs of the citizens?


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 7:52 p.m.

This is an absolute joke. Why this hasn't been reformed is a mystery. They art will &quot;limited public visibility because of it's location&quot; ? Are they absolutely insane? How does that benefit the community? The city as a whole? The entire city ought to demand answers and the art commission ought to be completely replaced with a new form that is more in tune with logical planning. Limited public visibility because of location, indeed.

Bertha Venation

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 7:48 p.m.

OOOOO.... Don't GET me started!!!!


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 7:47 p.m.

It just shows how out of touch these people are with the people who pay the taxes.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 7:33 p.m.

what a joke they are. do they all need to read the paper? do they need to hear that the art is not a top priority when time are tough. i think this group of people needs a reality check. you got 2mil in your saving fund. why not hold off for awhile. you reduced your 1% to 1/2% by a 8-3 margin. that sent a good signal to the people. now you just messed that up with going ahead with new projects. my advice is to THINK BEFORE DOING.