Every other Monday, I usually watch Ann Arbor City Council meet while tweeting commentary under the hashtag #A2Council. It’s kind of like Pokemon, but without the fun names. For those of you who are annoyed by it, my apologies. Tonight’s an off week, so I thought I’d write about other ways to engage the city besides throwing tomatoes.
I recently attended a local “unconference” for people who want to make a difference in their community. There were a number of different tracks, and I chose to participate in the civics track. I heard a lot of great ideas, one of which I’d like to highlight, and two other things outside the conference that I’d like to share.
If you care about civics in Ann Arbor, please consider making a donation to CivCity, the next project of Mary Morgan, one of the founders of the Ann Arbor Chronicle. The Chronicle has been an indispensable tool when it comes to researching decisions made by city council and the various commissions in the city. Ultimately, I’d like to see the city be able to offer the kind of transparency the Chronicle brought, but in the meantime, CivCity is a great followup.
Did you know Ann Arbor has an online forum to solicit input from the public about different topics? No? Welcome to the club of almost everyone in the city! Okay, maybe it’s just my usual club of me by myself, but in case you’re like me, it’s called A2 Open City Hall. Currently, they’re soliciting feedback regarding dog parks. Nobody has responded. You could be the first.
You can participate in your city government! If you’re not ready to run for mayor or city council, there are boards and commissions you can participate in. The hardest part for me was figuring out how to get onto one. I shall lead you to the elephants’ graveyard.
Decide you really want to devote an hour or two a month to civics. Don’t be a flake.
Does Ann Arbor still have a public art commission?
Yes, and we’re:
Seeing the completion of projects started before the public art fund was de-funded
Advising city staff on projects that may have a public art component
Determining how the commission moves forward
A quick recap: I was appointed about a year ago, during the same city council meeting where public art was de-funded—having an Irish sense of humor has proven useful.
The one remaining big project from the old budget is the Stadium bridges project. There have been a couple of planning issues regarding lighting and foundations, but the plan is still for a late 2015 installation. If the art piece had been considered and chosen prior to construction, foundation and electrical work could have been done during construction. This is the idea behind “baked-in” funding for art.
There are three other projects the commission is involved with, and a new one for an elevated water tank on Manchester Road in Ann Arbor.
The Jewett memorial is a set of bronze adirondack chairs to be installed at the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market commemorating Coleman Jewett, who was an admired local educator, and a fixture at the farmer’s market for years selling his chairs. This project is largely funded by private donations and grants, with commissioner Marsha Chamberlin acting as program manager. The project is nearly completely funded—”everything but the plaque”, and the city will be considering next steps soon.
Canoe Imagine Art, which is being managed by the Arts Alliance. Three pieces have already been chosen, with one more to be chosen by the public from 3 finalists this February — I’ll be sure to share a link when I have one. The plan is for a public celebration in July 2015 to coincide with Huron River Days. The project differs from its initial conception in that the installations will be in Ann Arbor parks instead of scattered around downtown, and the parks will decide where they go. The city also reserves the right to keep them up. Commissioner John Kotarski was one of the jurors, and I concur with his delight in the quality of proposal submitted by artists. Most are interactive in some way, and will make a great addition to the parks.
I’ve been selected to be a juror for another project managed by the Arts Alliance, “PowerArt!“. The first of three phases involves wrapping 8 traffic boxes around downtown Ann Arbor with canvases that display the work of local artists. The jury will select 6 submissions, and the public will select the remaining 2. Again, when I have a link, I’ll share it. The jury will take place in February, and the celebration will be in May 2015, followed by two months of community response before moving on to the next phases.
This is the first example of “baked-in” art, where the city identifies a project that may lend itself to public art prior to engaging the commission. The plan is very similar to the water tower on Plymouth road, where there will be a public request for designs, a jury will choose finalists whose submissions will be put to a public vote, with the winner being recognized. The commission had questions about the pros and cons of various materials (paint vs. vinyl), and made project suggestions that largely mirrored the previously successful project on Plymouth road. The project manager for the job will be handling the logistics behind managing design submissions, etc.