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Art in the open

Nicholas Williams/Daily
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By Max Radwin, Daily Fine Arts Editor
Published September 19, 2013

If you were in Ann Arbor this spring and summer, you might have seen a painting or two hanging around — not just in the University of Michigan Museum of Art or at the Art Fair, but on the sides of restaurants, at the Fire Department and peeking out of alleyways. For a few months, Ann Arbor was a museum all its own. Thanks to the Detroit Institute of Art’s Inside|Out program, high reproductions of Matisse, Sargent, Church and other artists featured in the DIA’s galleries decorated the city streets.

Kerrytown Market & Shops, fittingly, had on show Il Pensionante del Saraceni’s “The Fruit Vendor,” an early Baroque piece depicting a woman haggling with a man at his fruit stand. Installations of paintings like these were made possible through a partnership between the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission and the DIA. The museum approached the commission during the fall of 2012 during its search for new Michigan communities likely to have an interest in participating. Ann Arbor agreed to be one of the 13 cities to do so, and Artemsia Genileschi’s “Judith and Her Maidservant,” among six other reproductions, was installed in Ann Arbor. City residents were also given free admission to the museum during a “community weekend,” so they could see the original pieces.

While it was the AAPAC that partnered with the DIA to make this all happen — deciding where to put each piece and working with business owners during installation — it was not, in fact, the AAPAC that funded the project. A Miami-based organization dedicated to weaving “the arts into the fabric of communities,” called the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, was responsible for funding one of the first pieces of public art in Ann Arbor, since the suspension of the Percent for Art program by the Ann Arbor City Council and the public art millage’s failure to pass in the November election. Both events — as well as the Inside|Out program, which Ann Arbor residents may have unknowingly deemed a tax-funded endeavor — raised questions about public art in Ann Arbor and how it was going to take form in the future.

The death of percent for art

In 2007, the Ann Arbor City Council implemented the Percent for Art program, which required all Capital Improvement Projects funded by Ann Arbor to set aside one percent of their project construction funds for public art. Percent for Art also stipulated that, though the art did not need to be located on the site itself, it should relate in some way to the capital improvement funding source.

Originally, the AAPAC started as the non-profit Art in Public Places, an organization with the goal to raise money for public art in Ann Arbor.

“Some of the projects that were started on that dollar were the Fourth and Washington parking structure … and they also helped manage some of the smaller projects that led up to the (creation of the) public arts commission,” said Bob Miller, chair of the AAPAC.

But later, when the commission needed a more systematic way of funding public art, it turned to the Percent for Art system.

To those unfamiliar with the Percent for Art program or how public art gets from the sketchbook to your local park, here’s a brief run-through: The AAPAC has a public art ordinance that allows it to oversee public-art projects for the city of Ann Arbor, and it is responsible for the approval of all art projects as well as selecting locations and artists for those projects. Recommendations for future pieces come from the commission, though they have also surfaced from city council, city staff or resident suggestions. When the commission approves a project, it forms a task force made up of the arts community, the relevant neighborhood community and city administration, consisting of AAPAC members, among others. The task force sends out a general call to artists, and then reviews their past work and proposed goals for the project. Eventually, they narrow the applicant pool down to one.