By Taylor Wizner, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 11, 2012
City officials said they were disappointed in the wake of the rejection by Ann Arbor voters of a tax for a more comprehensive public art program on Election Day.
Public art administrator Aaron Seagraves said he was surprised the millage was rejected, and though he could not speculate on voter sentiment, he supposed the new model of funding could have driven voters away.
“I’m not sure why it wasn’t passed by voters,” Seagraves said. “The Percent for Art funding could have been preferred to the funding on the millage. Maybe that’s why the voters thought they didn’t need a new millage for it.”
The millage was an alternative to the current public arts funding program Percent for Art, which has encountered difficulty in providing public arts projects under heavy restrictions that limit displays to permanent art installations on specified government properties. Following rejection of the proposal, Ann Arbor will return to the previous model, which utilizes city funding rather than tax money from residents.
The tax would have cost the average homeowner about $11 a year and was expected to bring in about $450,000 annually. The new model for funding included a mill tax model for funding public arts in Ann Arbor. Instead of the current system, which takes the funds from different departments in the city, the funding for projects would come directly from the residents.
Seagraves noted that lack of awareness about the proposal could have added to the dismissal by voters.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of time to go campaign,” Seagraves said. “Between the idea of it being on the ballot, it was probably two months between Election Day and when it was put on the ballot.”
City Councilmember Chris Taylor (D–Ward 3) sponsored the ballot proposal. He said e-mail questionnaires he sent to his constituents about the millage before Election Day garnered mixed reactions from the community.
“When I asked voters directly on my e-mail list what they thought of the proposal, some were very much in favor of it, and some were very much against it because it would be an additional tax and because they liked the current program as it was constituted,” Taylor said. “There are a variety of reasons why one might vote against it, and I think it is hard to say specifically.”
Taylor said there have been proposed plans within City Council to alter the Percent for Art program. One proposal, he said, would stop the program completely, and the other would limit the program to a smaller set of projects.
“There are at least two proposals that I know of,” Taylor said. “I am sure the city councilmembers will bring them forward at the next meeting.”
However, Taylor added there have been no attempts to include temporary art — a key part of the proposed millage — in any of the proposals.
“Under the current One Percent for Arts program there is no possibility to fund temporary art, and I don’t expect that to change,” Taylor said.
Mark Tucker — the Lloyd Hall Scholars Program art director and founder of FestiFools, an annual parade of papier-mâché puppets created by students and members of the community — said he was disappointed to see the proposal fail, but was not surprised by the result.
“I’m not completely surprised because it would be unusual for a community to come out in strong favor of wanting its tax dollars to go towards public art, but I think it probably has to do with education in terms of how much the public art millage committee had time to get out the information,” Tucker said.
Tucker said FestiFools would have benefited from the millage, but the organization would survive without city funding. He said he was an adamant supporter of the proposal more because of his interest in public art than his desire for additional FestiFools funding.
“We supported the public arts millage because the funding mechanism would have been cleaner than the current one,” Tucker said. “It would have meant that groups like ours that do temporary public art might have been considered for spending.”
With the program returning Percent for Art for financing, Seagraves, along with members on the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission, will allocate the city-provided funds to public arts projects.
Tucker said he is not worried about losing public art in Ann Arbor, but warned that if the city is not careful it could lose a beneficial economic opportunity.
“I think the prognosis for public art in Ann Arbor is still strong,” Tucker said. “If for some reason the City Council does away with the current model, then I think we are back to square one, and I think the long term affect is the money that would regularly be put into a community, the money that follows creative endeavors, is less likely to come to Ann Arbor.”
Correction appended: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the average cost of the millage to homeowners. It is about $11 per year, not month.