City Council votes against decrease in public art funding

Terra Molengraff/Daily
Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje organizes the agenda before the City Council meeting yesterday at City Hall. Buy this photo

By Jennifer Lee, Daily Staff Reporter
Published December 6, 2011

During a discussion that lasted more than an hour and a half, Ann Arbor City Council members voiced opinions about cutting funding used for public art from 1 percent to half a percent.

City Council members eventually voted to keep the funds at 1 percent and voted against installing a three-year time limit on spending and allocating funds for public art. They also voted against allocating funds from the city’s general fund for public art and voted to eliminate routine sidewalk maintenance as a capital improvement, which is defined as construction or renovation of a public facility.

The discussion was the second reading of the issues, after City Council member Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1) introduced changes to the public art ordinance at the council’s Nov. 21 meeting. The amendments to the ordinance proposed the decrease in public art funding from 1 percent to half of a percent of capital improvement funds.

Cheryl Elliott, president and CEO of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, was one of many speakers that urged council members to reconsider the proposed cuts during the public hearing. She said pieces of public art are gifts to their viewers.

“Our willingness to take chances to make these gifts of beauty happen for ourselves and for complete strangers says something about us as a city, as a culture and as a people,” Elliot said.

Briere stressed that while she appreciates the concern of the many speakers who insisted on the importance of public art for the city, the changes to the ordinance were not a matter of supporting or not supporting public art.

“I’m terrifically impressed with the passion that was expressed tonight by those advocates of public art, and I want to be clear that to me, we really are talking about a funding mechanism,” Briere said.

She added that the amendments were intended to clarify and redefine the meaning of capital improvements, adding that the percentage change, if passed, would not be significant.

“This is a very narrow ordinance, and the impact is also in itself very narrow,” Briere said.

Council member Christopher Taylor (D–Ward 3) said he doubted that cutting the funds for public art to half of one percent would have been an effective way to free up funds for other initiatives like city infrastructure projects.

“I also doubt that it will have a material impact on our ability to fix water mains and to pave streets and to fix potholes because I see no evidence to the contrary,” Taylor said.

Council members ultimately did not pass the amendments.