Marsha Chamberlin, arts professional chair of the Ann Arbor Public Arts Commission, shouted at passing traffic outside the Municipal Center at 301 E. Huron Street yesterday, “Honk if you love public art!”
Chamberlin was one of more than 150 people who attended the unveiling of a public art piece in front of the city’s recently renovated Municipal Center last night. The enthusiasm from the crowd contrasted the previous controversy surrounding the sculpture — commissioned by German artist Herbert Dreiseitl — due to disagreements about public art funding in the city.
The structure features a tall bronze sculpture with a fountain at the crest that dispenses water into a retention pond. Blue lights, which Dreiseitl compared to stars, illuminate the structure. A walkway that leads to city hall will complete the piece at the end of the month.
In a speech at the event, Dreiseitl — who has given lectures at the University in the past — said he began working on the piece in 2009, designing and assembling it with doctoral students at the Harvard School of Graduate Design where he was a fellow.
Chamberlin said people will be able to appreciate the work of art upon entering the building.
“With this art, we’ve created a sense of place,” Chamberlin said. “A place that will be a gathering spot.”
Chamberlin also praised the work of several volunteers who contributed to the piece.
“It really has been a pleasure for all of us as volunteers to work with the city staff, the architects and all of the volunteers on the task force,” she said.
Following Chamberlin’s speech, Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje noted that the piece had been the subject of controversy among community members.
“There is no public art program that has been created without dissent or without public argument, and indeed that’s part of what happens with public art,” Hieftje said. “It gets people talking. It’s one of the reasons we need it.”
But according to Hieftje, the money that funded the sculpture couldn’t have been used any other way. He added the money allocated for the public art program would not have been allowed to be spent in other departments.
In an interview after the event, Chamberlin also addressed the controversy about public art funding.
“It’s going to be hard to be a nay-sayer after tonight,” Chamberlin said. “It’s hard for people in difficult times to imagine what this can do. But I think that the spirit that was here tonight and the kind of spirit that public art engenders … just makes it part of the community immediately.”
In an interview after the event, Dreiseitl said it was his first piece made of bronze and the first piece he had made mostly with robotic sculpting.
“I (tried) to work very hard to make something beautiful, something that relates people to the beauty of water,” he said.
Dreiseitl noted that working with the local architecture, design and fabrication companies that assisted him with the structure was a different experience from working with his personal team he typically works with.
“I had to jump into cold water (here),” said Dreiseitl, adding that the collaboration went well for all parties involved.