Ann Arbor is an artsy town. But while it plays host to the Ann Arbor Art Fairs each summer, there strangely isn’t much public art in the city. Three years ago, Ann Arbor created a program that allocated city money to purchase public art. But now, some city politicians argue that funding the initiative is too expensive and that money currently set aside for the program should be spent to address other concerns in a time of economic downturn. The city shouldn’t simply eliminate funding for public art. Ann Arbor should maintain funding of the public art program, but it must also monitor it closely so that money is well-spent.

The Ann Arbor Public Art Commission was founded in 2007 and is the only program of its kind in Michigan. According to a Nov. 23 article in the Daily, the program is funded by the Chapter 24 Public Art Ordinance, which diverts 1 percent of each capital project estimate to establishing public art. So far, one project has been completed and one more — a $750,000 water piece to be placed outside the Police Municipal building — is being constructed under the program’s umbrella. In the past three years, Ann Arbor has allotted more than $2 million for public art.

Art helps foster a vibrant, dynamic and beautiful community. The positive effects of public works on the city may be as subtle as adding flavor to a walk in the park to as salient as making Ann Arbor a more attractive city for visitors and prospective residents. In essence, art adds depth and another dimension to a community that may otherwise be at risk of appearing dull. AAPAC Chair Margaret Parker argues that art fulfills a need that typical necessities of life don’t — it “feed(s) your spirit and your soul.”

But it’s true that since its inception, AAPAC hasn’t been particularly productive. The fact that two projects have been taken up over three years demonstrates a slow rate of progress. Similar programs in other cities like Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland have existed for 30 years and have had rewarding results. The problem isn’t the idea of a public art program itself, but rather that AAPAC specifically doesn’t seem to be functioning as efficiently as possible. AAPAC should take action to improve its operations and work diligently to provide more tangible results.

Critics of the program have a point: $2 million dollars is a lot of money that simply can’t be wasted, especially in a time of economic downturn. To avert wasteful spending, city council should be allowed to increase its oversight of AAPAC by monitoring the funding and ensuring that it’s being spent on worthwhile projects. More direct involvement from the city government would increase accountability for the funds spent through the program.

AAPAC must increase its level of activity to provide the community with tangible results, and city council should increase its engagement with the program. Public art breathes life into the mundane and shouldn’t be a casualty of the struggling economy.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.