City Council members and Ann Arbor residents listened Monday as German artist Herbert Dreiseitl proposed the installation of several public artworks at the new Ann Arbor Municipal Center, which is set to open in spring 2011.
Dreiseitl presented plans for an outdoor sculpture in the Municipal Center’s rain garden — the central area of the building — along with preliminary concepts for murals inside the building.
Ann Arbor City Councilmember Carsten Hohnke (D–Ward 5) was excited about numerous benefits the artwork could bring to Ann Arbor.
“It’s communities that have invested in public art that have seen vitality in the downtown (area), and we want to continue to foster that,” Hohnke said.
The sculpture, which would be located near City Hall and the police building, is comprised of a column constructed from two layers of metal. The column would be between 16.5 and 20 feet tall. The sculpture acts as a trough to guide rainwater down a second, gently sloped ramp and distribute it through the rain garden.
Multiple blue glass orbs, lit by blue LEDs, protrude from the piece, which rainwater will flow over. The bottom of the ramp also will be equipped with a pump to create a continuous flow of water for the piece.
Dreiseitl’s proposal is sponsored by the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission. The commission is responsible for guiding the development of public art projects throughout Ann Arbor. The AAPAC oversees the Percent for Art program, through which 1 percent of the funds from every municipal project go to funding public art. The funds are capped at $250,000 per installation.
“I think that the community has said — through the Percent for Art ordinance — that public art’s an important part of not only the quality of life, but also provides important economic development opportunities,” Hohnke said.
The Municipal Center Public Art Task Force and the AAPAC will deliberate over Dreiseitl’s proposal. At a later point, the proposal will be presented again to City Council for its final approval.
Dreiseitl’s work, which includes projects such as the rooftop garden at Chicago City Hall and an urban park in Portland, Ore., is featured throughout North America, Asia and Europe. Dreiseitl is known for incorporating water into his works.
The cost of the installations is still being finalized, though the project is capped within a $750,000 limit. Earlier this year, City Council members approved paying Dreiseitl $77,000 to develop the designs.
Councilmember Margie Teall (D–Ward 4) defended the potential costs, arguing that the installation can bring more to Ann Arbor beyond aesthetic value.
“I think that it’s been proved over and over again that what art can do, and this kind of art particularly can do is bring economic development to the city and to any municipality far outweighs the cost, and it’s something that we desperately need,” Teall said.
During the presentation, Dreiseitl also expressed a desire to include local fabricators in the construction process and hoped that all of the physical work could be done in the area.
AAPAC Chair Margaret Parker said officials are aware of concerns over project investments within the local community.
“People were very concerned that the money be spent in Ann Arbor, that can possibly be spent here or in the region, because we’re going through a period of economic difficulty,” Parker said.
Still, Fai Foen, a School of Natural Resources and Environment graduate student, was impressed both by Dreiseitl’s presentation and by what it could add to the downtown area.
“Well, I know Ann Arbor has … a very good reputation for public work, and so a sculpture like that is really modern, and it really brings to Michigan and to the city a level of sophistication that’s on par with other international cities,” Foen said. “I think it’s really good for Ann Arbor in that respect.”