To the Daily:

On June 1, 2010, an article was published in this paper on the public art project ‘Vessels’ (Visiting artist discusses challenges of installing public art at the ‘U’). It is my contention that in this article words were poorly chosen, leading to a mischaracterization of my statements, and undermining the whole intent of the project, which was to help build bridges between the various agencies dealing with public art in Ann Arbor. The headline set the tone by stating, “Visiting artist criticizes bureaucracy in public art.” The article then goes on to say that artists like me were “stymied” in this process; clearly stacking the deck for how one should interpret my experience with bureaucracy in Ann Arbor.

It is hardly newsworthy, but bureaucracy is a challenge for any artwork that goes into a public space. At times the process was daunting, and some aspects of the bureaucracy were particular to Ann Arbor. However, my comments were never intended as criticism; they were statements of fact when doing a public art project.

In presenting those facts I also made clear statements aimed at counterbalancing the difficulties; yet strangely, and I would argue intentionally, none of these comments appeared in the article. I pointed out that everyone involved in the bureaucratic process had been helpful and did not state that there was anyone actively undermining the project. I mentioned that people on the various committees also have full-time jobs and therefore can only meet to discuss these matters at monthly meetings. I explained that everyone had learned from the experience, and that this project might actually stand as a model for future cooperation between these agencies.

I also suggested that this project might help to reduce the whole process to a shorter timeframe. I gave examples of how a website is being set up at the University to help facilitate the process so that future visiting artists might be able to work through some of the steps before coming to Ann Arbor. Finally, I mentioned that in choosing the river I made extra problems for myself because it overlapped with three levels of bureaucracy: the city, the state and the University, thereby tripling the normal difficulties one encounters in a project like this. These statements suggest an understanding of the bureaucratic process, not, as the article portrayed, a blanket criticism of local bureaucracy.

William Dennisuk
2009-10 Visiting Artist at the School of Art and Design

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.