Sixteen students left their classrooms behind on Thursday to pitch their ideas for public art installations in Ann Arbor in front of a panel of art-related experts at Ann Arbor City Hall.
The public arts projects were part of a three-week-long assignment a class, Public Art and Urban Intervention, taught by Assistant Prof. Roland Graf. The class is designed to study current public art projects and create mock proposals for the community.
“The proposals are based on individual site surveys, group discussions and the study of existing documents and guidelines for public art at these sites provided by AAPAC,” Graf wrote in an e-mail, referring to the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission. “Further, the proposals in this class reflect the students’ various backgrounds – ranging from interarts, art, design to architecture – and their aspirations when they think about public art in Ann Arbor.”
Graf wrote that students were creative when designing their projects and considered designs structures from guerrilla-style interventions to permanent installations.
“In response to their different aspirations, students were also allowed to propose temporary public art projects as long as their proposals show how they contribute to a flourishing public art scene in Ann Arbor and how they impact or relate to the respective community or neighborhood,” Graf wrote.
Graf wrote that the turn out from the event was great and the students received a lot of instrumental feedback.
“I was delighted to see what kind of progress some students made in the last minute— or week,” Graf wrote. “The feedback from the panel was of course very generous. However, it highlighted very well the strengths of each individual project and also the challenges to actually realize it.”
Ideas presented ranged from a flower garden and fountains laid out in a certain form in the park to having a sculpture of an arm and leg on the underside of the bridge.
The class had some guidelines to follow, including staying within the budget and working with the sites at Allmendinger Park or the East Stadium Boulevard bridges. While the board may have collaborated with Graf, they didn’t have any background on the ideas the students presented on at the event.
While Graf is the instructor of the course, he collaborated with four others to whom the students pitched their final art ideas. The panel consisted of Ann Arbor art community figures including Aaron Seagraves, an AAPAC member; Mary Thiefels, an Ann Arbor artist; Bob Miller, the chair of the AAPAC; and John Kotarski, an Ann Arbor public art commissioner.
While it is complicated to define what art is, it’s not as difficult to explain what public art is, Seagraves said. Public art, he said, is what adds character to a certain location, helping to define the space as to what it is known to others.
The Diag, for example, is considered to be a piece of public art, Seagraves said. Not only is it adding to the campus and showing that students have pride in the school, but it is outlining an area that is easily recognizable, even by words, to another local person.
“Public art changes the physical landscape of the spaces in which we live,” Seagraves said. “It adds value and contributes to the well-being to the community. It speaks to more than just art appreciators; it can be of interest to the general public.”
Art & Design freshman Hayden Nickel, a student in Graf’s class, agreed that public art was important to her. With her project idea “Always Moving Forward on Stadium Bridge,” Nickel said the class was interesting to experience from start to finish.
Although all of the projects that were presented represented the visual aspects of art, not all art is visual. Since the art is public, however, it is better when it is something that could be seen by people in all directions, such as a sculpture.
“Public art is a visual, while traditional art can just be a sculpture,” Seagraves said. “The visual component interests the aesthetics of the base that it creates in a public place. The public space is important (to have public art).”
Though the project was for the students to be able to learn how to plan and organize a piece of visual art and to calculate the costs of building a piece, it also served as an opportunity for the students to be able to become acquainted with the city and see what types of art currently exist here, Seagraves said.
“It was a great opportunity for the city,” he said. “It was a great opportunity for the students, too. There is a city of public art program, so it really was great to make ourselves available to participate.”