Above: The artwork at 300 Grand River Avenue, facing Valley Court Park.
We are starting to see a lot more public art in East Lansing due to an ordinance passed in 2014 and now coming into effect through a spate of recently-approved real estate redevelopment plans.
Ordinance 1339, also known as the “Percent for Art Ordinance,” mandates that developers commit one percent of their project costs (capped at $25,000 for projects with a budget in excess of $2.5 million) to public art, either through the installation of art on-site or by donation of art or money to East Lansing’s public art fund. Ordinance 1339 only applies to developments where the full cost is in excess of $500,000. Projects with fewer than four residential units are also exempt.
According to Sarah Gonzales Triplett, Chair of the East Lansing Arts Commission and Director of Public Policy for the Michigan based non-profit CreativeMany, East Lansing is the only city in Michigan with a percent-for-art ordinance that includes projects from private developers.
Triplett’s spouse, Nathan Triplett, was mayor of East Lansing when the ordinance passed 3-1. Incumbent Ruth Beier, who is running for re-election, voted for it; incumbent Susan Woods, also now running for reelection, recused herself on the suggestion of City Attorney Tom Yeadon. Then-mayor-pro-tem Diane Goddeeris voted against it. (Read more.)
When the ordinance was first adopted, there was some concern that the addition of the public art requirement to project costs would be a disincentive for future development in East Lansing. But with close to a dozen major redevelopment projects underway in East Lansing since the ordinance was approved, that fear seems to have been unrealized.
Developers have several choices regarding how the obligation can be met. If developers want to control how their percent-for-art money is applied, they can install public art on their properties as long as it is in areas that are open to the public or highly visible from a public location. An artwork behind a plate glass window could meet the requirements, as long as it is well lit at night and clearly visible from a public area. Another option allows for a developer to donate artwork to the City to be installed on public land or in a public building.
In both these cases, the East Lansing Arts Commission would have to approve the piece of art, not in terms of artistic merit, which is subjective, but in terms of whether it meets the definition of art set out in the ordinance. The value of the artwork would also have to be determined in order for the requirement to be considered met.
To date, there have been two works of art installed on private property under the Percent for Art guidelines. One is the sculptural mural entitled “The Gateway,” designed by Tiffany Kline and installed on the north wall of the DTN building at 300 West Grand River, facing Valley Court Park (shown above). The other is the kinetic sculpture “Mesa Luna” by Jeffery Laudenslager at the Lake Trust Credit Union building on Lake Lansing Road near Meijer.
Arts Commission Chair Gonzales Triplett says that she’s pleased to see the way that developers have embraced the requirements by hosting unveiling receptions for the art and inviting community members to participate. Lake Trust even invited other artists to display their work during the opening reception, creating additional opportunities for members of the creative economy in East Lansing.
So far, only one developer has chosen to donate artwork to the City. Hagan Realty has donated a series of paintings to be installed on the second floor of the Hannah Community Center to fulfill the art obligation from the apartment complex that company built on Durand Road. The paintings have yet to be installed, but Gonzales Triplett has indicated that there will be an unveiling and public reception when they are hung.
Because many of the developments currently underway don’t leave much space left over on site for the installation of public art, it is likely that East Lansing will see many additional public art donations in the future.
Three developers have taken the third option for meeting the requirement, moving to donate money directly into the City’s Public Art Fund. The new Costco store project on Saginaw Highway, the SpringHill Suites hotel development on Trowbridge Road, and the student housing project known as the Cottages on Chandler Road have all elected to use the donation option, meaning that the Public Art Fund now has a healthy balance that can be used for the purchase, installation or commission of public art under the guidance of the East Lansing Arts Commission.
At the May 18 meeting, the East Lansing Arts Commission unanimously voted to commit $50,000 of the Public Art Fund money to seed the installation of a major sculpture in Valley Court Park. There was until recently a public art work installed at Valley Court park, a sculpture called “Community” (shown below) that was commissioned as part of the City’s centennial celebrations, but it had to be moved to storage due to degradation from the elements. Gonzales Triplett has indicated that it will be reinstalled if a suitable protected space can be found.
In addition to the six projects that have now fully met their public art obligations, there are several more projects in the pipeline that have indicated to the Arts Commission how they intend to spend their art money. The solar array to be installed on Burcham Drive is expected to include an artwork onsite, as is the Park District project. The Bailey Community Center rehabilitation includes a public theater space which the Arts Commission agreed to could be used to meet the requirements.
David Krause, one of the developers on the almost-complete mixed-use project being installed at the site of the former blighted Taco Bell building at 565 East Grand River Avenue, met with the Arts Commission in March with a proposal for a steel column made from recycled material from the Broad Museum, to be attached to the front corner of the building.
After a lengthy debate about whether the proposed column could be considered an artwork rather than simply a building façade, the Arts Commission split 2 to 2, with Gonzales Triplett abstaining, saying that she wanted to review the way that public art was defined in the ordinance. Rather than wait for approval of the columnar art concept, Krause removed his proposal and has since indicated that the developers will be purchasing a sculpture to be installed on site or donated to the City.
Harbor Bay Real Estate, the co-developer on the $132 million Center City project, has indicated that those developers will be donating their Percent for Art money directly to the Public Art Fund.
The Percent for Art Ordinance is very specific in how money from the Public Art Fund can be spent. Expenditures are limited to the cost of artwork and its installation, identifying plaques and labels, mechanical works which are an integral part of the artwork (like a water pump in a fountain), and items necessary for display, such as frames or pedestals.
Public Art money can also be used for maintenance and repair, and fees to artists for execution of final proposals. Marketing costs and support for artistic festivals may not exceed 5% of the amount reserved for the artwork, and administrative costs may not exceed 15%.
There are currently two openings on the East Lansing Art Selection Panel and one on the East Lansing Arts Commission. Citizens who would like to be involved with future public art projects in the City of East Lansing or who want to serve in some other volunteer public capacity should see the City’s dedicated page on Board and Commissions openings.
Disclsoure: Jessy Gregg serves on the East Lansing Arts Commission.