editorial: Sending public art to the voters a sound move, in Detroit as well as Ann Arbor
Should Washtenaw County voters be asked to support the Detroit Institute of Arts? Would Ann Arbor voters support a public art tax? Both questions arose last week, raising still more questions about both the county’s role in the southeast Michigan regional landscape—and what role voters here could and should play in supporting the arts.
On the DIA millage—passed on Tuesday by voters in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties—residents of Washtenaw were not faced with a choice. That’s because the millage effort—which originally found in polls that voters here were supportive of it—determined that its best and most expedient route was to focus on the three core Metro Detroit counties.
And then on Thursday, Ann Arbor’s City Council raised the likelihood that voters in November will get a chance to decide whether the city should levy a four-year, 0.1-mill tax to pay for public art. If passed, it would raise about $460,000 annually and end the city’s “Percent for Art” program that now funds public art.
We support the DIA, and believe that the best decision was made in that millage effort to exclude Washtenaw County from the vote. Patrons here can still support the cultural institution through user fees and direct donations. Pulling Washtenaw into that vote raised too many other unresolved questions about how much we should be involved in regional funding decisions. While we support pursuing a stronger relationship with Metro Detroit, we’re simply not there yet.
On the public art vote, AnnArbor.com has expressed support for the city’s public art program and we continue to do so. We’ve urged the city to give preference to local and Michigan artists, and we’ve also urged due diligence on controlling costs and making sound financial decisions.
The reason behind the support is the long and deep benefits the city enjoys from embracing the arts: The economic development activity of the Ann Arbor Art Fair and University of Michigan arts-related events, the quality of life issue from the many arts-related activities here, and the quality and breadth of the local artists’ work. We stood behind the program as it was initiated. We’ve also recognized some residents’ concerns about the costs and value of the public art.
As council considers placing the measure on the ballot, we offer initial support to the move - and also urge its proponents to consider what they’ve learned from detractors to craft a proposal that generates a landslide victory, signaling their ability to achieve widespread support.