$70,000 city-funded art project to proceed with or without grant money

Five sections have been selected along Auburn Road for the art installations.

by ANDREW NEAL

At last Monday’s meeting, Rochester Hills city council members approved a $70,000 art project to be implemented as part of the Auburn Road corridor revitalization efforts. The project was approved 4-2, with councilmembers Morita and Mungioli voting no.

The Rochester Hills Planning and Economic Development, Parks and Natural Resources, and Public Services Departments are working with the Paint Creek Center for the Arts (PCCA) and Reuther Middle School to create asphalt art in the Auburn Road corridor.

The Art on Auburn project will include an art contest through Reuther Middle School. Five individual sites along the unused edges of parallel parking between Culbertson and Hessel Avenue have been selected for the art installations.

The City of Rochester Hills has submitted a grant request for $25,000 to Bloomberg Philanthropies to help offset the $70,000 cost to install the artwork in the new Brookslands District on Auburn Road. Monday’s vote, however, includes a provision that the project will move forward with or without the grant money.

Councilmember Theresa Mungioli voted against the project on Monday.

“As I’m thinking through this process I’m also thinking of a very old quote from Coco Chanel, that when you get dressed and walk out the door you should stop and take one thing off because you may overdo it,” Mungioli said. “And I think at this point, putting art on the street is just one too many things for me and I think we’re overdoing it.”

Mungioli added, “I would prefer to see us divert the money into other programs in the city.”

Councilmember Stephanie Morita, the other dissenting vote, asked what chemicals and materials would be used for the art installations. Public Services Director Allan Schneck responded that the material is similar to a thermal plastic that would be hot-applied and mold into the asphalt. Schneck added that the material is environmentally-safe.

Councilmember Morita echoed Mungioli’s concerns of doing too much, and added that the ongoing maintenance on the project is an additional expense.

Schneck said that knowing the artwork would fade over time, there would have to be an appropriate maintenance budget in the future. “It’s our responsibility to make sure they are taken care of and through the routine preventative maintenance they would be.”

“But that’s the thing,” Morita responded, “it’s not just a $70,000 cost. It’s going to be an ongoing maintenance expense.”

“As a mother, I have to tell you, I have concerns about the kids whose artwork that we’re putting in the street, and then they come by in five years and feel like the city’s not taking care of it,” Morita said. “I wouldn’t want to have to explain that to my child, as to why we’re letting their artwork fade in the streets of Rochester Hills.”

“I want to see what this corridor looks like when it’s done and if we really need that one extra accessory that maybe Coco Chanel would not appreciate,” Morita said.

Councilmember David Blair defended the project saying, “I would say that it’s a splendid idea. I don’t know if it’s something I would want to keep doing. I think the temporary nature of it is great, and if in five years it was a great success we’ll do it again, and if not we’ll learn from our mistake and can it.”

Councilmember Dale Hetrick asked Schneck where the funds would come from if the city did not receive the supplemental grant it has applied for.

“The parking lot project appears to be right now about $200,000 under budget. So to your point Mr. Hetrick, if only half of that remaining budget was left, there would be sufficient funds to cover the entire cost if in fact we didn’t get the grant.”

Council President Ryan Deel spoke to the Gazette after the meeting, defending the Art on Auburn project.

“We strive to be an innovative community, we’re always looking for ways to kind of push the envelope of what we can do to really increase the quality of life for our residents,” Deel said. “And it’s those little amenities that while you’re in the project, they don’t necessarily increase the cost of the project by that much, but they really add a little something special, and it helps to make it feel more like home. I think that those, what I consider to be those little touches of home, are what sets Rochester Hills apart from other cities.”

In order to be eligible for the grant money, the art must be installed this year. Officials are looking to have the project completed by this fall.