'13 may see rebirth of Southfield arts group


Following on the heels of the hugely successful Detroit Institute of Arts outdoor art exhibit in Southfield, the City Council is reviving a public art commission.

“The purpose of this is to get art out into the community,” said council President Ken Siver, who presented an outline of the commission's structure to fellow council members at a recent meeting.

Southfield has made past forays into the art world in the ‘80s, with an outdoor art sculpture display in the Civic Center's pavilion area and a committee established to explore turning what is now the Shriner's center into an art center.

Recalling that previous commission, Councilman Don Fracassi supported the idea, adding that the council should “spell out what members' interest would be” as a way of moving it forward.

Council members, who were generally receptive to the idea, reviewed the success of art commissions and projects as far away as Chicago and San Diego and as near at hand as Ferndale and Detroit's Mid-Town area.

Siver noted that there are grants available to fund projects, and that Ferndale rents the art it has on display in its downtown area. He called for appointing a commission composed of general citizens, with representatives from the art community, such as gallery owners, and architects.

“I want to stress that this is not just about the Civic Center. This is a community-wide effort,” he said.

Councilwoman Joan Seymour welcomed the idea, suggesting that artwork be strategically placed at entrances to subdivisions, as well as on corporate properties, but she expressed concern about funds would be raised to support such a project.

“We all go to the same businesses (for corporate donations),” she said. Seymour wondered if “we are asking too much of the business community.”

Fracassi, who has been a proponent of improvements along Telegraph, suggested working with the Michigan Department of Transportation to get public art displays in the median on Telegraph. He added that corporations fronting on Telegraph should be encouraged to place sculptures on their property that could be lighted for nighttime viewing.

Councilwoman Sylvia Jordan likewise said that art should be placed along Eight Mile Road, though she expressed concern about costs.

Councilman Jeremy Moss who, at age 25, is the youngest member of the body, said he is “absolutely in favor of an arts commission.” Moss campaigned and has supported efforts to attract younger people to Southfield. He said that the work of an arts commission could result in Southfield “becoming a place of interest on a map.”

Moss acknowledge Seymour's concern about the cost, but suggested that the commission “could start small...but we have to start somewhere.”

“We have a long way to go, but this is a step for getting there,” he said.

Councilman Sid Lantz who, at age 92, is the oldest member of the council, was the lone member to oppose creation of a commission. He said that if art is placed on display, it would be stolen, and said that the council was “not facing reality.”

Seymour said that the reason why past efforts in the arts, such as a Southfield symphony, didn't succeed “is because we didn't support them.”

Councilman Myron Frasier said he supported the idea of a commission, and he recalled the success of a public art project of Southfield Public Schools, in which images of students were displayed along major roads.

While the city is not able to buy any artworks or sculpture, Frasier said, placing art work throughout the community will give residents a “sense of ownership and pride,” similar to that experienced by students who saw their likenesses displayed in the city. He added that young people should be involved in a commission project.

Mayor Brenda Lawrence liked the idea, saying “it's a new day,” and she pointed out the success of the Southfield Jazz Band. “They are phenomenal,” she said. Lawrence said that the commission would need to be flexible to do something creative.

City Manager Jim Scharret addressed financial aspects of an arts commission, saying that he had learned that, for every $1 spent on art, another $4 in brought back into the community.

“Art is an economic driver,” Siver said. “It fuels revitalization.”