PowerArt! Three favorites From Ann Arbor’s Open-Air Museum

. August 31, 2019.
John Gutoskey Because I Cannot Sleep (corner of Ashley and Washington), David Zinn Pen Pals (corner of South Main and William), Leslie Sobel Lake Michigan Blues (corner of William and Division)
John Gutoskey Because I Cannot Sleep (corner of Ashley and Washington) Photo: K.A. Letts , David Zinn Pen Pals (corner of South Main and William)Photo: K.A. Letts , Leslie Sobel Lake Michigan Blues (corner of William and Division) Photo: John Gutoskey.

By K.A. Letts

We expect public art— all those fountains, sculptures and murals— to express our civic soul, our collective values and our aspirations, providing visual relief from right angles and concrete.

Ann Arbor’s PowerArt!, an ongoing project sponsored by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission, The Arts Alliance and private donors, places the work of some of the city’s most accomplished artists in the open-air. Open for viewing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the ubiquitous and oft-defaced traffic signal boxes, squatting like toads at each major intersection, have been wrapped, and redeemed, in colorful vinyl replicas of work by Washtenaw County artists.

The artists were selected through a two-step process, balancing the expertise of a knowledgeable jury of art professionals with popular sentiment, garnered through an online public vote. The results, so far, have been a hit. Deb Polich, President of the Arts Alliance and manager of the PowerArt! program , says that most people previously ignored the unsightly boxes. “But once they’re covered with something attractive,” she says, “People begin to think, ‘Gosh that was an eyesore before!’”

Some of the fun in PowerArt! is in seeing work around town by talented artists you may know and to pick your favorites. Here are a few that you shouldn’t miss:

John Gutoskey Because I Cannot Sleep (corner of Ashley and Washington)

Gutoskey is a socially aware and politically active media master in assemblage and printmaking. He maintains an active art practice in Ann Arbor, and also curates and shows his highly topical work nationally. Gutoskey recently won Best Juried 2D Prize at Grand Rapids’ Artprize.

Gutoskey’s power box image is from his series of 12 mixed media monoprints Climbing Out of the Abyss, a series where he wrestles with his anxiety over current events: “Haow do I keep a sense of faith in the goodwill of humanity when minorities, immigrants, women and the poor are under constant attack by the government?” he asks.

Gutoskey reaches for the answer in his work.

David Zinn Pen Pals (corner of South Main and William)

Transitioning to the whimsical, the Main Street traffic signal box, adorned with David Zinn’s, gently comical, Pen Pals, depicts an unlikely pairing of a friendly octopus and a little mouse guy. Along with these recurring characters in Zinn’s ongoing sidewalk fairytales, the bulk his art practice is ephemeral. He creates small tromp l’oeil characters and scenarios in chalk and (mostly) outdoors, often leveraging the peculiarities of the built environment such as cracks in the pavement or odd angles in walls to surprise the unwary. Although the images are temporary, photos of the originals often make their way into picture books that Zinn, a graphic artist when he’s not a sidewalk artist, creates and sells on his website.

A certain modesty is built into Zinn’s work by its temporary nature, seemingly saying that it’s enough for him to make us smile.

Leslie Sobel Lake Michigan Blues (corner of William and Division)

Leslie Sobel describes herself as “a hiker, activist, music lover, M.F.A. student.” Her box features a reproduction of her encaustic painting of a view from the Sleeping Bear Dunes, where she camps with her family each summer.

The daughter of two scientists who encouraged her fascination with the natural environment, Sobel is deeply engaged in the study of climate change and passionately involved in environmental advocacy.

Two years ago, Sobel traveled to the Eclipse Icefield in Kluane National Park in Canada’s Yukon Territory with a group of climate scientists, to study glacial changes which have affected the water supply to the Slim River. She explains her contribution to the group as an artist: “One of the central fallacies from those fighting climate change action is that what is here now is normal. It takes data to demonstrate that it is not. We artists can make that into a form that resonates with people, in a way that scientific reporting alone may not be able to do.”

More than two-dozen power boxes

There are over two dozen artist-decorated power boxes peppered around Ann Arbor’s streets right now. Pick your own favorites, perhaps a dreamy childhood memory by Kathy Jacobs, a techno-futurist fantasy by Tim Gralewski, or a catalog of nature’s varied species by Bruce Worden. Options abound with art by and for the community. Enjoy!

Trending

PowerArt! Three favorites From Ann Arbor’s Open-Air Museum

By K.A. Letts We expect public art— all those fountains, sculptures and murals— to express our civic soul, our collective values and our aspirations, providing visual relief from right angles and concrete. Ann Arbor’s PowerArt!, an ongoing project sponsored by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission, The Arts Alliance

Tyler Duncan On Versatility & Community

by Jeff Milo Music forges connections. And with an artist like Tyler Duncan spending the last 15 years in the producer’s chair for albums by Michigan-based artists, music cultivates versatility. Ann Arbor-based Grammy-nominated multi-instrumentalist composer/producer, Tyler Duncan’s fall/winter slate of production/writing-contribution credits include the forthcoming debut album by singer/songwriter Madeline Grant, followed by new releases

Norma Jeane Baker of Troy

Identity in Distress

Ticket to Ride: Swizzille Trip’s ‘Psychedelic Friday’ Aug. 30 at The Blind Pig

Swizzille Trip will take Ann Arbor on a dreamy, unhinged sonic ride Friday night. The Detroit psych-rock trio will host “Psychedelic Friday” with Detroit Trouble, The Kenny Hill Group, Frame 42 and XLR8 at The Blind Pig. It will be a far-out musical journey filled with trippy, poppy and down-home blues-rock fitting for a Labor