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Press Release

Matt Bach, Director of Media Relations
Michigan Municipal League
(734) 669-6317; C (810) 874-1073;


Ann Arbor Panel Discusses Ways to Raise Arts Awareness

When you think of Ann Arbor, images of arts and culture likely come to mind. After all, the vibrant city is home to the Ann Arbor art fairs, Ann Arbor Summer Festival, and other well-known events, including the FoolMoon and FestiFools celebrations that took place over the weekend.

But leaders in the Ann Arbor area arts community participating in a panel discussion Friday, explained that support for the arts isn’t as strong as it could be. In some cases, in fact, support for the arts seems to be waning compared to other Michigan communities.

The arts discussion panel, organized by the Michigan Municipal League and WonderFool Productions, took place Friday evening at Workantile in downtown Ann Arbor. Discussion panelists were moderator Mary Morgan, founder and executive director of The CivCity Initiative; Shary Brown, board president of WonderFool Productions; Kirk Westphal, member of the Ann Arbor city council; and Deb Polich, president/CEO of The Arts Alliance and Artrain Inc.

“We have in this community a lot of terrific high-quality organizations. But we have a small population of people and businesses and no huge corporations or foundations to fund these activities,” Brown said. “We’re all competing for the same dollars.”

More than 40 people attended Friday’s event to raise awareness on how the cultural arts contribute to a community’s vitality and economic health. The event was tied to WonderFool Productions’ FoolMoon festivities which took place on Friday, and the FestiFools on Sunday. The League was so impressed with the FestiFools project that it was featured in a chapter in the League’s new placemaking book, The Economics of Place: The Art of Building Great Communities. The book is available for purchase here (

“FestiFools and FoolMoon serve as great examples of community building. Inspired by U of M art teacher, Mark Tucker, they grew into these seemingly spontaneous street festivals, engaging university students, residents, businesses, and local officials. Not only are they amazingly creative and fun events, but they also have a huge impact on the local economy,” said Colleen Layton, director of policy development for the League. “Plus, what they’ve done can be replicated in other communities.”

The panelists discussed the economic benefit to a community of having arts and culture programs and activities, like FestiFools and the Ann Arbor art fairs. Brown said a study from 2008 showed the Ann Arbor art fairs brought in about $70 million to the local economy in less than a week.

“That’s nothing to sneeze at,” Brown said. “It’s important to understand that these high quality events can draw visitors and money to build the brand of the community.”

Westphal added that he and his wife moved to Ann Arbor from New York 11 years ago to start a family and they did so, in part, because of the city’s arts and culture reputation.

“Arts and culture play a major role in forming an attachment to your community,” Westphal said. “The brand of a community matters. What’s going on in a community matters.”

Getting funding for arts programs is always a struggle, particularly in Michigan where tax options are limited. In the Cleveland area, for example, there’s a tax levied on tobacco that is dedicated to the arts. In Austin, Texas, they use 12 percent of a 9 percent accommodation tax to support arts and culture. In November 2008, Minnesotans passed the clean water, land, and legacy amendment to the Minnesota Constitution which includes 3/8 of one percent of the state’s sales tax dedicated to clean water, habitat protection, parks and the arts. Of the $300 million generated, arts and cultural heritage fund receives about $70 million annually—a little less than ½ the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts. Michigan cities have very few taxing options and the panelists called on state lawmakers to change some of these regulations to help further support for the arts.

“We’ve been very blessed in this community because we have had people who value arts and culture, ” Polich said. “It comes down to the public investing in what they believe in. It’s changing now. Placemaking is the buzz word—everybody is looking at placemaking to create communities people want to live in and they’re investing in arts and culture to create attractive communities. Ann Arbor is starting to lose ground as other communities are investing public support in their arts and culture. We’re at risk of losing our edge.”

For more information about FestiFools and FoolMoon go to For additional details on the League and its placemaking efforts go to


The Michigan Municipal League advocates on behalf of its member communities in Lansing, Washington, D.C., and the courts; provides educational opportunities for elected and appointed municipal officials; and assists municipal leaders in administering services to their communities through League programs and services.




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