Arts Recovery in Arlington: Partnership Suggestions for the Arlington County Board

The recent “State of the Arts” survey taken by Arlington’s arts organizations and artists (see attached) revealed how severely our arts organizations have been adversely impacted by the pandemic and associated curbing of in-person activities. The arts, especially those organizations and artists that rely on live performances for their livelihoods (i.e., theaters, musical organizations and choral groups) will likely be the last to reopen, dealing another blow to their ability to recoup lost revenue. In addition, these arts organizations and individual artists (known as “gig” workers) have not been on the priority list to receive either public relief or private funds to aid them in weathering the impacts of the pandemic. Rightly, most of these monies have been directed towards organizations dealing with immediate living needs of our County’s residents (i.e., hunger, housing insecurity, healthcare, elder care, etc.).

Without this crucial aid, arts organizations have had to shed employees, freelance artists have lost their livelihood, and contractors (i.e., directors, designers, teaching artists, etc.) working with these arts organizations have lost valuable business opportunities and employment for almost an entire year (and counting). Yet the arts are and continue to be a crucial component of our healing process as we start to conquer this pandemic. From our younger generations to our seniors to residents with disabilities to those struggling with depression or mental illness, the arts can help us survive this pandemic and be stronger when we can all come together again.

With this in mind, we are asking County leaders to review the requests below to revitalize our community’s arts industry. These ideas emerged from a strategy session with representatives from all supported County arts organizations and are designed to help them survive and be able to thrive on the other side of this crisis.

We also want to help you! As the County considers alternative recovery and reopening plans, we would appreciate the opportunity to sit at the table and offer solutions on behalf of the arts industry. We are all in this together and striving to keep everyone safe and healthy.

Financial Support:

Although we realize that the upcoming County budget will be tight, we are asking that consideration be given to keeping monies for the arts grants program to community organizations steady. If additional federal, state or other funding is made available to Arlington, we ask that strong consideration be given to increasing funding levels for arts grants.

We also ask that the County consider a setting up and funding a special recovery or sustainability fund to help arts organizations currently employing staff. This will allow them to continue paying individuals who have not yet been laid off or furloughed as the shutdown drags on.

Venues:

We are asking the County to provide assistance to arts organizations in locating and facilitating the use (including the elimination of red tape associated with using these venues and assuring the ability for organizations to sell tickets and accept donations at the site) of outdoor spaces around the County where performances, rehearsals, camps and classes could safely take place starting (preferably) in early spring. Finding suitable spaces would allow arts organizations and individual artists to start earning revenue again by re-starting their businesses by offering performances before live audiences since indoor venues are not feasible at this time.

Specifically, we are requesting that the Lubber Run Amphitheater open as soon as weather permits (but no later than April), with priority being given to Arlington art organizations and artists to mount performances. Another potential outdoor site is the Ballston Quarter covered garage owned by the County. Portions of this space might be a workable location for rehearsals and live performances (instrumental and choral concerts, dance performances, limited theater productions, etc.) Other outdoor site suggestions include publicly accessible open spaces in Rosslyn and Ballston, the outdoor patio at Thomas Jefferson, and outdoor fields at local schools when they are not in use.

Technical Assistance:

In connection with identifying possible venues where artists and arts organizations might be able to perform, we would ask the County for assistance in procuring appropriate tents or other coverings as needed, as well as associated lighting and audio/visual equipment. Some arts organizations might be in a position to utilize the mobile stage for productions. We would ask that the existing stage be made available at no or greatly reduced charges to organizations planning to conduct live events.

As arts organizations and artists pivot to online and streaming productions in lieu of live performances, they are finding it prohibitively expensive and learning that it requires technical expertise and equipment that most of our arts organizations lack. Fortunately, the County has staff with these skills, as well as audio visual equipment that could greatly assist arts organizations in producing filmed versions of their productions that could be made available to audiences digitally. This would enable arts organizations to restart their businesses, acquire earned revenue to pay their staffs, and hire the artists and contractors who are so important to the recovery of Arlington’s gig economy.

Filming productions also requires the availability of stages, as well as space and supplies with which to build sets since the public and patrons have moved beyond “ZOOM play readings” used at the beginning of the pandemic. Many arts organizations nationwide have begun to create scenery, hold rehearsals, and film their performances in a safe manner which observes proper health protocols. We ask that the County consider reopening the Scene shop with advice and guidance from public health officials, and make available the Gunston and 3700 Four Mile Run black box theater spaces to organizations that are able to start filming live productions.

Health Protocols:

Arts organization representatives and artists also cited confusion about what health protocols are required of hosting organizations looking to offer performances before live audiences and for filming live productions. We would ask that the Health Department create standardized health procedures applicable to these events. For example, what are the protocols around requirements and proper use of PPE, temperature taking, mask wearing, HVAC requirements, etc. for audiences, organization staff and artists for both indoor and outdoor performances, especially for performances in public or County owned buildings?

Acquiring Testing/Health Equipment:

To assist arts organizations and artists offering live performances, can the County assist in helping them acquire rapid COVID testing and other equipment (i.e., thermometers) suggested by local, state and federal guidelines at no cost or discounted rates?

Corporate Matching:

At an Arlington Chamber of Commerce meeting held during the last budget cycle, County Manager Mark Schwartz stated that the County could help facilitate conversations between corporate representatives and arts organizations. We want to take advantage of that offer and talk further about how the County can help. In addition to financial assistance from the corporate world, this could also include identifying corporations that could provide “skill sets” such as business plans, data management, accounting, marketing, etc. to support ongoing operations and individual artists.

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