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Embracing Arlington Arts Hosts Virtual Debate with Democratic County Board Candidates About Arts in Arlington (link to full debate at end of release)
(May 12, 2021; Arlington, VA) – In order to help Arlington voters understand each Democratic candidate’s stand on the importance of arts and culture in the County, Embracing Arlington Arts hosted a debate between the two – incumbent Takis Karantonis and challenger Chanda Choun. The hour-long event covered several topics including a new performing arts venue, equity in an arts district, the role of the County Board to incentivize support for the arts, and more.
Both candidates used their opening statements to express their support of the arts. “The arts and artists stand high on the list of why I love Arlington,” Karantonis declared. Choun asserted, “Art is what makes us human.”
The question that received the most direct opposite and differing responses was whether each candidate would be open to transferring the Cultural Affairs Department (CAD) to another government division instead of under the management of Arlington Economic Development (AED). Choun responded with a resounding yes. “On the surface, it doesn’t make sense to me that Cultural Affairs is under AED. I even question whether the AED Director really knows the arts or what arts people are doing.” He added, “I want to explore moving CAD and finding it a better spot that ideally advances the arts in Arlington, treats the personnel (arts organizations) the right way and allows them to operate the way they should.”
Karantonis countered “I differ vehemently” (with Choun’s response). He expressed the firm belief that “One of the best departments to have CAD, if it does not stand by itself, is within Economic Development. Connecting with the economic system of the County is essential to growing the arts scene.” Speaking directly to the attendees on the call, he added “If there is a criticism of this structure, I would like to hear it.”
Both candidates expressed the belief that a flexible performing arts venue is needed in Arlington. When speaking about the decision to rescind the pledge by the County to build a black box theater in Virginia Square, Karantonis stated, “One of the things that concerns me the most about the future of the arts in Arlington was that decision.” He pledged to “work together with developers to see what we learned from the black box theater and how we can provide a venue,” and he promised to “rethink and revisit the shortage of performing arts venues.” Karantonis added that the County also “needs to look at zoning restrictions to help revitalize venues.” Choun agreed. “I don’t like to see heritage groups moving to neighboring localities. If we believe that Arlington should be a world class arts destination, then we need this theater.”
On the equity issue, both candidates strongly expressed the need for more diversity in the arts in the County. “This needs to be a priority,” Choun declared. “The arts are not a diverse place here and sometimes the grants given are not awarded to diverse recipients. We need to look at who has been left behind and remedy that.” Karantonis stressed the “need to make it possible for our marginalized communities to produce and enjoy art.”
When asked what role the County has to incentivize large corporations to partner with non-profit arts organizations, Karantonis asserted, “Our job is to create connections with businesses. We should also leverage Tourism Bureau funds to support the local arts scene.” Choun went even further by stating “Our County Board has a primary role when companies want to build here to fight for, and have the arts included in community benefit agreements.” He added, “We also need to consider the inclusion of the arts when developing site plans.”
Other takeaways from the debate: Both candidates support reopening the Lee Arts Center, although they both acknowledged that there are issues to doing so. Both candidates believe that working together with the Arlington Public Schools is a good idea for promoting visual arts. They did differ in what they envisioned for the visual arts scene with Choun desiring events at existing galleries packed to capacity, and Karantonis emphasizing using empty spaces for more pop-up galleries.
In closing Choun, referring to his roots in Cambodia, emphasized “I believe in the arts and I support the arts because I want us to survive as individuals. I want us to be free to express ourselves.” He added, “I will be a transformative County Board member that makes art happen.” Karantonis concluded by stating “I believe in working with the arts organizations to elevate the sense of place and civic pride in Arlington.”
Arlington County voters have until June 8th to choose a Democratic candidate to run in the November general election for a County Board seat.
Embracing Arlington Arts is a non-profit organization whose mission is to enhance the vibrancy and health of arts and culture in Arlington through advocacy and awareness programs, outreach initiatives and projects that enhance equitable access to the arts and cultural environment. Interested supporters are encouraged to “follow” and “like” us on Facebook; and follow us on Twitter, #EmbracingArlingtonArts.
For more information, contact Janet Kopenhaver at firstname.lastname@example.org.