Background Paper: Our Infrastructure Initiative
Arlington County is home to about 35-40 arts groups (down from 50 four years ago!) and hundreds of visual artists. Among the many genres represented are performing arts, dance, symphony, opera, children’s theater, public art, chamber music, visual arts, movement theater, and media arts. While the County previously housed several heritage groups including Bangladesh, India, Cambodia, Bolivia, Mexico, Argentina, and Vietnam, among others, the list has dwindled to roughly 3-4.
Over the last 4-5 years, the number of groups and performances have been decreasing and the County has been losing some of its cultural presence – primarily due to the inadequate indoor performance space for arts groups, as well as for musical bands and other entertainment events. Venues have closed (Artisphere, Rosslyn Spectrum, Iota, and most recently the Clarendon Ballroom) over the last several years for varied reasons, and the remaining ones are primarily part of larger venues (mostly middle schools) or “found” spaces, meaning the base building was not initially designed to accommodate a theater use. Therefore, they lack the ambiance that audiences expect when going out for the evening. As a result, several professional Arlington arts groups have already left the County to perform in DC and elsewhere, and many others are considering doing so because of this lack of quality performance space.
In addition, the County Manager announced that they will not be investing in arts infrastructure projects, but rather using libraries, community centers, parks, etc. for their programming events (which absolutely are not feasible for our professional performing arts organizations). Therefore, the County Manager has decided to relieve the developer of his community benefit obligation to build a quality black box theater on Fairfax Drive which was part of the site plan, twice approved by the County Board and a promise made to Arlington residents and arts organizations for a stand-alone venue.
Embracing Arlington Arts (an independent citizens group comprised of Arlington arts supporters) is therefore embarking on an ambitious initiative to work with stakeholders, arts patrons, arts organizations, and community leaders to facilitate having a theater built at another existing structure site. This plan assumes no management requirements by the County, no County staff expenses, and all operating expenses being paid by the theater organization itself. It also assumes a major capital campaign by Embracing Arlington Arts, arts organizations and stakeholders, as well as developer contributions, to build out the exterior and interior of the venue.
This venture is critical at this time because neighboring Fairfax County, Herndon, Alexandria and Falls Church are all planning to build new, quality state-of-the-art performance theaters. It is essential that Arlington keep pace with its neighboring counties in offering a professional venue for patrons to see quality music, comedy, performing arts, visual arts and so much more. We should not be sending residents to DC, Maryland or other Virginia counties for their entertainment, and therefore their dining out choices. There is wonderful talent (and restaurants) here in Arlington, but without a suitable venue, we will very likely lose even more professional arts organizations as they pursue opportunities elsewhere.
We know this is a challenge, but we also recognize that Arlington is a great County that can be made so much better with the addition of a performing arts/live music venue that can benefit so many of our residents through the continued incorporation of arts and culture in their everyday lives, as well as help scores of local restaurants who depend on Arlingtonians spending their time and dollars in Arlington, and not in DC and Maryland.