Dems Debate in Ballston — The six Democratic candidates for County Board faced off in their first debate last night, before a standing-room only crowd at the NRECA conference center in Ballston. The debate was held by Arlington Young Democrats. Though knowledgable about current issues facing Arlington, candidates were light on specifics about what should be done to address those issues. [InsideNova]
Disruption Corp. Sold to 1776 — Disruption Corp., the Crystal City-based tech investment fund and office space, has been acquired by D.C.-based tech incubator 1776. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. [Washington Post]
Caps Pep Rally at Elementary School — Third grade students at Carlin Springs Elementary School have won a contest to bring a Washington Capitals playoff pep rally to their school today. The rally will start at 12:30 p.m. “There won’t likely be any players, but it will be a great time for all,” a teacher tells ARLnow.com. “The kids will be getting prizes, pictures with Slapshot (the Caps’ mascot) and learning some hockey skills. The Caps are also donating equipment to the school.” [Washington Capitals]
Artisphere ‘Doomed from the Start’ — Artisphere, which is on the budgetary chopping block next week, was “doomed from the start,” according to the artistic director of a theatre company that was booted out of its space at the cultural center two years after it opened. An anonymous Artisphere employee said of the early, over-optimistic attendance and revenue projections: “All of those numbers were so completely false.” [Washington Post]
McAuliffe Signs Special Needs Bill in Arlington — On Tuesday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe came to Arlington to sign the ABLE Act, which will allow individuals with special needs, and their families, to set up tax-exempt accounts that will allow them to save for future living expenses. Virginia is the first state to enact such legislation, which received the blessing of the U.S. Congress in December. [WJLA]
Security of Va. Voting Machines Blasted — The touch screen voting machines now being replaced in Arlington and elsewhere in Virginia were “so easy to hack, it will take your breath away,” according to reports. [Ars Technica, The Guardian]
Flickr pool photo by Alan Kotok
(Updated at 2:25 p.m.) Next Tuesday, the Arlington County Board will vote on a budget that may or may not close Artisphere, the ambitious but money-losing cultural center in Rosslyn.
With the future of Artisphere and the nature of the county’s support for the arts on the line, it’s worth taking a look back at the optimism that surrounded Artisphere’s opening.
County leaders showed off the $6.7 million, 62,000 square foot facility on Oct. 6, 2010, touting it as — in our words — “a centerpiece of the effort to revitalize the workaday Rosslyn business district.”
Indeed, even though it was a county-owned facility, the Rosslyn Business Improvement District provided much of the support for Artisphere’s opening. In a press release about the opening — printed on Rosslyn letterhead — the BID committed $1 million in start-up funds for the facility, and pledged $300,000 annually for the life of the center. That commitment was signified in the form of a giant $7.3 million check presented to then-County Board Chair Jay Fisette at a press event.
Artisphere was designed to be a “new breed of urban arts center,” with four performance venues, three visual art galleries, a 4,000 square foot ballroom, a “WiFi Town Hall,” and its own cafe and bar. Initial programming cut a broad cultural swath, including music and dancing, often with an international flair; conceptual and interactive art exhibits; poetry open mic nights; documentary and art film screenings; the Washington Shakespeare Company; educational events; and even puppetry.
Rosslyn, county and cultural leaders believed that the Artisphere would be a game-changer for the neighborhood, attracting 250,000 visitors a year and generating nearly $800,000 in admission and ticket revenue, in addition to expanding the county’s artistic horizons.
“Artisphere is a new model for American cultural centers… a unique techno-savvy arts space that offers interactive opportunities to participate in the creative experience,” Arlington Cultural Affairs division chief Norma Kaplan said in the 2010 press release. “It will be a venue between work and home where people living and working in the Washington area can engage in the arts, challenge their intellect, or just hang out.”
(Kaplan would leave her post for a job in New Jersey less than a year later, after Artisphere’s visitor revenue projections came in 75 percent below expectations. By the April 2011, fewer than 50,000 people had visited Artisphere.)
Artisphere might have opened on an intriguing date, but in the rush to open on 10/10/10 the county was unable to hire an executive director or find a cafe operator in time for the opening. It would be January 2011 before Jose Ortiz, who previously worked at the Harvard Art Museum, was hired to lead the center as executive director. In April came the opening of Here Cafe + Bar, run by the owners of Guajillo in Rosslyn.
While the Arlington County Board enters their final deliberations surrounding the potential closing of the Artisphere, one local entrepreneur is trying to save it.
Pete Erickson is the founder of MoDev, which organizes conferences for mobile software developers. Erickson has hosted a handful of conferences at Artisphere and is planning his latest — MVP (minimum viable product) Conference — for May 18 and 19.
When Erickson heard that County Manager Barbara Donnellan recommended defunding the arts and events venue in Rosslyn, and then realized that no one else seemed to share his vision for its business potential, he could no longer sit idly by.
“I thought I’d wait to see what was going to happen, who was going to come around and just kind of keep tabs on things,” he told ARLnow.com yesterday. “Nothing concrete has come from any other parties. The county is nearing a vote, and they’re under a lot of pressure to cut costs where they can. As that reality began to hit, I sprang into action and said ‘I’ve got a big enough network here to pull together the partners we would need to turn Artisphere into a destination technology, incubation and events hub.’ “
Erickson’s efforts — first reported by Technical.ly – stem from what he’s already been able to do at Artisphere: host events that attract as many as 1,000 attendees. In the D.C. area, there is no place like it.
“It’s hard to find space for a medium-sized conference, which is less than 1,000 people — and 95 percent of all conferences,” he said. “There’s a number of reasons why Artisphere is really well-suited for conferences. Artisphere is a unique space, and you can bring in outside catering, which is a big opportunity, it’s got an IMAX theater, it’s got a black-box theater, an open-air ballroom. It is a good confluence of several things. It’s also hard to find space that’s right on a Metro, close to D.C. and also accessible from the west.”
Erickson is thinking bigger than conferences, too. He has ideas for innovation labs that would bring companies and individuals in during the week, partnerships with incubators like 1776 in D.C. to collocate member businesses. It could turn into its own incubator, and there “could be events happening all the time.”
“One of the downsides with how Artisphere runs currently is everything is linear,” Erickson said. “When a play is happening, there’s not other things happening. When there’s a gallery opening, there’s nothing else that happens.”
The 62,000-square-foot arts center opened at a cost of $6.7 million in 2010 and has been losing money ever since. It was opened up to non-arts events in 2011 — paving the way for MoDev’s conferences — but still is a budget boondoggle for the county.
The County Board appears ready to support Donnellan’s decision — it voted 4-1 in favor of closing Artisphere at a work session earlier this week — but Arlington Economic Development is hoping Erickson can come up with something concrete before it’s too late.
“Right now, it’s just an idea. It’s not even a proposal,” AED Director Victor Hoskins told ARLnow.com yesterday. “The idea is attractive. How you execute it is the question. That’s a much bigger investment than the $250,000 [D.C. invested] in 1776 in 2011.”
“I think MoDev could pull it off, because that’s what they do,” Hoskins added. “But we haven’t even seen a proposal. That’s what we would be looking for.”
Artisphere Executive Director Left in Feb. — Jose Ortiz, executive director of Artisphere, quietly left the position in February. Ortiz is now working as the deputy director of the Bronx Museum in New York City. Artisphere programming director Josh Stoltzfus, meanwhile, has been promoted to acting executive director of the cultural center, which is on the county’s budgetary chopping block.
CivFed: No Tax Hike — Members of the Arlington County Civic Federation approved a resolution this week urging the County Board not to approve any increase in Arlington’s real estate tax rate. Fiscal conservatives on the Civic Federation argued that the county has plenty of reserves and surpluses to tap without the need to further tax struggling homeowners. [InsideNova]
Planning Comm. Rejects Wilson School Historic Status — Arlington’s Planning Commission on Monday voted to oppose a historic designation for the Wilson School in Rosslyn, by a vote of 5-4. That follows the School Board’s unanimous vote again a historic designation for the school, which was built in 1910 but was subsequently renovated significantly from its original form. The school system says trying to preserve parts of the school would require additional time and expense as it plans to build a new facility for the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program on the site. [InsideNova]
Urban Igloo Debuts Clarendon Page — Local apartment matchmaking service Urban Igloo, an ARLnow.com advertiser, has debuted a number of neighborhood information pages, including one for Clarendon. The company says its recently revamped website makes it “one of the first real estate companies to take an online hyperlocal approach to connect renters to specific neighborhoods.” [Urban Igloo]
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
Tech Leaders Want to Save Artisphere — Some 100 tech leaders and supporters have signed a petition asking Arlington County to reconsider closing Artisphere. Numerous tech-related events have been held at Artisphere in the past couple of years and the petition’s organizer says it’s a “unique” venue that has attracts tech networking events and conferences. [Technical.ly DC]
Memorial Bridge Lane Closures — Two center lanes of the Arlington Memorial Bridge will be closed nightly from April 20 through May 8. The lane closure, slated to be in place between 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., is for a “geotechnical inspection” of the bridge, according to the National Park Service.
ACPD ‘Chief for the Day’ — The Arlington County Police Department, which is currently seeking a successor for now-retired police chief Doug Scott, intends to replace him with a fifth grader — well, sort of but not really. While it conducts a real-life search for Scott’s replacement, ACPD is holding its second annual Chief-for-the-Day contest. The contest encourages submissions from fifth grade students in Arlington schools who want to serve as the honorary Chief of Police for a day. [Arlington County]
Endorsement for Cristol — Arlington Commissioner of Revenue Ingrid Morroy has endorsed Katie Cristol, who’s seeking the Democratic nomination for Arlington County Board. Morroy has also endorsed Democratic candidate Christian Dorsey in the race for two open County Board seats. [InsideNova]
Artisphere (1101 Wilson Blvd) in Rosslyn is hosting a unique show this weekend.
“The Pigeoning” is a bunraku puppet show for adults, featuring “live original music and lo-fi special effects to describe the divide between man and nature and the illusion of safety and control in the context of the end of the world.”
“Convinced the pigeons are plotting against him, Frank sets out on an adventure to solve a problem that perhaps isn’t really there,” according to the Artisphere website. “New York-based creator and director Robin Frohardt worked closely with composer Freddi Price and an ensemble of five puppeteers to develop humorous, dialogue-free scenes that succinctly capture the absurdity of Frank’s journey.”
The show will take place at 8:00 p.m. on Friday, March 27 and Saturday, March 28. Tickets are available online for $20.
Photo courtesy Artisphere
Artisphere is very likely to close on June 30, barring a change of heart from the majority of the Arlington County Board, and while many agree with the Board’s decision, the local art scene is lamenting the loss.
Artisphere — with multiple theaters for programming of everything from local orchestras to international groups with experimental sounds and galleries for its free visual art displays — will continue operating as planned, Executive Director Jose Ortiz said.
“The show must go on,” he told ARLnow.com yesterday. “It was definitely a disappointing decision … We have programs that are planned and on the books, from exhibitions and performances to rentals. The items that are on the books must continue.”
ARLnow.com’s unscientific poll yesterday asked readers if they agreed with County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s recommendation to close Artisphere at the end of the fiscal year. Some 57 percent of poll respondents – out of nearly 3,000 votes – said they agree with the decision. Ortiz said he didn’t necessarily disagree with it.
“Barbara said it. This was a business decision,” he said.
Some critics of the move are calling it “short-sighted,” alluding to the multimedia center’s uptick in both revenues and visitors in the past year or more. Donnellan said the theater would require $2 million or more per year to stay open, but vowed to continue the revitalization efforts in Rosslyn.
“In an era when communities throughout the country and especially in the D.C. area have used arts and culture to successfully revitalize neighborhoods, Donnellan’s recommendation to close the county’s most vital cultural asset is both shocking and remarkably short-sighted,” wrote Phil Hutinet, editor of D.C. arts website East City Art.
Ortiz started at Artisphere four months after it opened to lots of hype and hope the it would be revenue neutral. He said he would have “helped people understand what Artisphere was” if he had been involved from the beginning. Still, he said, he’s proud of the four years of programming the center has showcased.
“My hope is people will remember us because they were part of a project or they attended something here that blew their minds,” he said.
A full statement from Oritz on Artisphere’s closing, after the jump: (more…)
(Updated at 9:40 p.m.) Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan is recommending that the county close the Artisphere cultural center in Rosslyn after the first half of 2015.
Donnellan said Artisphere “has not lived up to projections” and would likely require substantial taxpayer support to stay open — more than $2 million per year.
Based on subsequent comments from County Board members, it appears that the Board is likely to adopt the manager’s recommendation next year.
Do you agree that Artisphere should close?
Donnellan made the recommendation at today’s County Board meeting, after being charged by the Board earlier this year to study Artisphere and suggest a way forward for the money-losing, county-run center.
“I will be recommending that the county close the Artisphere as a cultural center in fiscal year 2016,” Donnellan said. “This was a business decision… this was a tough decision, a disappointing one. The reality is that the Artisphere has not lived up to projections.”
Donnellan said Artisphere, in her opinion, would require “substantial ongoing tax support.”
“That is not what we promised our community when we opened Artisphere,” she said. Artisphere will remain open through June 30. It will close after that, if the County Board adopts Donnellan’s recommendation. After Donnellan gave her report, it became clear that the Board was behind her decision and it’s likely the art center will close on June 30.
“I support what you suggested, that next June, Artisphere would close as we know it,” Board Chair Jay Fisette said. “My hope is whatever option will move forward on our economic competitiveness goals one way or another.”
County Board member John Vihstadt, who had used the Artisphere as an example of wasteful county spending in his election campaign this year, obliquely referenced the county’s cancellation of the streetcar last month.
“I think we all realize the changing course on a long community initiative, as has happened in the last few years and months, is never easy,” he said. Speaking to reporters after the meeting had adjourned, he added, “I think it was the right decision. I was concerned about the Artisphere all along.”
County staff will be studying options for sub-leasing Artisphere to a private company or a private-public partnership in the “arts, media, technology” space, or returning it to landlord Monday Properties, Donnellan said.
She called the recommendation “a repositioning, not a retreat.” County staff will be tasked with coming up with a new art plan for the county, one that reflects current fiscal realities.
“Smart communities know when to reevaluate decisions,” Donnellan said.
The 62,000 square foot facility opened with a flourish, at a cost of $6.7 million in October 2010. Optimistic projections of a quarter million annual visitors quickly crashed down to earth in 2011. Visitor revenue was 75 percent below expectations, and Artisphere’s in-house restaurant closed after just a few months in business.
Arlington Economic Development assumed control of Artisphere by the end of 2011, and began implementing a business plan that included shorter hours and actively renting the facility for non-art-related events. The changes were successful by some measures, but problems remained — the facility again went over budget in Fiscal Year 2013. Last month, County Board allocated $1.3 million in its annual budget close-out for Artisphere-related expenses next year.
Donnellan told reporters after her report that 20 part-time and 12 full-time staff work at Artisphere, and some may be able to continue working in other areas of the county, but there will be some who lose their jobs.
The County Board may officially decide to close Artisphere before its April budget motion, Vihstadt said, and Donnellan said she will soon begin discussions with Monday Properties about the space’s future.
This evening, Donnellan will ask the Board to approve a $5 million loan to another art center, Signature Theatre. She said the two recommendations are “business decisions” and should be looked at separately.
ModevCon, a conference for people interested in designing software for mobile platforms, is coming to Arlington next week.
Starting at 8:00 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 11, Artisphere (1101 Wilson Blvd) will host hundreds of developers attending dozens of lectures, workshops and sponsors over a two-day event. The conference is described as “the East Coast’s premier mobile development event.”
The schedule also includes networking events and sessions on developing for iOS and Android, design, cross-platform technology and marketing. Panels include topics like “Women in Mobile Development” and monetizing apps.
The event is still open for registration. For two full days the conference costs $595 — it’s $395 for Thursday only and $295 for Friday only. Registration is still open here.
Arlington County’s economic development office, which runs Artisphere, is listed as a platinum-level sponsor of the event.
Warm weather may be winding down but Arlington’s innovation economy is heating up.
Tandem NSI, which connects technology entrepreneurs and national security agencies, is hosting an “Throwback Thursday” event on Oct. 2, promising that “summer’s not over until we say it is.”
Classic rock band Two Car Living Room will perform at the free event, which is being held at Artisphere from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. Also on offer: beers and the exhibit Think With Your Hands, a collaboration between artists and software developers.
Register for the event here.
Opower Sets IPO Price — Courthouse-based Opower is expected to start selling shares on the New York Stock Exchange today. The company set the price for its initial public offering at $19 per share. [Washington Business Journal]
A Brief History of Fairlington — Arlington’s Fairlington neighborhood was built by the U.S. government in the 1940s in response to a housing shortage caused by World War II. It’s listed in the National Register of Historic Places. [Washington Post]
AFAC Fundraiser Tonight — The Arlington Food Assistance Center’s Young Professionals group will hold its annual Hunger Is No Joke fundraiser tonight at Cafe Asia in Rosslyn. The 90s cover band White Ford Bronco will perform. [Clarendon Nights]
Cuban Band to Perform at Artisphere Tonight — Also tonight, at Artisphere in Rosslyn, the Grammy-nominated Cuban music group Tiempo Libre will perform. Tickets to the 8:00 p.m. performance are $25 at the door. [Ode Street Tribune]
Temporary Bus Stop Relocations — A number of bus stops on N. Moore Street in front of the Rosslyn Metro station will be relocated from 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. tonight, tomorrow and Sunday. The relocations are necessary to allow the demolition of the Moore Street skybridge. Also, starting today, the ART 53 bus stop at Old Glebe and N. Stafford Street is closed for construction for about a week. [Arlington Transit]
Wakefield Reaches Championship — The Wakefield Warriors boys basketball squad has reached the championship game of the Capitol Conference 13 tournament. The championship game will be played tonight at 8:00 p.m. [Sun Gazette]
Wounded Warrior Happy Hour — Deloitte will be hosting a happy hour to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project tonight. The fundraiser is taking place at Arlington Rooftop Bar and Grill in Courthouse (2424 Wilson Blvd) through 9:00 p.m. [Clarendon Nights]
Is Artisphere Succeeding? — Artisphere “may have turned a corner,” writes Our Man in Arlington columnist Charlie Clark. The arts center got off to a “shaky start” in 2010, “but it took a step back and retooled, so the path ahead for bringing more people to Arlington is a good one,” said Karen Vasquez, Arlington’s director of cultural affairs. [Falls Church News-Press]
Yorktown Defeats W-L in Basketball — Yorktown’s boys basketball squad defeated Washington-Lee on Friday by a score of 60-52. During the game Washington-Lee senior Jonah Sens scored his 1,000th career point. [Sun Gazette]
Court Orders Yelp Critics Identified — A Virginia Appeals Court last week ruled in favor of Hadeed Carpet Cleaning in a case against the online reviews site Yelp. Under the ruling, Yelp must reveal the identities of seven negative reviewers that Hadeed believes are not actual customers. Hadeed was represented by Raighne Delaney, an attorney with the Arlington law firm of Bean, Kinney & Korman. [Washington Times]
Exhibit-Goers Might Wonder ‘Y’ – An exhibit at Artisphere by artist Alicia Eggert features “a rock sit[ting] on the keyboard of a Macbook Air laptop, typing the letter ‘Y’ into infinity.” The exhibit runs through Feb. 2. [Ode Street Tribune]
Infamy for Arlington Nonprofit’s Former Logo — A former logo of the Arlington Pediatric Center, a local nonprofit healthcare provider in South Arlington, has been named one of the “15 Worst Corporate Logo Fails” by a popular online publication. [Business Insider]
Photo courtesy Becky Barnes
(Updated at 2:30 p.m.) Democratic Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey is explaining in more depth why she has decided to endorse an independent candidate to fill the Board seat to be vacated by Democrat Chris Zimmerman at the end of January.
Garvey is endorsing self-identified Republican John Vihstadt, who announced last week that he would run as an independent in the spring 2014 special election.
Garvey stated that none of the three announced Democratic candidates likely will change the way the current Board members set priorities. She decided to endorse Vihstadt instead because she believes he can provide change.
“The issue is that I don’t think there is a Democratic candidate that has or is going to announce for the endorsement that is going to alter the dynamic on the County Board right now… Vihstadt by far is so much closer to my values, my way of working,” Garvey told ARLnow.com. “He’s going to be the one to help me take the county in the direction I think it needs to go and the others will not. I am a Democrat, but in this case there is not a Democratic candidate that can do what needs to be done for Arlington. John can do that. So I’ve got to support him, why would I not? That’s what’s right for Arlington.”
She said Vishstadt “gets it” and he can help change the way current Board members operate.
“My colleagues are all good people, but they’ve been doing things a certain way for a very long time,” Garvey said. “I think we need a new perspective and a fresh way of looking at things, and John will bring that.”
One of the key reasons Garvey will not provide support to a fellow Democrat is her opposition to the Columbia Pike streetcar. Vihstadt also opposes the streetcar, writing in his announcement of candidacy last week, “Now that the County’s application for federal funding has been rejected, Arlington taxpayers may be directly on the hook to finish a five mile line that will displace small businesses and affordable housing, will not connect to the Pentagon, and which fails to materially improve Pike transit.”
Although Arlington currently maintains a triple-A bond rating, Garvey believes the streetcar eventually could prove “financially disastrous” for the county. She noted that the project still can be re-evaluated considering it will be a while before final votes are taken.
“I know they all talk about how it’s a done deal, but it’s not a done deal until we sign a contract with a company and commit hundreds of millions of dollars to pay that company to build this thing. We’re not anywhere near that yet,” she said.
“The streetcar is useless and will actually make things worse on the Pike,” she continued. “A streetcar is nothing more than a bus on tracks with wires, but it costs a whole lot more… There are ways to accomplish what you want to for a whole lot less.”
Garvey believes a significant amount of money in the county’s Transportation Capital Fund that’s set aside for the streetcar could be used for more beneficial projects such as Metro funding and street paving.
“We’d have to raise taxes to do that right now because all of this money is sitting in a fund that is, as I understand it, reserved for the streetcar,” she said. “This is, again, why I’m supporting John, because I believe he will help me to get the Board to sort of re-examine some of these things and work through the community with it.”