Arlington, VA

Two Views on Artisphere

Is Artisphere (1101 Wilson Blvd) a funky, welcoming arts venue that’s contributing to the vibrancy of Rosslyn? Or is it a disappointing, poorly-managed waste of taxpayer dollars?

Depends who you ask.

Artisphere turned one year old yesterday, but the young venue has yet to become a consistent draw or even a household name. Instead, scenes of young people having fun at an Artisphere birthday bash over the weekend contrast with the cold, hard numbers from a recent Washington Post article: attendance 70 percent below expectations, operating expenses more than 25 percent over budget. Although Arlington County taxpayers helped front Artisphere’s $6.7 million build-out cost, only 28 percent of visitors are actually from Arlington.

The libertarian Cato Institute, which has been critical of government subsidies for entertainment venues like sports stadiums, took aim at Artisphere in a recent blog post.

“Surprise! Arts Center Predictions Flawed,” Cato’s headline blared. The article blasted the projections made in Artisphere’s original business plan, including the assumption that every single performance at Artisphere would be sold out and at capacity.

A new business plan is expected to be presented to the Arlington County Board later this year.

Cato also criticized the fact that Artisphere was built while other county budgets were being cut.

“Maybe the next time Arlington County — or any other state or municipality — needs to cut its budget, it might think about cutting subsidies for money-losing venues before going after police officers, firefighters, and math teachers,” Cato’s David Boaz wrote.

The Washington City Paper, however, is taking a more optimistic view. The weekly agrees with Artisphere managers, county leaders and Rosslyn business boosters who say that Artisphere is an important step toward a revitalized Rosslyn — a Rosslyn that stays active even after 5:00.

“Artisphere, I think, deserves to succeed,” wrote Alex Baca for the paper’s Arts Desk blog. “Its programming nicely walks the line between avant-garde and accessible, and varies from film to installation art to performances. It’s a punch in the gut to Wilson Boulevard’s otherwise un-fun corporate landscape.”

“Two or three years from now… it’s very likely that someone will be able to credit Artisphere for the third-place-ification of Wilson Boulevard,” Baca concluded. “Artisphere might not be Rosslyn’s panacea, but it very well might be its catalyst.”

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