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DEVELOPING — Major Changes Proposed for Artisphere

by ARLnow.com November 29, 2011 at 6:00 am 11,353 191 Comments

A plan to boost the finances of Artisphere, the struggling county-run arts center in Rosslyn, includes dramatic changes to the original vision for the venue.

A revised business plan, which will be presented to the County Board this afternoon, will suggest slashing Artisphere’s hours, shuttering its restaurant and retail store, and generating more revenue via corporate event rentals.

Even if the plan is implemented, however, the task force expects Artisphere to burn through more than $2.3 million in taxpayer funds in financial year 2012 and another $1.6 million in financial year 2013. If the new plan is shelved, Artisphere will require nearly $2.7 million in taxpayer support in FY 2012, the task force said. The one-year-old venue’s original business plan projected only $739,975 in county taxpayer support in FY 2012.

In its report to the Board, the Artisphere Task Force said Artisphere is an attractive venue that benefits from a Metro-accessible location and an experienced management team. But the task force was critical of the lack of focus in the center’s marketing, among other perceived weaknesses.

“Originally billed as an ‘Arts Space for Everyone’, the Artisphere strove to be free from the constraints of a singular vision, performance type or audience,” the task force wrote. “However, the unintended consequence of the individual interpretations that arose from such branding has been confusion over what exactly Artisphere is supposed to be, and for whom.”

The task force also accused Artisphere of practically ignoring families and older adults in its programming.

Artisphere, following the original business plan, has oriented much of its programming to attract a core audience of 20-35 year olds. While Arlington has one of the largest concentrations of 20 to 35 year olds in the nation, and while this demographic — like others who are highly educated, highly paid, and with disposable income — is known for its inclination to patronize the arts, they are faced with multiple options for spending time and money. Given those competing interests, and the somewhat “fickle” nature of this age group, it is very difficult to consistently attract them. Conversely, the 35-45 year olds with families and 55-65 year old empty-nesters, all with heavy populations in Arlington and the Washington, D.C. region have not been a target.

(Current programming at Artisphere includes the “largest collection of hand-crafted harmonica cases in the world” and an interactive exhibit that requires viewers to scan bar codes with their cell phones. The venue named a new programming director in late October.)

In the end, Artisphere has fallen well short of its original attendance projections. As the report noted, the lack of foot traffic is especially pronounced during the day.

“The space has been underutilized for many of its daytime hours,” the task force wrote. “Often, patrons who may enter in the early afternoon hours find the Artisphere extremely quiet and almost deserted. This lack of excitement and vibrancy often discourages return visits.”

To help place Artisphere on a more sustainable path, the task force is recommending several dramatic changes. One of the most pronounced is the proposed change in Artisphere’s hours. Whereas the center is currently open seven days a week, for a total of at least 85 hours per week, the task force wants to slash the days and hours the venue is open to the public. Under the new plan, Artisphere would be closed to the public on Monday and Tuesday, and would only be open for a total of 40 hours Wednesday through Sunday.

In another significant departure from Artisphere’s original business plan, the task force recommends closing Artisphere’s privately-run restaurant and replacing it only with a “resident caterer” that would serve food only during scheduled performances and certain private events.

HERE CafeBar, a restaurant that operates on Artisphere’s second floor and serves a limited Latin-inspired menu, will close after Wednesday (Nov. 30); the restaurant’s owners decided not to renew their lease after being open for only 8 months. The task force cited several factors that contributed to the HERE’s struggles.

“The restaurant area feels very open; there are no visual cues that one is actually in the restaurant… There exist very few possibilities for signage on the exterior of the Artisphere for the restaurant… A second-floor, non-ground level location with no direct outside access is considered by restaurateurs to be an extremely poor location,” the task force wrote. The restaurant’s impending closure was first reported by the Washington Business Journal.

To generate more revenue for Artisphere, and to offset the lack of revenue from ticket sales (part of the original business plan), the task force recommends ramping up Artisphere’s event rental business.

The new Artisphere business plan includes a heavily marketed and highly active Event Rentals program for daytime and evening corporate and social rentals to help offset some fixed, facility-related costs and programming costs. Given direct experience of the Task Force with event rentals, as well as discussions with other organizations who have rented the Artisphere, there is reasonable and reliable demand for event rentals. In its first year of operations, the Artisphere collected nearly $215,000 in event rental income, with no marketing or other active solicitation of rental clients – and despite a number of challenges. For example, at times the Event Rentals program was severely understaffed and many early mistakes were made, including an inability and unwillingness to book space more than three months in advance; a lack of program policies, infrastructure and technology; and a lack of agreement with the landlord on the types of events for which the Artisphere could be rented.

Artisphere would be made available for private rentals even on days and at times when it’s not open to the public. To support the event rental business, the task force proposes hiring two rental managers and a new Chief Financial Officer.

Other recommended changes include:

  • Closing the money-losing Artisan Center of Virginia retail shop on Artisphere’s first floor
  • Relying more heavily on Arlington-based art groups to provide Artisphere programming
  • Folding Artisphere and its staff into the umbrella of the Arlington Cultural Affairs Division, overseen by Arlington Economic Development
  • Forming a 501(c)3 organization to raise private funds for Artisphere from individuals and organizations reluctant to give money directly to a government entity

The revised business plan is scheduled to be presented at the Board’s 3:00 p.m. meeting this afternoon.

  • dave schutz

    This is about as clear a confirmation as she could have asked for Audrey Clement’s views about expensive vanity projects in Arlington. How pleasant for the Board that it comes out just after the election.

    • Lou

      Given that the lease for the restaurant required 180 days written notice to terminate it, that part was known a while ago.

      Some other nuggets from the restaurant aspect: First 3 months of rent was abated. Initial rent after that was 12.5% of restaurant gross receipts, scheduled to escalate to a minimum $6000 per month rent after the first 6 months. Based on how long they were open, they virtually paid nothing to the County to operate there. That’s how you get no revenue.

  • Quoth the Raven

    So to recap: they are slashing the hours the place is open, yet the tax payer burden is going up nearly 4 times? The restaurant is closing, and they are going to try to rent the place out more. So, in essense, the public is paying 4 times as much for a place they’re going to be able to use a lot less? Makes perfect sense. Well done!

    • Swag


      • Quoth the Raven


    • yep uhuh

      Exactly my thought.

      Nice work.

      • u got it

        Yep, becoming less of a community benefit and more of a private corporate rental place. Need new people running Arlington.

  • Rosslynite

    “largest collection of hand-crafted harmonica cases in the world” – I think just about says it all.

    • Westover Leftover

      but wait there is more:

      Artist Steven Jones’ Dinner Bell series includes T-Bone Steak and Cooked Chicken. This interactive exhibit consists of two refurbished “kiddie rides” that have literally a steak and chicken attached to them. The rides cost 50 cents to ride and all proceeds go to the artist. Bell is originally from New Orleans and has lived and worked in Maryland on and off since 1995. He spent his childhood in rural Mississippi and along the river in southeast Louisiana.

    • TMP

      I can’t believe I haven’t been there to see those harmonicas yet!

  • Jason S.

    I just don’t see Arlingtonians as art patrons.

  • CrystalMikey

    Can the County just sell it already?

    • wat

      There is nothing to sell. Arlington does not own the building. There is no asset, no equity, in what they have done with our tax dollars. Down the drain it all went, with nothing but red ink to show for it.

  • I against I

    Sell it to the Fillmore, we need a place to see music.

    • Nooner


    • That would be great!

    • CourthouseChris

      FINALLY someone advocating for the synesthetes.

  • Wayne Kubicki

    Links to the underlying reports can be found here:


    Once again, this all confirms why some of us opposed Artisphere from the beginning.

    Some additional lowlights from the reports:

    – for FY13, revenues from the venue are projected to cover only 48% of total expenses (the taxpayers get to fund the balance).
    -for the first year of operations, only 28% of those who visited live in Arlington.

    I’ve only skimmed the reports, but I saw nothing to indicate that closing the facility was even considered.

    • Patrick

      The county board, and specifically Jay Fisette, would never willingly admit their idea was a complete and total failure.
      “It’s the Arlington Way.”

      • Bluemontsince1961

        Ain’t that the truth, Patrick!

    • More Nuance Please

      I don’t think that anything is “confirmed” after just a year. Anyone who has any experience in starting a new business knows that the first few years can be shaky, and that this does not necessarily relate to its ultimate success. As someone who has founded 2 companies, I can say that it takes a willingness to make changes along the way (and not blindly stick to the original plan) to make one successful. This is a fledgling organization. If they continue to hone their vision and remain unafraid to admit when something isn’t working so they can fix it, it will ultimately be successful and all of those tax dollars will be well spent. Many of our most successful businesses and organizations would not be here if people gave up after a year. Greatness takes risk. Only mediocrity calls for complete security.

      • Rory

        Did taxpayers cover your losses in your businesses?

        The bottom line is the taxpayers never wanted this, it was a horrible idea and as expected it is a total failure…and we, the taxpayers, are on the hook for more money.

        • Josh S

          How do you know the taxpayers never wanted this? Did you poll them?

          • Burger

            have you seen the attendance? when less than 50% of an already low gate is taxpayers…I think you have your answer.

          • yep uhuh

            I was all for the Artisphere – in fact I’m still all for the Artisphere.


            I think it needs to be better (or popularly) programmmed. Then attendance would rise.

            I am in favor of it, I’d love to go regularly, but I’ve only in there a couple of times…
            they need to treat it like those arthouse cinemas that have five screens – one or two screens show The Muppet Movie or a Blockbuster, and the rest show the French subtitles and the documentaries. Get the corny stuff to support the longhairs.
            Sometimes you want to be challenged, but sometimes you want the new Judd Apatow movie.
            Museum’s do it all the time – Warhol retropective one month, Hidden Altar Relic Treasures of the Van Nieiewveld Collection, the next.

          • jim

            but we already have some art movie houses – E Street and Shirlington. why would the taxpayer fund a theater to compete with the private sector. govt should only provide things the private sector can’t or won’t.

          • yep uhuh


            I meant treat it like an arthouse cinema metaphorically.

            So as well as the harmonica cases (which I am perfectly happy for them to show – it’s the kind of left field stuff they SHOULD be doing), also have stuff like the Immersive Ideal installation the Beauty Pill recently did – brings in music fans (like me) and while they’re there they might have a look at the harmonica cases and maybe eat in the restaurant.

            Note that I’m not suggesting they start programming hugely mainstream concerts (Lady Gaga or Bon Jovi) but rather site appropriate shows like the recent Dean & Britta / Warhol show that sold out at the Corcoran, and/or maybe some smart stand up along the lines of Mark Maron or The Nerdist show.

          • yep uhuh

            also also

            E Street is in DC, so “we” don’t have it.

            In fact, off the point, but the paucity of arthouse cinema options in the entire DC area is embarrasssing.

          • Arlingtonian

            yep uhuh:

            i like the way you think, and i think your ideas would actually work. and work well!

          • Give it a Chance

            Artisphere was very under-programmed in its first year (that’s in the report as well) so overall attendance numbers based on their initial projections are misleading. Obviously, you can’t sell tickets on a night when nothing is playing there, which happened a lot. On the other hand, there were a lot individual performances that sold out, by various groups. As I read the report, those are the groups that are going to be coming back, as well as other Arlington-based organizations that can bring their audiences with them.

            So I agree with yep uhuh, and others, who say that the programming needs more careful thought. Fortunately, they just hired a new program director who has the experience to do just that.

      • John Fontain

        Not prospering after a year or two is one thing; missing your financial projections so drastically is another. There is no excuse for the completely unrealistic financial forecasts that were relied upon. Whoever was responsible for them should be fired.

        • Give it a Chance

          That’s already happened, John.

          • Mike Oksmal

            Fissette got fired? Where is the press release?

  • Rick

    Shut it down

  • Arling Guthrie

    *Most* 20- to 35-year-olds are not big supporters of the arts. The majority like pop music, bars, and restaurants. There are exceptions, but a visit to the Kennedy Center, Wolf Trap, Signature Theater, Arena Stage, or Strathmore will show that it’s maybe 20%, max, in that age range.

    The big arts supporters are the middle-aged and older folks the County has for some reason chosen not to reach out to.

    But this plan was doomed from the beginning. The fine arts (ballet, opera, stage plays) are well provided for at those aforementioned venues. Rosslyn Spectrum covers the more experiemental arts. So where does that leave the Artisphere? What niche could it ever occupy?

    I think they should sell it and cut their–I mean OUR–losses.

  • KalashniKEV

    1) Pull the plug NOW.

    2) You’re not going to put any “vibrancy” in there. Quit talking nonsense and find a suitable use for the space that actually GENERATES revenue, or lease the space to someone who will use it for Good.

    3) Stop using public funds to finance personal boondoggles in the future.


    • CrystalMikey


    • Josh S

      Dig the capital “G.”

    • They will expensively slowly back themselves out of the venture and shutter the doors, blaming defeat on anything other than a boondoggle pet project.

    • Bluemontsince1961


  • R. Griffon

    I’d like to see the County refurbish it and turn it into a small business incubator. They can even charge startups for the space (I think most incubators do) to generate some revenue, but do it at a discount in return for a promise to stay in Arlington County once they “graduate,” which should only increase tax revenue in the long run.

    It’d be a prime location for startups, being on 2 Metro lines and affordable space near transport is usually cost prohibitive for such companies.

    • KalashniKEV

      Because that would provide a service to the community.

      The whole idea behind Artisphere was that Fisette wanted to have his own gallery, but didn’t have the cash to pay for it (or would rather use ours). Maybe if we fund the mid-life crises of some of the other board members we’ll eventually hit on a winner!?!

      (Great idea, BTW)

      • Rick

        Like a streetcar line?

        • KalashniKEV

          “Streetcar to the Ghetto!”

          Just like a Bus, minus the flexibility to shift routes, increase throughput/capacity, operate in adverse conditions, perform emergency maintenance/recovery… but with oh-so-much QUAINT CHARM.

          That thing is going to bring VIBRANCY.

          • drax

            Kinda like Metro. That was a dismal failure, huh Kev?

          • KalashniKEV

            If the metro ran in the same allocated space as cars, you better believe it would be a dismal failure. Remember the sea of people created by the suicide attempt? Imagine if a similar service disruption knocked out ALL trafficability in a certain direction- for ALL modes of transportation.

            You can’t hinder the flow of traffic, consume the same finite resources (road throughput), reduce flexibility and performance, and have a net gain in the system.

          • Josh S

            Unless people want to ride the trolley, in which case, you do get a net benefit.

            As they say in sports – that’s why they play the game. You can’t know the result from looking at a stat sheet.

            Like most of us here, I suspect you are not an expert on urban planning or public transportation. Since I don’t know you, I don’t know what your conjectures are based on. But I haven’t read much to convince me that they are based on anything more than hunch, negativity, and a general disposition to be in opposition to all forms and activities of government that don’t involve carrying a gun.

            On the other hand, there are many examples historically and currently, domestically and abroad, of cities where trolleys are successfully used as part of the local transportation network. To dismiss all of those and automatically assume that Arlington’s trolley will be a failure is unreasonable in the most basic sense of the word, it seems to me.

          • madisonmanor

            Except sports is a for-profit venture, Josh. They don’t move into a city or market without doing the analysis well up front to make sure they can remain hugely profitable for years to come. And more importantly, they realize that when conditions don’t bode well, they fold or move, which is what should have happened with this.

            The county failed with this analysis for Artisfail. What makes you think the same people in charge won’t stack the deck in favor of the trolley?

            Both Artisfail and the trolley (if it goes through) should be at least half funded by the BIDs in a public/private partnership venture – if the businesses won’t get behind it and put their money where their mouths are, chances are really good that the public won’t either, and the public isn’t stuck with another sucking chest wound (and the BID leaders who proposed such losing ventures would have adequate repercussions).

          • Give it a Chance

            The Rosslyn BID is already putting a hefty sum into Artisphere.

          • KalashniKEV

            That’s like saying “Urban Farming” is a benefit to those who get a fresh egg once in a while… forgetting the disease and filth it creates for everyone else.

            I lived many years a city famous for it’s trolley/ streetcar. It’s not a viable mode of transportation if you actually need to get somewhere on any kind of schedule. It has only one thing going for it- QUAINT CHARM… so bully for that, I suppose…

            (plus this streetcar operated in it’s own space, and didn’t compete for resources with more viable, flexible, and Practical modes of transportation)

          • madisonmanor

            @chance – have they contributed at least $2.5 million of the $5 million first-three-years projected operating losses? If not, the Rosslyn BID didn’t contribute a “hefty sum” and it isn’t much of a public/private partnership. Given that their total annual budget isn’t much more than $3 million, the BID doesn’t believe much in this venture.

          • Josh S

            Not really? You’re not really going to bring up negative externalities in the middle of a discussion in which you are advocating against a public transit option and for a private transportation option? I mean, you really want to remind people of the negative externalities associated with 40 people driving their own one-ton, internal combustion engine-propelled, slabs of steel and plastic versus those same 40 people sharing one streetcar? And you’re going to say that the streetcar is the one that contributes to greater congestion? Wow.

          • Josh S

            Oh, and to Madisonmanor – you totally missed the point of the sports analogy.

          • Lou

            I think he squashed the poor analogy pretty well. Apples and Oranges, as they say.

          • Give it a Chance

            Right, Madison . . . the ONLY way the Rosslyn BID’s support for Artisphere could be considered significant is if it were their ENTIRE budget.

            Got it.

          • Halfway to the Stars . . .

            KK, are you talking about San Francisco?

            The MUNI streetcars work just fine there for commuting. The Cable Cars . . . well yes, those are for tourists.

          • Josh S

            No, he can’t be talking about SF, since both the MUNI streetcars and the cable cars do, in fact, occupy street space along with cars, bicycles, mopeds, etc.

            Unless he wasn’t paying attention. Which, again, since he seems to be bound and determined to be against the Arlington trolley, regardless of any sort of reasoned analysis, could very well be the case.

          • Metro has not yet reached the point of failure. Metro is sort of like a bell curve. They have passed the peak and are on the decline. An antiquated layout (no burb to burb lines), capacity issues, maintenance issues, spiraling costs, and an ever growing population will eventually slide metro to the right side of the bell curve. The Silver Line really isn’t going to help too much, especially for those having to use the Orange Line into town. It will only help for those in Arlington who want to go west to work, until Arlington puts so many high rises up they overwhelm capacity.

    • Arling Guthrie

      I agree. That is a brilliant idea! It would solve what is a real problem for new businesses–the high cost or rents in the RB Corridor. It could have a focus (say restaurants/cafes) or be open to all comers. The space is already there.

      Hopefully someone from the County will read this, take credit for your idea, and then promote it.

    • Lee-n-Glebe

      I think that’s a great idea.

    • SamsontheCat

      Why not an arts incubator? I thought that was what it was meant to be all along. It was meant to be a hub that would foster some sort of artistic renaissance in Arlington. They just went about it poorly. Bringing in giant harmonica case shows and having all-night make-out sessions don’t exactly create a place the 99% of people want to go or foster growth.

      1. Convert some of the space into studio space that artists can rent for a reduced fee. As part of the deal they agree to be there at a set time at least once or twice a week (day?) to allow patrons to see them at work.

      2. Don’t close the store, expand it. Allow the artisits to sell their work along with artists not physically housed in the space, but from Arlington (expanded to the surrounding area if necessary, Faifax, Alexandria, DC?)

      3. Advertise better. It seems simple, but they have done a poor job and getting the word out about it. Start a recurring event to bring people into the galleries at least once a month (1st Fridays at Artisphere) and not an all-night make-out session or dance rave. Make it about the art. Sell drinks and food, but it is about the art. So says the anthopomorphic Artisphere – “Do you love me for my art or am I just an event space for you?”

      • Give it a Chance

        In reading the plan, it sounds like some of this will happen. They definitely seem to be looking more at Arlington artists and performing groups, and I bet the store comes back in some other form.

        And more and better advertising — absolutely. If we don’t see that improve, then I think more of us who would like Artisphere to succeed will join those saying “pull the plug.” To your point below about seeing how other cities have grown an arts center, we can only hope that the economic development department will take that approach.

      • hmm could be

        I think that’s a great idea! Preferably LOCAL artists.

      • cle

        This won’t do it for revenue, though. Space for artists is essential and dedicating some of the building to studio space would be huge for artists in the community, but neither that nor a store– especially not a store– will pay the bills.
        An incubator for small businesses is a prime solution, especially for the location, as it really would do a lot for long-term community economic growth (hypothetically). but it also may not supply enough revenue to keep the lights on.
        An arthouse theater /music venue would probably make the most money. Galleries and studios don’t sell tickets.

    • Arlingtonian

      Another great idea!!! Awesome, in fact.

  • cranky crankypants

    Wasn’t this space provided as part of a “community benefits” package that allowed the developers additional height at the pair of buildings going in at the metro?

    And yet, the board couldn’t see this coming?

    • Lee-n-Glebe

      The fact that the developer was required to provide it to the County in order to obtain greater development rights doesn’t have anything to do with the County’s misuse of that space. Not sure how you lay any blame for this debacle at the feet of the “Big Bad Developer” which, if I read between the lines correctly, you are attempting to do.

      • Lou

        Actually, the developer was not required to let Arlington use that space. The community benefit for that particular density project was never defined. Arlington approached the developer with the idea to give them the rent-free lease to fulfill their requirement for providing a real community benefit. Instead of the developer having to actually do something to benefit the area, they just had to let Arlington squat in that space and not charge them rent.

        • Lee-n-Glebe

          I still find it difficult to blame the developer for the current use / mismanagement of the space. Seems to me that NOT acquiescing to a County request for the space might be considered a bad move, no?

          • Lou

            I’m not blaming the developer, nor do I think the initial comment was. On the contrary, they made a wise business move. The configuration of that space made it virtually unmarketable for them after the Newseum left. Letting the County in there also let them off the hook of having to actually spend money to reimburse the community for their right to build beyond the zoning.

            As far as the day-to-day of the Artisphere, I do not think Monday has any role whatsoever in that, so again, no blame towards them for the current state of affairs.

          • cranky crankypants

            Thanks Lou for defending. I was complaining about the acceptance by the Board of this albatross space as the community benefit for an unrelated project. I AM complaining about the abuse of the community benefit process as a means of extortion in general. We got a flaming bag of poo on this one.

          • Lou

            I have long held distaste for way bonus density is handed out around here. Too many examples of developers getting off easy. The west entrance to Ballston Metro being another glaring example.

  • Pingback: Prince William mobile park rebuilding being halted by County Board; Fast Eddie’s denied dance hall permit, owner claims bias against Latinos; Artisphere makes moves to save money, possibly closing restaurant and shop; and Robber being sought in Fair()

  • JamesE

    Give the space to Dremos

    • Josh S

      Or emergency shelter space for all the Donaldson Run flood victims….

  • TuesdaysChild


    Can the Board ever admit that it was totally wrong? And apologize for wasting taxpayer money?

    • No. And, no.

    • Bluemontsince1961

      “CLOSE IT DOWN!”

      Agree, but I doubt the Board will do so.

      “Can the Board ever admit that it was totally wrong?”


      “And apologize for wasting taxpayer money?”

      Custer would apologize to the Native Americans before that happens.

  • wat

    Make funding mistakes, blame young people

  • grandpa

    So the task force’s main conclusion is that Artisphere is failing because 20-35 year-olds are “somewhat ‘fickle?'”

    I wonder how many 20-35 year olds were on that task force. My guess is that it was made up entirely of self-important “35-45 year-olds with families” and “55-65 year old empty nesters.”

    • Valerie Crotty

      Karen Vasquez, Chair, Arlington Economic Development
      Maria Meredith, Department of Management and Finance
      Michael Halewski, Department of Environmental Services
      Jennifer Howell, Arlington Economic Development
      Uri Arkin, Department of Environmental Services
      Tim O’Hora, Department of Environmental Services
      Jonathan Landers, Consultant
      Jose Ortiz, Artisphere, Executive Director

      The consultant is currently the director of the Museum of Dentistry in Maryland

      • TuesdaysChild

        Are these all county employees? How about putting more people on the task force that are not beholden to Jay Fissete and the county board for a job,

      • Richard Cranium

        The . . . museum . . . of . . . Dentistry?

        Really? Come on – you made that up.

  • YTK

    Turn it into a Trader joes.

    • Richard Cranium

      “They” should put a Wegmans there.

      • Bluemontsince1961

        That would work for me.

      • Art Brut


  • Bard

    It would have succeeded if they’d just made it a modern art museum/gallery. I’m 35, I love art, I love modern art, and I could not have hated Artisphere more when I visited. It is pathetically conceived and executed. I didn’t know where to go to view exhibits, and when I found them I literally asked aloud “is this it?”

  • RJ

    All the comments aside about the concept (which I personally think is flawed), I think the first, most obvious problem is the name: “Artisphere.” What does that even mean? The name for it doesn’t convey anything, other than a play on words having to do with art. Is it a museum? Is it a gallery? Is it run by the County? Is it a performing arts space? I still don’t know – even as a regular reader of ArlNow! Certainly nothing I’ve seen or heard has interested me enough to make me want to visit.

    • The name does stink.

    • (another) Greg

      Agreed. I propose we change the name to “FAILisphere.”

      Like failblog, they can change their offerings to the simple pleasures of schadenfreude.

    • Josh S

      I realize this is the time and space for everyone to get their Artisphere bashing out, but I always thought the name made sense since it was a nod to the previous (and original) occupant of that space – the Newseum and the fact that they had a giant globe on the roof. But I could be wrong.

      • too bad people don’t know that

        I guess that’s part of the problem. It’s a clever nod IF you knew that, but until you pointed that out I had no idea to put that together and I’m born and raised in Arlington. :-/ I guess the clever nod only goes so far when no one goes in there to learn where the name idea came from and there’s zero marketing or promo material to point out that clever fact. Goes back to the bad advertising the place has set up for itself. It’s spending our money anyway, might as well get a marketing person to do their job. Plus, with a high resident turn over from government workers and college students (or folks just out and still “settling” and often land elsewhere), etc. there are limited “natives” to Arlington so this should be said somewhere. I actually believe it’d be a fun fact and clever nod to give them even the smallest bit of credit. Maybe the only thing they didn’t mess in planning was their name, but they can’t even convince us of that themselves. 😉

  • novasteve

    Maybe turn it into a Froyo/Cupcake museum?

    • novasteve

      Or the United States Flip Flop Museum?

  • Basic Human Needs

    I have major problems with public funding for the arts (except for art education in the schools). In this day and age, there are too many other things that government needs to do (including watching the taxpayers dollar), then spending on such frivolous, failed projects.

    As one of those 55-65 year olds, I went to one play at the Artisphere. It was pleasant, although I kept thinking that it was too grandious for a publically sponsored venue. I would rather go to the more conveniently located places like T.J., Signature, Gunston for my local performances. I do not plan on going to the Artisphere again.

    Acknowledging the support that the arts lobby has in Arlington, at least get rid of this place so that the saved money can be provided to other small scale arts projects.

    • Human Soul Needs

      I’m not sure why you thought a particular play was “too grandiose” for a public venue. It’s not as if Artisphere or the County paid the artist fees or production costs for that play. Presenting at Artisphere is not free for the arts group, even for Arlington supported arts organizations. The County does award those groups with a small grant each year, if the group applies for it and qualifies, but that grant only covers a small fraction of any groups actual expenses. So the “grandiose” production you saw was funded by the group that presented it, through their own ticket sales, outreach, education programs, development work, and however else they might raise money.

  • Greg

    Reaching out to families is a great idea. A kids museum/science center would kill in this area. DC has nothing like that right now while other cities (Baltimore, Pittsburgh, etc.) have multiple options. And I know about the plans for National Harbor, but (a) that’s in Maryland, and (b) we don’t need something mega-scale like that for local families.

    • dk


    • david

      Great idea. A kids museum would make a killing. The only one I know of is out at National Harbor.

      • drax


        Thousands of parents are desperate to take their kids somewhere in the winter months!

      • drax

        P.S. The one at National Harbor doesn’t open until 2013.

        Of course, once it does, it would compete with “Kidosphere” or whatever we called ours.

        • Sandusky


        • Greg

          Yeah. They would need to think about how to counter-program against that one. Although Rosslyn is much more convenient (and Metro accessible).

          But like I said, many cities have more than one option. Geez, in Baltimore you can walk between the science museum and children’s museum.

          Maybe something like the children’s museum in Erie, PA that isn’t very high-tech, but just a place where kids can play with random stuff and other kids and their parents can chill. http://www.eriechildrensmuseum.org/index.htm. They could probably use one floor of the ArtiSphere for that and call it a Kids room (like they have at the Baltimore Science Museum).

          • drax

            Yeah, I still think it could work. They could repurpose the Artisphere to be an arts (and museum/learning/entertainment) center for kids even. Call it Kidosphere.

        • david

          drax: A portion of the museum is already open at National Harbor; I believe it’s called Launch Zone or something like that.

        • Ed

          I have kids, live west of here, and if I had to choose between Rosslyn and National Harbor to visit a children’s museum, there is no way I would truck out all the way to National Harbor. Kidosphere would win.

    • Clarendon

      I was just talking to a neighbor lamenting the fact that many other areas way outdo us in terms of venues and activities for kids and families.

      • drax

        Yeah, that sucks considering that we were voted number one place to raise a kid by Parenting magazine (I think) a couple years ago.

    • Burger

      Those kid’s museums are bankruptcy central. They are awful in any economic sense.

      Also, there are several science museums just 3 miles down the road on the Mall

      • drax

        Kid’s museums are successful in some places. They can be non-profit too, like most museums. And you can’t just set your kid loose in the Natural History Museum.

        • You shouldn’t really “set your kid loose” anyway…

          Let’s not give some Arlington parents too many ideas… a handful already think it’s totally legit to let their kid run around and do whatever they want. For all the complaining I’ve seen on this site about dog owners in Arlington, I have to sadly say the same for A LOT of the parents (not all, so don’t get pissed, but it’s a lot… at least the ones I run into walking through Arlington).

          • Bluemontsince1961

            Check out the Harris Teeter and Lee-Harrison, a very good example of what you are talking about.

          • Bluemontsince1961

            Harris Teeter at Lee-Harrison

        • Burger

          –Kid’s museums are successful in some places–

          right and those places are generally out in the sticks not in locations where there world class museums open for free not 15 minutes away. And, most of those museums have large sections dedicated to kids.

    • SamsontheCat

      Agreed. I’d be ok with them taking my tax dollars and renting a bus and taking the board members to Baltimore, Philly, and definitely Pittsburgh to see how a local arts/museum infrastructure can be set up and grown.

    • bystander


    • Arlingtonian

      .,.and another great idea. This would definitely be welcome and well-patronized in Arlington by both residents and all the DC tourists who stay in Arlington. When is the Artisphere Task Force going to poll ARLnow readers?

  • SMDL

    And yet, election after election you keep voting in the same idiots that waste taxpayers money on projects like this. Why?

    • Josh S

      Because, in the grand scheme of things, the Artisphere is pretty much a blip. And the rest of Arlington seems to be pretty well run.

      • Burger

        Sigh…Arlington isn’t run well because it has a lot of money. It has a lot of money that makes it run well. Further, most of the best ideas – like the Metro line running between Roslyn and Ballston came about when there wasn’t a conformity of thinking that the taxpayer had bottomless pockets.

        • Josh S


  • Work across the street

    The Artisphere is not necessarily a terrible idea just b/c it hasn’t yet fulfilled expectations.
    If the bar in there had better food & service and a good, well-advertised happy hour, you’d get the foot traffic in there you need for people to realize that it’s a great resource. And if it were a good cafe as well (think Peregrine, or the former Murky), there would be a crowd in there at all hours.
    Thousands of people pour in and out of Rosslyn ofc buildings all day — and I’ve never seen a single flyer in or around my building even though it is right across the street.
    There is a need for a contemporary arts venue in the Washington area. 20-35 year-olds do care about the arts. Just get the word out. An easy one: print the calendar for August-September before late August.

  • TMP

    You know what the Artisphere needs? A trolley! Build a street car line down Wilson Boulevard and patrons will be lining up to go!

    • Oh, my gosh… Don’t give them any ideas!

    • Even better

      How about a mime trolley? A trolley whose sole purpose is to display the performance art of mime to the people it passes. You’re walking down the street, you hear the clickety-clack, you look up, and there you see 15 dudes in white faces miming that they can’t get out of the train car. Fanstastic!

      • You are on to something now. Combine the Artisphere and the Columbia Pike trolley! What a lame choo choo train that would be!

        • Bluemontsince1961

          Clang, clang, clang went the trolley, ring, ring, ring went the bell…….and now presenting….choochoosphere…or….artistrolley

  • jim

    The artisphere really needs to be closed. How many years are we willing to keep sinking millions of dollars into something no one uses. Blaming it all on poor marketing is the standard backstop for people who are clueless about running something. Artisphere not even close to breakeven. If it was then better marketing might be the solution but when something is failing so spectacularly it is never just bad marketing.

    Someone above mentioned turning the space into a business incubator for low priced real estate for startups. That is a brilliant idea.

  • Jennifer

    Hmmm, it never occurred to me to go to the Artisphere restaurant (and I have been inside a few times). As a taxpayer and resident of Rosslyn, this space has been a huge letdown on many levels. From a voter standpoint, it irks me that a project widely regarded with skepticism was not brought to The People. There are some good ideas on here–perhaps we could have helped you succeed, ACB.

    • drax

      They tried to get a Busboys and Poets, but the lack of street-level access killed that. It might have worked.

      • wut

        How did they “try”? They asked? The owners of the current restaurant there were the only respondents to the request for interest to run the facility. The request was open to the public for a long time, and they only received one responsive offer to operate a restaurant.

        • drax

          As I understand it, they asked, and B&P considered it, but ultimately rejected it due to a lack of street-level presence. I don’t remember where I read that – perhaps here on ArlNow.

        • drax

          P.S. A google search turned up several references in news items to negotiations with Busboys & Poets.

          • KalashniKEV

            “due to a lack of street-level presence.”

            Gee… I wish someone could have had access to that market intelligence when the whole ArtisFAIL fiasco began.

            Maybe Babs will open up a Sushi Restaurant with our money next to the sewage treatment plant at 4 Mile Run… if that’s ever been her dream.

            Then we can spend out and see if it does good!

      • B

        No kidding. Plus the bar was never open. The neighborhood has a lot of apartments which would love to have a local bar. However every time my husband and I went there (say 9pm on a Friday night) the bar was closed.

        SEriously if you get a properly functioning bar with normal evening hours in there, you get the young crowd in. There is some great programming there – you just need to get folks to step inside. Happy hour specials are a great way to do that!

  • Arlwhenver

    It’s a flop. If the dimwits on the County Board had any sense of realism and financial responsibility they would shut the joint down and sell the space. From what they could get for selling off the space and saving the annual operating subsidy the County could open and operate another school building.

    • Buddy

      Amen, brother

  • Burger

    I am not sure how this should be a “developing” story just about anyone with any common sense could see that this was a giant white elephant and going to consume massive amount of tax support.

    BTW, just wait until the other big boondoggle – the Columbia Trolley – gets built and starts sucking out tax revenue like a baby on a bottle.

    • Josh S

      Any chance we can at least try to keep things in perspective? As much as you may personally have some sort of axe to grind regarding the Artisphere, I think it would be useful to realize that $2.3 million in taxpayer support is not that much in comparison to the budget as a whole. It certainly doesn’t compare to any sort of spending on public transportation, whether real, existing expenditures on ART buses or hypothetical, unknown spending on a trolley.

      • John Fontain

        Looking at each government expenditure in isolation and dismissing them as individually immaterial is a poor way of making judgments and managing taxpayers’ money. Things add up, you know.

        • Josh S

          Obviously each decision should be made carefully.

          I was mostly just responding to the use of “massive” and “big boondoggle” in Burger’s post.

          • Burger

            Is 2.3 million dollars not a lot of money? I mean it could barely buy a dog park. And the trolley original price tag a few years ago is somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 million. The price is at least double or did you not read the cost of the 2nd part of the Metro line out to Dulles.

          • 4Arl

            Meanwhile Arts-related programs and services in PRCR have been cut to save tens of thousands of dollars here and there. Residents have had to organize to prevent closures over spending reductions that were a tiny fraction of the money poured into Artisphere.
            It should now be obvious by now that the county management lacks the competencies to turn this around. In the FY12 budget documents, written just this past March, the county states, “it is projected that by FY 2013 the Artisphere operation will be self-sustaining”

  • ArlingtonChick

    I still don’t understand the purpose of this place. I agree with everyone above. Repurpose/repackage the space and move on.

    • Lou

      Somebody down at the County must really really really really still think that they can make it work.

  • novasteve

    Maybe they can call it something with Bank in the name so that at least a bank robber might mistake it for a bank and they get at least him as a visitor?

  • Art Funding Supporter

    People forget art is a business and that it actually employees thousands of people especially in this area. It has been proven that art is part of what makes a society productive and better contributing citizens. In all fairness, Artisphere did not have a realistic business plan upon opening and there are many areas for improvement. However, the building does provide a valuable service to the surrounding community and instead of bashing it, put some effort into making it successful! If you want kids to have something to go to, start telling Artisphere what you want to see! If you want kids to get a true arts education, then start demanding art programs with real artists at the venue. I would also like to note that Artisphere in conjunction with The Educational Theater Company and WSC Avant Bard offered a spring break film class for students last year and plan to do the same this year. Art is incredibly valuable to society and people are affected by it every day.

    • Fellow Patron of the Arts


      Always great to see people who are willing to support the arts. America doesn’t have the vibrant arts scene seen abroad because of humbugs only concerned with their wallets.

      • TuesdaysChild

        By “abroad” do you mean the economies of the EU that are falling apart because of over spending by their government?

        Or do you mean the “abroad” countries of south america, where huge numbers are seeking to immigrate here, whether legally or not?

        Or do you mean the “abroad” countries of Asia and the middle east, with limited artistic freedom of expression?.

        Well, which is it?

        • Josh S

          Ah, the internet poster convinced she has a clever retort for everything. Describing the arts’ scene in entire continents with nary more than eight or nine words, most of which have nothing to do with anything….
          *breathes deeply* ahhhhhh the invigorating fresh air of free and lively debate!!!

          • u got it

            Really? I think those words are pretty much right on target. Oh well, to each his/her own.

          • CrystalMikey


          • Josh S

            Well, Fellow Patron of the Art’s comments aren’t exactly the most cogent, witty and precise either, so it’s not worth spending much time on this.

            But what do immigration patterns have to do with the arts? And European countries are facing budgetary issues because of their support for the arts? Really? Evidence? Are we to believe that there are no countries in all of Asia or the Middle East where “artistic freedom of expression” has been “limited” (whatever that means)?

        • yep uhuh

          Every EU country’s economy is falling apart.

          Nobody from the US is trying to emigrate anywhere.

          Asia and the Middle East can be lumped together into one homogeneous lump.

          Just trying to get this straight.

    • Side_Of_Hubris

      Yes – art IS a business. This business is failing. But it is in a state of perpetual bailout courtesy of the Arlington taxpayers. If this were a viable idea to start with it would have attracted private investors. I say we Occupy the Artisphere – no more bailouts! A waste…

      • wut


        I like that.

  • Give it a Chance

    Bear in mind that Artisphere’s original business plan was conceived by a team that didn’t have any meaningful experience in managing a major visual arts venue, or a performing arts venue of any kind, not to mention experience in how to work with a thriving business like Busboys and Poets, or how to run a store.

    The good news is that a lot of those people are now gone.

    The county manager recently brought both the Cultural Affairs office and Artisphere under the Economic Development department, which will greatly change the way both entities do business. Artisphere’s marketing is indeed tragically bad, and their website is dreadful and difficult to navigate, but the County and Economic Development are clearly aware of what the problems are; given recent developments, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a personnel shift in marketing at Artisphere pretty soon as well.

    I bet that we’ll see real progress within a year.

    • u got it

      Nah, there is not a robust enough market for what they are peddling. No matter how many times they turn over the staff or re-target their marketing strategy, it will still be sucking our tax money down the hole.


      • Earl’s Sandwich Lover

        Artisphere has had some programming successes over the last year (Dar Williams, Washington Shakespeare, UrbanArias, National Chamber Ensemble, American Century Theatre, and others), and that will continue to improve now that they’ve got a better sense of who their audience is. The bigger problem is the size of the venues, which is highlighted in the report. So to make it work, they need to rent it out more during the day. We’ll see if they succeed.

  • u don’t got it

    Do you even know what they’re peddling?

    • u got it

      The largest collection of harmonica cases in the world?

      Sorry, not a robust market. Proof is in the numbers and the way they are having to change everything.

      • u don’t got it

        If you think all they’re peddling is the harmonicas, you’re only reading this website. Go see for yourself.

  • I suspect the Artisphere is too expensive for Arlington County to support financially. It is in a bad location and previous tenant understood this and moved to DC where they have thrived.

    Suggest Arlington County consider selling this place to a commercial firm. It is more suited to be an office space. It is a bad investment for the county. I think this is a better place for a business concern than a tourist attraction supported by the county. Suggest the county cut the Artisphere from its budget.

    • As a previous commenter said, Artisphere cannot be “sold.” The county is leasing it from a commercial landlord for the specific purpose of running an arts venue.

      • The county entered into a bad lease and I think Arlington voters can void/vote against this bad decision to continue running this facility as an arts venue, this is not in the best interest of our county. Love and support the arts, but Arlington residents should correct this bad decision of our board. The Artisphere is too expensive for the county to keep up and it should be shut down. We simply can’t afford it.

        • u got it

          Oh boy. If the lease is that narrowly written to only allow an arts venue, they are really eff’d. Most of these good ideas in the thread about other ways to use it probably do not fall under the lease terms. Heck, does renting it out to corporate events even meet the terms?

          On the other hand, if it is so mutually disadvantageous they should look at renegotiating it.

  • Plunkitt of Clarendon Blvd

    I wonder if that photo of a smiling Fissette handing over the check for 7.3 million dollars will resurface the next time he is up for election ??

    Probably not……….

    • Bluemontsince1961

      Nah, probably won’t happen. But it would be very interesting if it did.

      • u got it

        Guys! Guys! Don’t you see. That is not a lot of money in the big picture of what Arlington spends. Oh wait, yeah it is.

  • Grateful

    I propose that the County examine the possibility of moving the proposed “year round shelter” from 2020 N. 14th Street to the Artisphere and change the name to the Artishelter. This would dramatically increase the number of “visitors.”

  • Pingback: Arlington’s Plan to Save Artisphere: Rent It Out - Arts Desk()

  • Arlingtonian

    My boyfriend and I had JUST made a plan to go in there and look at the art and eat at the cafe. We had been putting it off for some time.

    Why didn’t we go in there before? Well, every time we looked at things to do around Arlington, there was always something we wanted to do more that seemed more interesting.

    I hear the restaurant is (was?) really nice and served delicious food, and that since it’s hardly busy, the Artisphere was also a quiet place to study or relax on the upper floors. Maybe make it into a studysphere? hahaha. I don’t know.

  • bystander

    SHUT THIS DOWN. I have been an Arlington resident for more than 4 years. Once I ventured into this place and will never be back. This place needs to be SOLD to someone who can do something good with it. The DC area has no shortage of art, cafes, and the like. There is NO REASON for taxpayers to finance poor version of that! Please, please, shut it down.

    • yep uhuh

      They can’t SELL it. They don’t OWN it.

  • Art Brut

    Hey what about us 45-55 year olds?? We hate Artisphere too.

    I’m thinking microbrewery/restaurant…..or maybe a Walmart.

  • MC

    I am proud to be an Artisphere supporter and advocate. This is the ONLY thing Arlington County spends money on that is worthwhile that I can and do benefit from. I don’t care about schools, bike lanes, the library, the athletic centers, I don’t use any of them (and pay more taxes than most of you to support these things), but I don’t expect them to pay their own way, so way should others expect that of the Artisphere? Do I care if most people in Arlington are philistines who consider spending money on the arts a waste of money? No. I am tired of the double standard applied to the arts: that unlike other things, it is supposed to pay its own way, and that it has to appeal to the lowest common denominator otherwise it is unworthy.

    • KalashniKEV


      • Josh S

        The Kevinator – protecting that bandwidth!

    • Bluemontsince1961


    • 4Arl

      I don’t think this is really about paying its own way. The operating budget included county funding support. This is more about exceeding the budget support over and over by large amounts.

      • Give it a Chance

        It is about paying its own way – that’s what the original proposal for Artisphere was based on, that it would become self-sustaining in a few years (and later spin off into its own 501(c)(3)). Now people are upset that it didn’t happen – but it was totally unrealistic that it ever would.

        And these initial unrealistic expectations for Artisphere have repercussions: the county wants the proposed black box theater in Virginia Sq to pay its own way too . . . which vindicates MC’s point about the double standard applied to the arts.

        Fortunately, the majority of Arlingtonians are not part of the lowest-common-denominator set. Unfortunately, most of them don’t comment on this blog.

        • 4Arl

          If you look at the original projections, revenue as a 501c3 includes an ongoing line item, “Reallocated county funds” in addition to BID support. I agree that the expectations were unrealistic, but the Webb report does list most of the risks.

  • Harry

    Turn it into a year round homeless shelter and spare Courthouse the horror of a year round open access homeless shelter physically located amongst some of the most expensive real estate in the world via eminent domain.

    The reduced Artisphere hours plus corporate rentals is an illusion. This is a big money pit. Why should Arlington taxpayers pay to subsidize corporate rentals? Then again, we run nature centers that are closed on weekends, the only time working families can use them…

    It’s ok to admit the Artisphere was a mistake, a vanity project that never took off. Arlington County has no business getting into business. Tax me and provide services: good schools, safe streets and parks.

    And lest anyone think I am cruel and unusual re homeless, put the year round homeless shelter at cheaper location near Four Mile Run where they all sleep al fresco. I’d rather serve legitimate Arlington bums than DC bums who metro in for a clean bed and hot meal courtesy of Arlington County.

    • Josh S

      Yes, that last paragraph really restored your reputation as a compassionate and caring human.

  • Smoke_Jaguar4

    How about turning into a convention center? With all the businesses in Rosslyn and across the river in Georgetown, and near a metro stop? Right now all the real options are all in DC or National Harbor, bring some of that business our way.

    • Josh S

      Uh, cause it’s too small?

  • ArlingtonArtist

    As an artist living and working in Arlington, I applaud the part of their vision that involves relying more on local artists. I have never understood why the county would pour money into a facility that does not feature Arlington artists….there are a lot of us out here (The Arlington Artists Alliance has 150 artists in it…) so why not feature our art?

    • dave schutz

      And your view would presumably be that any DC or Falls Church arts facility should exclude Arlington artists, in favor of locals?


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