Artisphere Critics React to New Business Plan

by ARLnow.com December 2, 2011 at 3:25 pm 4,580 36 Comments

Three outspoken critics of the Artisphere are giving a lukewarm reception to a new business plan created to help boost the money-losing, county-run cultural center’s finances.

Arlington County Board members on Tuesday expressed cautious optimism about the plan, which would cut Artisphere’s hours, close its restaurant, and generate more revenue via private event rentals. Critics we spoke to, by and large, agreed that the new business plan was an improvement over the flawed, original business plan. But they also questioned whether the County Board should have even bought in to the original business plan in the first place.

“In retrospect, it’s unfortunate the Board didn’t have the foresight presented in the task force’s business plan,” wrote Tim Wise, president of the Arlington County Taxpayers Association. “That said, it’s not clear the new business plan will fix what needs fixing. What is clear, however, is that government should restrict itself to core government functions such as police enforcement, and stay out of places where it doesn’t belong, e.g., the arts.”

“Was this all a mistake in the first place? I submit it was,” wrote Wayne Kubicki, another Arlington fiscal watchdog. “As currently projected, by the end of FY 2013, Artisphere will have cost Arlington taxpayers a total of $10.6 million in construction costs and unanticipated operating subsidies. How long can this go on?”

Kubicki also questioned whether a governmental entity should be actively competing in the private event rental business.

“The new plan… relies heavily on increased event rentals for corporate and social events,” he wrote. “Well and good, if it works — but, in truth, this would probably take this business away from Arlington’s private sector hotels, other conference facilities and restaurants.”

Green Party activist Audrey Clement, who ran unsuccessfully for the County Board this fall and is expected to run again in a special election this winter/spring, said that the county should try to speed along the eventual transformation of Artisphere into a self-sustaining non-profit.

“While the proposed solutions all sound reasonable, I am concerned that the task force still projects an operating deficit of $2.3 million for FY 2012 alone,” Clement told ARLnow.com. “In light of this report, I recommend that County Board follow the recommendations of the Artisphere Task Force with a view towards transferring its lease on the Artisphere to a trust or foundation better equipped to absorb the operating cost of the facility.”

County Board members were universally supportive of the new plan — Walter Tejada said Artisphere still has “a great deal of potential” — but some left open the possibility of eventually closing or significantly changing the venue if the plan fails to live up to expectations.

“I think that where we’ve gotten to at least gives us something that’s within reach,” said Board Vice-Chairman Mary Hynes. “Now we’ve got to get the people there, and the programming in place, to know whether we can make this work or not. And if we can’t, then we can’t, and we have to say that too. But I think we have a much better chance with this plan… than the one we saw three years ago.”

  • ArLater

    Tom Wise- Its unfortunate the Board wasnt able to predict the future and see what the current folks see in the past.

    I agree this program is a disaster, I just think this guys quote is one of the dumbest things I’ve read on here.

    • Gubmint arts

      Not any more.

  • sweet baby cheeses

    The Artisphere still has potential like Rex Grossman still has potential.

  • novasteve

    Maybe the artisphere should be used as the Homeless shelter instead of the building with Ragtime in it?

  • Glebe Roader

    The losses for this place are already gone. Sunk. Dead. Close it down, for crying out loud.

  • michelle

    it would be a good space for private events so long as someone could use their own booze and food suppliers. like a unique wedding venue…

    • AI

      It would be a great venue. I looked into having my reception there, but the staff said that they wouldn’t know any availability until a few months out, which makes wedding planning difficult.

  • novasteve

    How about we get a pied piper to lure all of the bedbugs and stinkbucks in the area to the Artisphere? I think then people will think it artisphere has a purpose.

  • mickey644

    This is a glaring example of a socialist government project. Can’t schedule more than 3 months out? Some weddings schedule up to a year out! To my knowledge the area doesn’t have large spaces for private events such as HS or College reunions, weddings, large parties, etc. Price it accordingly and they will come. Get a group of event planners together and ask them. They know how to do it.

    • huh?

      Socialist? What in the world makes it ‘socialist’?

      The flaws you mention are poor planning, that’s all. There’s no political-economic agenda to it.

    • Rory

      Socialist??? More like incompetence

  • KalashniKEV

    1) Pull the plug NOW.
    2) I want my money back.
    3) I LOVED the idea of a small business incubator… unfortunately it’s more likely to become a Resort and Fitness Club for the Bums housed at the new Bum Mansion.
    4) Can we get a small business incubator in the down-on-it’s-heels Ballston Mall?
    5) What about an indoor pistol range? Anything else that would actually generate TONS of income instead of hemorrhaging dollars daily?

  • Bloggers vs. Journalists

    Scott, did you actually talk to anyone for this “article”? Did you interview Hynes and Tejada, or just take notes at a board meeting? Did you interview Clement and Wise, or just watch the public comment from Tuesday online? Why select just two cranky Arlingtonians and a failed board candidate to represent your view that there are critics who are unhappy with this business plan?

    Did you talk to anyone in the arts community? Anyone at the Rosslyn BID? Anyone in the economic development office? Or were you just feeding the Artisphere haters on your blog and trying to generate page hits?

    • You’ll notice that our first article on the business plan only provided the county task force point of view. In this article, we reached out to three community members who have been critical of Artisphere, to see what they think of the plan. We also provided the perspective of County Board members, via their discussion at the board meeting.

      • Thes

        ARLnow.com does identify a difference in approach between online and dead-tree media. Operating more in real-time and in shorter bursts, “balance” is achieved by reporting everything eventually, even if each small bite is not the complete story. Here we see that the links, which are necessary for the complete picture. And the headline “Critics React” pretty much tells you what part of the story we get this time.

      • Bloggers vs. Journalists

        Great – I misunderstood your desire to roll out coverage slowly. I look forward to your next article(s) which interviews members of the Arts Commission, Artistic Directors of groups that currently use Artisphere, other Arlington arts community leaders who have not yet used Artisphere, the Rosslyn BID, and Artisphere’s advisory board.

        • 4Arl

          In the same way I must have misunderstood the County Board’s use of the “consent” agenda for supposedly uncontroversial items. Where you have to show up in person at 8:30 am on Saturday to file a form to come back another day before they will accept any public comment on the issue. If the board members are so willing to respond publicly, offering to participate in interviews, it would be Great! Where can we submit questions?
          Seriously, if the county was more inclusive of differing opinions (not just more departments/groups beholden to the county) it might have been able to craft a more viable strategy, to the benefit of Arts groups seeing reduced funding.

  • MC

    Gotta love how people who complain the Artisphere wastes money now complain it will make money by taking business away from hotels. Gotta love how people who complain how incompetent they think the Artisphere is now feel threatened it could compete successfully with businesses. Clearly, our unelected Artisphere critics are just grinding some very blunt axes.

    • TGEoA

      Use em on the fools who approved this.

    • KalashniKEV

      “Gotta love how people who complain how incompetent they think the Artisphere is now feel threatened it could compete successfully with businesses.”

      My comments keep disappearing, but do you think that was the goal of this project, to create a government enterprise that could strip market share from private business?

      • Seriously?

        Your comments don’t keep disappearing, they inundate this blog with your incessant right-wing drivel.

        • KalashniKEV

          Ummm… I’m not a right winger.

        • Canary_Coal_Mine

          Must stink to have someone actually present their case from an opposite viewpoint, right Seriously? I guess instead of ideas we should just use knee-jerk labels to stifle reason and debate. Oh wait. Too late. Thanks for bringing nothing to the table. Just like the ArtisFAIL…

          • KalashniKEV


  • Just the Facts

    I really wish some of the dunderheads who keep throwing the “socialist/socialism” accusation around would take 30 seconds to look the f*cking word up. For example, as mush as mickey644 might like it to be, “socialist” does NOT mean inefficient or overpriced.

    For those too lazy to look it up themselves, socialism is an economic system that establishes social ownership and control of the means of production and distribution of capital, land, etc. “Social ownership” is commonly defined as public or state ownership, which comes in a variety of flavors.

    So now that we know what socialism is, here’s what it is not:

    — government programs you don’t agree with
    — government programs you dislike
    — government programs that don’t work
    — government support of arts
    — government financial support for the poor and elderly (even, yikes!, direct cash payments)
    — government tax policy that favors certain industries or even certain entities within industries

    If you don’t like something the government is doing, it’s perfectly okay to say, “I don’t like what the government is doing.” If you think the government is doing something poorly or inefficiently, it’s perfectly okay to say, “I think the government is doing this poorly or inefficiently.” If you think the government is doing something that it shouldn’t be, it’s perfectly okay to say, “I don’t think the government should be doing this.” YOU DON’T HAVE TO LABEL EVERYTHING THE GOVERNMENT DOES THAT YOU DON’T LIKE AS “SOCIALIST.” Especially because, here in the U.S., it almost certainly is not socialist.

    Ok, just had to get that off my chest. I have zero hope that it’s actually going to do anything to stop idiots from throwing the word around carelessly, but I had to try.

    • Seriously?


    • Swag

      That sounds like Socialist talk to me…

    • Rory

      whatever you say, fascist!

    • Josh S


  • Harry

    My kids attend classes in nasty trailers at overcrowded Arlington Public Schools and the County Board is throwing money down an Artisphere rathole. Keep it simple. Safe streets, good schools, nice parks. If the County Board can afford Artispheres, year-round-homeless shelters nestled amongst prime real estate, and Columbia Pike choo-choo trains, the County Board can afford to lower my taxes. I don’t mind paying taxes. Just for safe streets, good schools and nice parks please.

    • Bluemontsince1961

      +100, Harry! Spot on!

    • Josh S

      Do you remember the movie The Jerk? Do you remember the scene when Steve Martin is leaving his house, ruined, having lost his fortune and he’s crying about all he needs? All I need is this ashtray! And this paddle game! And the remote control! And this… and this…. and this….

      Do you remember that?

      I don’t know what made me think of it just now. But I did.


  • demonfafa

    So BYT can’t just host more PBR/Box Wine hipster hootenannies there anymore? I mean, that was the greatest concentration of fixie-enthusiasts and tweed wearers since the bread line in 1932.

  • soarlslacker

    Why not turn over management of the space to a nearby hotel and let it manage the space. Arl Cty could “lease” it and ask for a % of profits. Having experienced how the Cty manages meeting rooms in community centers, this task appears to be above the available technology and skill set. Many times it is worth using a professional firm. How comfortable would any Cty resident be trying to “book” and use this space?

  • Basic Human Needs

    Our excellent County Manager has explained to doubters that she has struggled with the issue of the financial viability of the Artisphere, and after getting consulting help, and coming up with a new business plan for the space, decided to give it another year or two. (Thats a quote from a meeting last week).

    The fundamental problem is that the County Manager, the County Arts staff, and even the Economic Development staff shouldn’t be doing business plans. This isn’t what they do best.

    I keep on hearing about what a wonderful space it is, and how nice it is that school children and other citizens can use it and feel proud about what a classy place Arlington is and what types of artistic opportunities it provides.

    As a community, we have to establish priorities and limits on those priorities. Lets allow the reality that the established and articulate arts community gets access to some County taxpayer funds.

    But this is too much and its time to cut bait on the Artisphere.

    Ms. Donnelan has reported that running the Artisphere costs less than running other community centers in the county. That may be try but it doesn’t mean we need to have it operating. Maybe increasing library hours would be a better way to spend such monies.

  • novasteve

    Now that Arlington has school space issues, turn this into a school, and have a room for artwork of the students to put onto display. With just the parents visiting that would already be more visitors than the artisphere currently gets.


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