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Optimistic Artisphere Supporters Ask for More Time

by Katie Pyzyk December 16, 2011 at 1:30 pm 3,559 57 Comments

It’s no secret the one-year-old Artisphere in Rosslyn has vocal critics, who harp on the fact that the cultural venue has been bleeding taxpayer dollars while attracting a lower-than-expected audience. But supporters say the Artisphere still has promise, and needs more time to prove itself while a new business plan is implemented.

Artisphere Executive Director Jose Ortiz admits that errors have been made, but hopes that even Artisphere’s most ardent critics can place their focus on the future.

“We have all acknowledged we didn’t meet the unrealistic goals set in the original plan,” Ortiz said. “Not all of these ideas and thoughts were great and now we’re fine tuning that.”

One of the main goals supporters deem unrealistic was the thought that Artisphere would quickly make back the money invested in it, and then turn a profit. They say it’s now clear to everyone that’s not the way a business works. Ortiz believes the project simply needs more time.

“Creating an urban art center of this magnitude is really an enormous task,” Ortiz said. “It’s unrealistic to think you’re going to open the doors and have success from the first day.

“Everything takes time,” agreed Rosslyn BID Executive Director Cecilia Cassidy. “These things don’t become overnight successes.”

While addressing low attendance and revenue, Cassidy emphasizes that Artisphere was designed to be one piece in a larger puzzle of developments intended to give Rosslyn a boost. It was slated to open nearly simultaneously with several other large developments within walking distance, such as JBG’s CentralPlace project. However, a lagging economy delayed the nearby developments, and Artisphere had to bear the load of drawing people to the area on its own.

“Artisphere is here a bit ahead of those major developments that are going to bring thousands of people to Rosslyn,” Cassidy said. “Timing is everything. Who would have known the economy would be struggling as much as it is at this point in time?”

Ortiz said another problem is that Artisphere was sold differently to different people. He said it was being billed as an art place for everyone without specifying what that meant.

“People have different interpretations of what that means to them, so that certainly has created some confusion,” Ortiz said. “We have to help people understand our mission and core values of the business. Helping people understand that is helping to turn it around.”

Artisphere has been given another chance, of sorts, in the form of the revamped business plan. Money-saving and money-making changes include closing Artisphere’s restaurant, opening later in the day, closing to the public on Monday and Tuesday and pushing for more private rentals of the space. Ortiz said the number of requests to use the space has been overwhelming, so offering more time for private rentals during the day should aid in generating revenue.

Arlington Arts Commission Chairwoman Gail Raiman said, “I know some of the challenges Artisphere faced financially were reported on, and this plan is a way to tackle those problems and make sure Artisphere has great financial stability and success.”

Critics point out that even under the new business plan, taxpayers are footing a bill of $2.3 million in financial year 2012. They aren’t convinced of the plan’s ability to turn around Artisphere, and hold to the idea that the project will continue losing money. Raiman wants those people to be open minded about the revamped efforts.

“Step back and take a bigger picture view and see where we can go with this new business plan, with everyone working cohesively together on its successs,” Raiman said.

While some opponents claim building the venue was a mistake in the first place, Ortiz disagrees. He said Artisphere is the most recent in a long history of artistic and cultural improvements in Arlington which add to quality of life. Cassidy echoed the sentiment, saying the county invests money in all of its neighborhoods to improve the community. She said while some neighborhoods receive money in the form of parks or recreation centers, Rosslyn’s funding was put toward Artisphere. She also believes the arts are important to the economic development of a community.

“Part of this revised business plan was a message sent by the county manager,” Cassidy said. “She has moved Artisphere to be within the Economic Development Department. That’s a strong message that arts can be an economic development driver.”

While the restructured business plan is cited as a change for the better, supporters are reluctant to consider it a silver bullet. Instead, it’s regarded as a decent start which should be tweaked and added to as necessary.

“I feel strongly about it,” Raiman said. “I feel strongly about finding a way to make it work. I feel like this business plan is a step in the right direction.”

The hope is that eventually skeptics will give the venue another try, joining the increasing numbers of visitors to Artisphere.

Ortiz said, “I feel confident that with fine tuning, this is a great model that probably will be replicated in other cities, the concept of all of these different types of art under one roof.”

  • drax

    I bet $10 on +50 comments.

    • SomeGuy

      Not a wager worth taking since you could personally post 49 additional comments yourself. Also, how would I collect?

    • Josh S

      Well, it took a few days, but there you are. Cheers!

  • BX

    Actually, making your investment back and then turning a profit is exactly how a business is supposed to work. That they think that thinking was an error speaks volumes.

    • KalashniKEV

      Yeah, but you can bleed for a long time when it’s someone else’s money.

    • RosRes

      True, but that does not usually happen within the first year of a new business. Many businesses run for many years before they run net positive revenues.

      • Burger

        That is generally not true. You should showing a profit at the end of year 2. You might not be profitable but you need to show demonstrable improvement…has the artisphere.

        Further, the Artisphere’s budget was still going to be in the negative and requiring taxpayer funds. what has happened is the Artisphere is so bad they require more.

      • Lou

        Any business run this poorly would not survive another year. Unless they had an enormously wealthy benefactor willing to continue losing money year after year. Like our government.

    • LPS4DL

      It took a decade for Amazon to become profitable…

      • annie

        My tax dollars were not spent supporting Amazon

      • KalashniKEV

        …this ‘aint Amazon. In order for government run businesses (and government employee Unions) to be effective (and moral), it must be a possibility that the government could “go out of business” (or fail).

        I do believe our county government is failing, and personally wouldn’t mind them going out of business… but we all know that isn’t going to happen, so let’s just stick to low level scams in the future… the current drum beat of Pet Projects with no analysis or alternate COAs threatens to expose the board for what it is.

  • Professor Periwinkle

    25,000 people already work in Rosslyn, and there are 2,200 hotel rooms. Blaming projects that are not yet built is just nonsense.

    • Josh S

      I don’t think workers in the neighborhood would be a terribly useful count since not many of them could be expected to visit a museum during the workday.

      How many people live in the neighborhood?

      • Professor Periwinkle

        The guy quoted in the article is the one who seemed to think the missing developments were part of the problem. There is one residential tower slated for the near future in Rosslyn. The rest of the approved development is commercial office.

        I do not know how many people live in Rosslyn, but if Arlington thinks one missing residential tower is why Artishpere has failed, they are revealing how deeply delusional they really were in planning it.

  • SomeGuy

    “We have all acknowledged we didn’t meet the unrealistic goals set in the original plan.”

    My concern is that they sell ideas like this to the public based on goals that they should know are unrealistic. 5-10 years from now, we’re likely to hear a similar story when they admit that Columbia Pike Streetcar ridership projections (and cost estimates!) were also unrealistic.

    • Burger

      This is merely a concern? It should be outrage.

  • I’m just here to harp

    How does renting this place out to more private corporate functions help entice the community at large to patronize it? If anything, they are trying to take business away from private sector facilities. Not really a net plus for the community.

    • Josh S

      Bob: So how can we raise more revenue here?
      Joe: I know, let’s take business away from private sector facilities.
      Bob: Great idea!

      Not.

      • SomeGuy

        Josh S, please clarify the meaning of your post.

        • Josh S

          I’m just here to harp (perhaps a clue it’s not worth responding to) indicates in active language that those managing the Artisphere were “trying to to take business away from private sector facilities.” This is absurd.

          If they offer their space for corporate meetings / etc. and that has the effect of taking business away from private sector facilities, that is merely a consequence of their marketing efforts, it is not the purpose of the efforts. They did not sit down with the purpose of figuring out ways to take business away from private sector facilities.

    • Harry

      Taxpayer subsidized corporate rental that hurt actual profit making businesses in Arlington. If they County needs revenue they should raise taxes, something they will undoubtedly do again this year. Arlington County government should stick to safe streets, good schools and nice parks. Leave the business of making money to business. Millions of tax dollars will not make Rosslyn an urban hipster destination.

  • i against 1

    Turn it into a BLACK CAT or Fillmore style spot. Because, Arlington needs a nice sport for music.

    • Ballston Mick

      I’ve actually been to a concert at Artisphere, it was a really nice setup. I think it could be a great live music venue.

    • Michael H.

      I was thinking the same thing, that a focus on live music performance would be a better plan while still contributing to the quality of life in the neighborhood. It could be the Rosslyn version of the Birchmere. But I wonder if such a venue needs to be publicly-owned.

      • CW

        I agree with this. We have IOTA…what else? If it starts drawing crowds, then I have no problem with public vs. private. Not much opposition to Wolf Trap out there. The key is just that it be successful so it at least appears to have justifiable ROI.

      • MC

        The Artisphere space is not publicly owned: that is a widespread misconception. Monday Properties owns the property and has donated the space to the County for an extended period. Many people don’t appreciate how much Rosslyn property owners are interested in bringing cultural life to that neighborhood as they look to build high end office space.

        • KalashniKEV

          Hi… Rosslyn property owner here. Keep your “vibrancy” and lower my taxes. Thanks!

          • Josh S

            In what way would closing the Artisphere lower your taxes?

          • KalashniKEV

            Oh, not just closing down ArtisFAIL. I’m talking about sweeping changes. Transparency and accountability (Oh, NO!)… Hope and Change (Yay!).

  • novasteve

    How about have a communist art exhibition? That will bring all of the liberals out and then they can claim to have raised their number of visitors.

    • drax

      Brilliant satire, steve! Brilliant!

      • novasteve

        I kinda like commie art. When I was in Vietnam I would photograph all of the communist propaganda. I would go around parts of East Berlin to photograph all the commie memorials, street signs, etc…. I might even go to this.

  • Glebe Roader

    Close. It. Down. Now.

    • KalashniKEV

      +1
      1) Pull the plug NOW.
      2) No more personal boondoggles with taxpayer funds.
      3) Perform due diligence when evaluating courses of action.
      4) I WANT MY MONEY BACK.

  • Basic Human Needs

    A reminder everyone. The county manager told a group of advisory commissioners that she would be reviewing the new plan and its results over the next year or two. Well I sure hope so and lets hold her to it.

    • DCBuff

      Ah, we’re just going to review it in a year or two. After millions more of taxpayer dollars are poured down a sinkhole. And then, pray tell, what will the county manager say then? Unrealistic expectations? Time for a new plan? More pesos please? Hey, a privately run museum didn’t work in that space, and the Rosslynn BID isn’t taking it over and paying for it with private sector monies, but your think the tax-and-spend way will work? Maybe if the Columbia Pike streetcar gets rerouted to Rosslynn!

    • Professor Periwinkle

      Unfortunately she will be under enormous pressure from the politicians to not cut and run. The amount of money that has been squandered on this, coupled with the continuing support from the Board could turn into career limiting factors for someone who can be put out of work by the voters.

      • 4Arl

        Who can be put out of work by Arlington voters? The county manager works for the board. Even the board is seemingly immune to being voted out. Who was the last incumbent to lose a re-election bid?

  • Tgeoa

    How about a kissing contest for sexual deviants?

    Oh wait…

    • G Clifford Prout

      Where do I sign up?

    • KalashniKEV

      I wonder if some of the “violent” sex offenders (currently 2) freeloading at ASPAN would be welcome at the next kiss in?

      GCP, would you accept a smooch from a Rape Bum? You’ve technically already bought him dinner…

  • MC

    The other big news for the Artisphere — not reported here — is that it’s oversight has been transferred from the Parks department to the Economic Development Office. This is very positive, because it recognizes the value of cultural offerings to attract higher end corporations looking for headquarters space. A big reason DC is considered more prestigious a location for many firms is that it has cultural life that isn’t available in the suburbs.

    • charlie

      actually the whole Cultural Affairs has been transferred.

  • Does the library make a profit? Do TJ,or Barcroft sports facilities make a profit? The parks, even dog parks, are not free to the tax payer. Why do we think that an amenity like a cultural center should not be supported with tax payer money. All of these things lead to the quality of life that make Arlington the great place to live and real estate draw that it is.

    • 4Arl

      It’s not about making a profit. It’s about financial controls, or lack thereof. When they decided to pay people above budgeted amounts, enough so to warrant mention in county budget documents, in my mind that was a committment to keep the deficit within reasonable range. Maybe the move to AED will give them some measure of financial oversight.

    • christiann

      I agree. I don’t want to live in a county where we aren’t willing to support some public art and culture. If we don’t want Arlington to be a bedroom community (I don’t), we need to support projects like Artisphere.

  • ArlingtonWay

    I am always very surprised that wolf trap does not seem to be able or willing to attract better acts. It’s a wonderful venue and two thirds or more of the bands that play there I’ve never even heard of.

  • James

    Who would have known the economy would be struggling as much as it is at this point in time?”

    Um…lots of us knew the economy is and will continue to suck for the next decade.

    Just wait till Arlington feels the federal government cutbacks..they are coming.

  • Westover Leftover

    The Libertarian in me wants to shout

    “Not a function of government”.

  • KalashniKEV

    The whole concept of the Government owning and operating a business with OUR money is Evil in nature.

    It wouldn’t me Moral or right even if it wasn’t hemorrhaging dollars every day…

    • Josh S

      Are you opposed to the various community rec centers? What about libraries?

      • KalashniKEV

        Community Rec Centers? You mean like…Spider Kelly’s???

        NOPE.

        Shut it all down.

        • Josh S

          Well, at least you’re consistent. I’ll give you that.

  • xiann

    I want Artisphere to stick around and believe in our local government supporting arts and culture. But Artisphere has been a little narrow — I think they should be willing to have more pop culture events rather than just high culture (that is, have local bands and DJs in that draw a younger crowd and art exhibits that relate to current events, popular culture, etc). Also, the restaurant that used to be there was really lackluster. There aren’t a large number of places to go out in Rosslyn, so if Artisphere could offer something different to local nightlife, it may have a better chance of bringing in a regular audience.

    • Kara J.

      Actually, Artisphere does provide a number of concerts featuring local (and national) artists, like DJs, bands and singer/songwriters. Not to mention the number of off-beats art events and exhibits that are certainly not just geared towards older, “high culture” people. And everything is either free or cheap. As a member of the “younger crowd,” I find that Artisphere provides a lot of cultural events I’m interested in and can afford. If you support local arts, I suggest you look at the upcoming events at Artisphere before you claim their programming is too narrow. I think you would be pleasantly surprised.

  • Tom

    Since when is an arts center a profit center? Does the Metropolitan Museum of Art turn a profit? How about the Art Institute of Chicago? We don’t expect parkland to be a profit center – or schools – or many other important features of a vibrant society. Why would we believe that Artisphere can be a profit center?

    • Lou

      Both of those are private operations with massive private endowments.

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