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Artisphere Meets Budget, But Revenue Below Expectations

by ARLnow.com October 24, 2012 at 9:45 am 6,379 31 Comments

Artisphere, the county-run cultural center in Rosslyn, met its budget and actually required less taxpayer support than expected for Fiscal Year 2012.

The center recorded $1.22 million in revenue and $3.55 million in expenses for FY 2012. Net taxpayer support was $2,327,016, $3,842 less than originally budgeted. The result is a marked improvement over previous budgets, which contained unrealistic attendance and revenue expectations; Artisphere’s revenue came in nearly 75 percent below budget for its first fiscal year.

While FY 2012 expenses were under budget — thanks in part to “a reduced amount of programming following the departure of Artisphere’s previous programming director,” according to a just-released year end report — revenue figures present more of a mixed bag.

Admissions and ticket income, educational program income, catering income, and concession income were all well under budget. Were it not for unexpected “event sponsorship” income, largely from the Rosslyn Business Improvement District — a major Artisphere patron which had already contributed $475,000 in the form of a donation — Artisphere would have required more tax support than budgeted.

The year end report attributed the lower admission and ticket income — 18 percent below expectations — to the sudden departure of Artisphere programming director Rosanna Ruscetti in April. (A new programming director was hired in August.) Similarly, educational income was low because “Artisphere’s education director only became full time during the latter half of the year.” Catering and concession income was below expectations, the year end report said, because Artisphere has not yet hired a “resident caterer” to replace the shuttered in-house restaurant and offer full bar service during shows.

“[A] resident caterer has not yet been established and currently, only limited bar operations are being run by Artisphere staff,” the report said. Still, the reported noted that staff-run concessions did generate a profit.

Facility rental income, a key component to the plan for making Artisphere less dependent on taxpayer funds, was $362,767, mostly in line with expectations. Officials expect rental income to increase next year.

“As Artisphere continues to overcome a negative perception for rentals that was established in its first year of operation, income has increased,” the report said. “During the first quarter of FY13, rental income has been extremely strong.”

The report touted a number of successful events and exhibits at Artisphere. Most significant among those was an exhibit of 259 personal photos taken by the late Mexican artists Frida Kahlo. Artisphere was “the first and only venue in the United States” to present the exhibit, and it won critical acclaim and attracted 13,119 visitors.

Meanwhile, Digital Capital Week, a week-long festival of technology, entrepreneurship and social innovation, drew more than 2,000 visitors last fall. DCWEEK will return to Artisphere next month. (Artisphere is one of several venues around the region hosting DCWEEK events.)

In all, officials said Artisphere, which is now under the control of Arlington Economic Development, rose to the challenge of maintaining its budget.

“Artisphere’s new business plan challenged the organization to take a good hard look at its fiscal management and provided the Artisphere with realistic revenue and expense goals,” the year end report said. “The organization worked hard to maximize it income and minimize its expense. The end of the year numbers show that Artisphere was successful in managing its budget. Although Artisphere fell short of its revenue goal for the year, key staff hires, a focus on event rentals and improvements in ticket revenue should position Artisphere well for FY13.”

  • Dum Dum Guy at the Gates of Dawn

    In a region of free museums, the pay to see art model is doomed to failure, unless you have a collection on par with the Phillips.

    • Mike

      And even the Phillips is questionable — if you want to see screwdrivers, most people can just look in their toolboxes.

      • Tabs

        what’s in YOUR toolbox?

    • drax

      Newseum, Spy Museum, Museum of Crime and Punishment, Wax Museum…all pay museums.

      A pay museum can work around here, if it’s got enough to offer. The jury is still out on Artisphere.

      And Artisphere isn’t just a museum, of course. Most people expect to pay to see performances.

      • BrianR

        Wax Museum was not a museum either.

      • Autoexec.bat

        The jury has returned. The answer was “No.”

      • Chris M.

        How about a list of useful things we could do with $2.3 Million?
        I’ll start — Buses for school students.

        • Deadite

          Building a palace for the area’s bums right in the heart of Courthouse.

      • Anon

        I love the Newseum; it’s great! But, it’s not a good choice to prove that a “pay” museum in the DC area works well…..http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/01/AR2009120103965.html

    • confused

      couldnt a free museum do better – in terms of food and drink sales, gift sales (do they even have a gift shop?) and of course donations. Isn’t that the direction they are headed in?

  • novasteve

    Imagine if they had to factor in rent as well. It must be great for them they weaseled a rent free lease.

  • Greg

    Rosslyn Business Improvement District contributions probably should be considered tax money.

  • Glebe Roader

    At some point, you have to cut your losses and close it down. Now is that time.

  • JohnB

    The loss of the programming director really hurt.

  • SomeGuy

    The Brofile Cam can be used to generate charts too?!

  • Chris

    The problem isn’t the “pay museum” part, it’s the “county run” part.

    • civil servant

      Exactly. Why does the County insist on running a museum? What is the County’s skill set that suggests they have the ability to run it successfully and on budget? We’re now $2M in the hole (at least) every year and there is a long enough track record and plenty of evidence to show that the County had no reasonable expectation that it could run a business (not a governmental role) on budget – especially the “art business”. Why not agree that this was a bad idea and move on?

      • drax

        I don’t think the county runs the museum. It only funds it.

  • novasteve

    Why don’t they have an offend religious sensibilities art exhibit? They could have piss christ, dung virgin mary, but of course no depictions of mohammed, because that would be hate speech.

    • xvr

      Time to leave the basement Steve; Mom’s gotta vacuum.

  • Paul

    The County Board can break out the champagne. Artisphere sucks 50% less than the previous fiscal year. Yippee.

  • TuesdaysChild

    Meeting a budget that involves $2.5 million in taxpayer support is a joke! This is not meeting any sort of true budget where it is anywhere near self-supporting.

    How can the county tell parents that it cannot afford buses for kids or regular library hours, and yet pay millions for this folly?!?

    • PaulB

      According to their revenue and expenses, they are still running a deficit.

  • YTK

    Hey Artisphere, does the term “traveling Collections” sound good to you? If not, then you may very well disappear into your own vapidity.

  • Ted

    Pull the taxpayer subsidy plug on the Artisphere on June 30, 2013. Enough taxpayer money has been stuffed into this turkey. Another reason I will not vote for Libby Garvey.

  • B22201

    I don’t think Artisphere is a waste of money. I think how they’re using the money is a waste. If we spend millions on dog parks, and fancy fire hydrants for suburban kids to jump through and call them “spray parks”. . . This isn’t very much money.

    PS. . . I like dog parks. . . just think it’s stupid to spend millions on one.

  • novasteve

    May we can convert the Artisphere into a asylum for Italian scientists convicted of not predicting earthquakes accurately enough? Might actually get some people in the artisphere.

  • JnA

    Arti$phere – another good reason Arlington needs an Inspector General..

  • DynaFlash 8

    Let’s open a zoo in Arlington, then the Artisphere can be the biggest attraction. Why?

    Because it is a Huge White Elephant.

    Cut the losses now. Stop wasting our money.

  • bobbytiger

    The revenue was below expectations? Who could have seen that coming?

  • AG

    It’s time to pull the plug on the artisphere experiment. What have we spent in total? About 4 or 5 MILLION? It’s just our money….


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