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Artisphere Over Budget for FY 2013

Artisphere signThe Artisphere cultural center in Rosslyn is expected to be up to 50 percent over its net budget for Fiscal Year 2013, ARLnow.com has learned.

Artisphere was budgeted to require only $1.6 million in net tax support for FY 2013, down from $2.3 million in FY 2012. With only about 3 months left in the fiscal year, however, Arlington County is projecting that Artisphere will require an additional $600,000 to $800,000, which would bring bring the actual net tax support to $2.2-$2.4 million.

County officials say the deficit is due to a combination of factors: a shortfall in revenue and higher-than-expected expenses.

“Based on Artisphere’s numbers for the first three quarters of FY13, we foresee shortages in the areas of ticketing and admission income, and overages in personnel and facility expense,” said Karen Vasquez, Cultural Affairs Director for Arlington Economic Development, which oversees Artisphere.

Artisphere in 2010“Ticket and admission income is low due to a decrease in programming during the first half of FY 2013 while we hired a new programming director,” she said in an email. “Catering/concession income from large social events was over-estimated in the business plan and is also low. Temp employees were underestimated and underfunded in the business plan and are therefore running over budget.”

The budget woes come at a time when Artisphere is facing scrutiny as part of the FY 2014 budget process. County Manager Barbara Donnellan has proposed budgeting $1.8 million in net tax support in FY 2014, but dividing that up between on-going and one-time funds — with the goal of weaning the cultural center off taxpayer support.

The county is also working to set up a non-profit organization to solicit tax-deductible donations for Artisphere.

“For next year’s budget (FY14) we are currently reviewing operational options with the Manager’s office which are designed to lower overall net tax support and bring it in line with the proposed budget of $1.8 million,” Vasquez said. “In addition, we are moving toward the establishment of a 501c3 to help diversify revenue sources and to include private–sector funding as well as the current public funding.”

Vasquez said AED is optimistic about Artisphere staying within budget for FY 2014.

“There are… some indicators heading in the right direction,” she said. “Critical programming positions have been filled, ticket sales have been increasing for the last several months and event rental revenues will likely exceed projections by the end of the year. Artisphere continues to receive critical acclaim in the arts industry for the diversity and quality of its programming.”

When it opened in 2010, Artisphere was touted as a hub of art and culture that would help revitalize Rosslyn’s business district. By April 2011, optimism about Artisphere gave way to an economic wake-up call, as it was revealed that center’s admission and ticketing revenue was a whopping 75 percent below expectations.

A new, more realistic business plan, conceived in late 2011, cut Artisphere’s hours and positioned it as a venue for event rentals.

The county is continuing to scale back expectations and trim expenses. Among other possible changes, county officials are now talking about further emphasizing technology and entrepreneurship-related events, like the upcoming Day of Foster.ly. A “shut down scenario” has also been discussed, we’re told.

The dream of Artisphere becoming another Strathmore, it seems, has faded.

“There’s not sufficient funding to create a world-class cultural center,” Arlington Economic Development Director Terry Holzheimer told Patch.com last week.

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