Join Club

The Right Note: Is the Artisphere a Better Value Than Libraries?

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

Mark KellyAt the State of the County breakfast hosted by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, County Board Chairman Walter Tejada was asked pointedly about the heavy taxpayer subsidies going to the Artisphere.

The question noted that it cost roughly $40 in taxpayer subsidy for every visitor to the arts center. The question was asked in context of the arts center the board had promised would be ready to turn a profit by now.

As he was assuring those in attendance (again) that the Artisphere was on the cusp of profitability, Tejada wondered aloud what it cost taxpayers for every library card holder. The suggestion was that we are actually getting a good deal on the Artisphere compared to our libraries.

There are approximately 120,000 library cards for Arlington libraries, which have a budget of around $12.4 million. So, the correct answer to the question Tejada asked is around $100.

However, that is not really a fair comparison. The question related to each and every visit to the Artisphere requiring a $40 taxpayer subsidy. So, if we set aside the Tejada reference to library cards and look at library visits instead, the answer is completely different.

According to the County Board work sessions document for Fiscal Year 2013, the estimate was 2,041,288 patron visits to all the library branches this year at a taxpayer cost of $12,429,434. So, it costs taxpayers $6.09 per patron visit for the libraries. In other words, it costs nearly seven times more per patron to visit the Artisphere than it does for each visit to the library. This, of course, does not take into account all of the books that are checked out online and read on various e-readers and tablets. This would almost certainly drive the per “visit” cost down if accounted for in a similar way.

Tejada’s answer also compares the entire library system to one arts center and its cost. However, it is not our only line item of arts-related spending for the year. We could also add the per-patron cost of the $250,000 Signature Theater bailout. And, we could add the per visit cost for any programs sponsored by the nearly $2 million the County spends on Cultural Affairs. These numbers might bring the average cost down, or might drive it up.

Wherever the final per visit cost lands, the Artisphere’s “bang for the buck” is likely going to fall well short of the value our libraries provide. This is not to say the arts are not important to our community. However, the County Board Chairman offered little more than political spin in response to a valid question on a controversial project – a project on which the County Board continues to over-promise and under-deliver.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

Recent Stories

An alleged shooting threat briefly sent students practicing on a school field indoors tonight.

ARLnow Daily Debrief for Sep 27, 2023

Good Wednesday evening, Arlington. Let’s take a look back at today’s stories and a look forward to tomorrow’s event calendar. 🕗 News recap The following articles were published earlier today…

(Updated at 6:35 p.m.) Black and Hispanic students remain more likely to be suspended from Arlington Public Schools than their peers, according to new data. Specifically, Black students make up…

Whether it’s T. Swift tickets, cash money, or a prime parking spot, most DMV-area residents agree that time is actually their most valuable currency. A universal experience of car owners…

At Generation Hope, we’re dedicated to supporting teen parents in college as they work toward earning their degrees. We are in need of caring child care volunteers for upcoming events on Saturday, October 21st (in Washington, DC), and Saturday, November 4th (in Arlington, VA). Join our growing volunteer community and support us at an event this fall!

At all of our events, we provide free onsite child care for the children of the teen parents we serve, creating a nurturing environment for the kiddos while their parents learn valuable life skills and build community.

If you enjoy working with children and are looking to make an immediate impact in your community, please visit to learn more.

Submit your own Announcement here.

Join us for Arlington’s biggest civil rights & social justice event of the year. The banquet is back in person at the Arlington Campus of George Mason University.

Our keynote speaker this year is Symone Sanders from MSNBC and former Chief of Staff for Vice-President Kamala Harris.

The Master of Ceremonies is Joshua Cole, former state delegate, NAACP President, and local pastor.

Tickets/seating are limited. Purchase your ticket today! Sponsorship opportunities available.

Read More

Submit your own Announcement here.

Standup Comedy Showcase Starring John F. O’Donnell (Comedy Central)

Live standup comedy starring John F. O’Donnell (Comedy Central)
Friday, October 20

Headliner: John F. O’Donnell

John was a correspondent on the radical comedy news TV show, “Redacted Tonight,” for 5 years. Recently, he released his debut one-hour standup special,

Arlington Metaphysical Chapel Presents METAPHEST, October 14-15, 2023

Workshops on: ~ Meditation ~ Intro to Tarot: The Aces and Major Arcana

~ Ageless Aging ~ Past Life Regression ~ Animal Communication and Healing

~ Psychometry ~ Spiritual Healing ~ Self Soul Love ~ Consciously Clearing Clutter ~ Awareness/Mindfulness/Consciousness.


Subscribe to our mailing list