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Peter’s Take: Where’s the New Strategic Plan for the Arts?

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

The dust-up at last week’s County Board meeting at which the Board voted (4 to 1) to purchase an art truck highlighted the importance of answering more basic questions:

  • Why is Arlington County taking so long to develop a new strategic plan for the arts?
  • What are some of the critical issues such a plan ought to address?

Opinions expressed by opponents and supporters of the art truck were based on diametrically opposed assumptions about Arlington County’s proper role in supporting the arts. Just among supporters, there were fundamental differences about the proper scope of that role. The absence of an up-to-date strategic plan for the arts was painfully evident.

A sampling of comments on the initial ARLnow.com art truck story illustrates the point:

  • “How many musical instruments for our schools could this $70k to $100k get us?”
  • “When will all the speed bumps, gateway speed reducers, and painted-faux-brick crosswalks receive basic maintenance so that these traffic calming objects are functional again?”
  • “The County is spending a small amount of arts money that it already has, albeit in a new and innovative way.”
  • “How about they spend the money on one of the already established arts organizations the county bankrolls, perhaps you can name a few? I know I can.”
  • “This is actually a common, and inexpensive, thing that many local governments have.”
  • “It’s not necessarily a bad idea, but if they let the people who ran Artisphere be in charge of it (and most of them now work for Cultural Affairs), I don’t give it much of a chance of being either good or successful.”

Against this background of conflicting opinions, County Board member John Vihstadt asked County staff to answer the following questions prior to the Board vote on the art truck:

Summarize the “ongoing Cultural Affairs Strategic Planning Process” that informed this proposal and provide a window into the overall status and timing of such process more broadly across Cultural Affairs. Will this process result in a formal report to the County Board and, if so, when? Are there any tentative outcomes that staff is comfortable sharing at this time?

Regrettably, Deputy County Manager Carol Mitten was unable to answer Vihstadt’s questions. Mitten explained that she couldn’t provide any predictions on timing because of “difficulties in getting everyone together,” and warned the Board that “we are going to need guidance from you.”

Arlington’s current arts policy was approved in 1990. Among other reasons, it was the lack of a clear arts policy that doomed the Artisphere.

To avoid more fiascos like the Artisphere and the Signature Theatre bailout, we need a new strategy for public support for the arts.

Conclusion

The County Board, Manager and staff all need to develop a greater sense of urgency regarding adoption of a 21st century arts strategy. There are models and other external resources available to help them. For example, Boulder, San Francisco and Boston have plans that our government should examine. Those plans provide strategies and ideas regarding many of the challenges that an Arlington strategic plan for the arts should address.

It’s time to speed up development of a strategic plan for public support for the arts in Arlington.

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