Peter’s Take: What’s Arlington’s Arts Subsidy Policy?

Peter’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

There is a continuing controversy over whether to create an “Arts District” in the Four Mile Run Valley area.

Latest arts subsidy controversy

The Chairs of the Sports Commission and the Parks and Recreation Commission recently wrote a withering joint letter to the chair of the Four Mile Run Valley Working Group sharply criticizing a proposal to create an Arts District in that area:

“It remains unclear how the proposed arts hub would be financed or managed over time to become self-sustaining,” said the letter writers. “We do not want to repeat a costly mistake [like the Artisphere].”

The latest controversy over this Arts District is symptomatic of a much larger problem: Arlington lacks a 21st century arts subsidy policy.

Instead, Arlington has a confusing patchwork of programs, initiatives, studies, task forces and partial policies that make it impossible for the ordinary Arlington resident to understand when, how and under what circumstances taxpayer money will be used to promote Arlington arts.

Can you explain to the ordinary Arlington resident how these things fit together?

  • A 27-year old general policy statement regarding taxpayer support for the arts
  • The role of the Arlington Arts Commission
  • The role of a non-profit organization, Arlington Arts
  • The goal of the Cultural Affairs division of the Arlington County government, part of Arlington Economic Development, in using taxpayer dollars to sponsor a weekly column on
  • The County Manager’s new policy of “making low-cost, high-impact investments in performing arts and maximizing the use of existing venues, including schools”
  • The recently-adopted “Enriching Lives: Arlington Arts and Culture Strategy”
  • The “Artspace Phase II Market Study”

A 21st century arts subsidy policy should reflect current fiscal realities

It is long past time for a 21st century arts subsidy policy because Arlington is facing a completely different fiscal environment today than it did in 1990, such as the capacity crisis in our public schools and our lack of adequate unprogrammed open green space for our surging population.

Current fiscal realities dictate that core services should receive priority

I strongly favor an appropriate level of continued public subsidies for the arts reflective of the nature and purpose of specific arts programs. But, the arts are not a core government service in the same way as schools, parks, roads, sewers and public safety. Because the arts are not core government services, the County Board should fund a higher percentage share of the needs for schools, parks, roads, sewers and public safety than the share the Board funds for the needs of the arts community.

As I wrote in December, Arlington should measure all of these needs (core and non-core) through the lens of longer-term financial modeling, setting priorities using data-driven information regarding what the County and APS are likely to be able to afford in the context of tax rate stability.


Utilizing the highest level of its new public engagement resources, Arlington should adopt a 21st century arts subsidy policy.

The City of Boston only launched its recent arts plan after a year-long public engagement effort.

To facilitate a community conversation to develop Arlington’s arts subsidy policy, the County should promptly publish a detailed listing of all current County-supported arts activities and the corresponding direct and indirect County subsidies.

Arlington should not try to replicate arts options that are easily accessible in the region.

Recent Stories

Daily Debrief for Nov 29, 2022

Good Tuesday evening, Arlington. Today we published 7 articles that were read a total of 7888 times… so far. 📈 Top stories The following are the most-read articles for today…

Two dogs with the ruff job of sniffing out danger at Reagan National Airport are in the limelight. Ava and Messi — the pair of pooches prowling DCA for smelly…

Join the Alexandria Symphony for their Home for the Holidays concert on December 17-18.

Update at 2:55 p.m. — Metro is single-tracking past the station and expected to resume normal service soon, with fire department units clearing from the scene. Blue Line service has…

Grab some friends and sign up for Parks & Rec’s Eugene J. Green Memorial Winter Basketball League! Adults 18+ can register teams of up to 12 people for the ten-game season. Cost is $765 per team. Games are Mondays and/or Wednesdays at Arlington Mill Community Center starting the week of Jan. 4. Sign up here by Dec. 11.

Submit your own Announcement here.

Join us at Art House 7 this Saturday 4-7pm for our Annual Open House – Teacher and Student art show!

  • Meet our teachers
  • See student and teacher artwork
  • Teacher’s paintings, ceramics, notecards will be for sale
  • Enjoy beverages and light refreshments
  • All attendees get a $20 gift certificate off a class
  • 30% off everything in our Supply Store for holiday gifts

Sat. Dec. 3, 4-7pm

Art House 7
5537 Langston Blvd.
Arlington VA 22207

Submit your own Announcement here.

National Chamber Ensemble – Holiday Cheer!

NCE’s Holiday Concert will bring the finest classical masterpieces and holiday favorites together for the whole family. The festivities begin with Leroy Anderson’s classic “Sleigh Ride” and “Chanukkah Festival”, music from the Nutcracker and by J.S. Bach.

Outstanding Young Artist

Washington-Liberty Annual Holiday Bazaar

Join us Saturday December 3 from 10 to 4 p.m. at W-L High School, for this much anticipated Arlington holiday tradition! We will be featuring over 65 vendors for gift shopping, our student clubs and activities fundraising booths, and food


Subscribe to our mailing list