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Letter to the Editor: Arlington Has An Arts District

The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Mac McCreery, David Peete, Tom Prewitt, Robin Stombler and Jeff Zeeman. McCreery, Peete, Prewitt and Zeeman are all members of the Arts District Committee. Stombler serves as Chair of the Committee.

We didn’t always agree at first. As representatives of business, arts, industry, and community interests, we were bound to have divergent ideas, but we came together as members of the Arts District Committee, a component of the Four Mile Run Valley Initiative Working Group. Let us share with you what we found.

Arlington already has a burgeoning arts district. Along South Four Mile Run Drive, between South Nelson Street and Walter Reed Drive, there is an 85-seat black box theater, studios for dance classes and recitals, gallery space, a costume and property shop for a Tony-award winning regional theater, and a private recording studio where the country’s most widely recognized and acclaimed bands lay down tracks. Over 30 arts-related organizations already call this area home, including multi-ethnic heritage arts groups.

In this neighborhood, we also have the last vestiges of light industrial space in Arlington. It is a relatively affordable place for small businesses to operate, such as a new distribution brewery and multiple family owned mechanic shops that have operated through generations. We quickly determined that an arts district must embrace both the cultural arts and the industrial nature of the area. This melding of uses is important for sustainability and long-term economic viability.

For a revitalized arts and industry quarter, we define arts broadly. Imagine theaters, rehearsal halls, visual art galleries and craft spaces. But also fuse the arts with light industry to include culinary arts, metalworking, furniture making shops, and technological innovation/maker spaces. These examples are meant not to limit, but rather to highlight some of the uses envisioned. Using one scenario, the Arlington Food Assistance Center could be combined with culinary arts classes and catering and a rooftop garden could support those endeavors. The quarter should espouse innovation, creativity, skill and talent.

A sound infrastructure is necessary for this quarter to thrive. We researched and expounded on five elements: Mission, Physical, Financial, Development, and Arts Specific. Within these elements is a call to embrace the industrial roots of the area with a thriving mix of arts, culture, business and industry. We have the opportunity to expand on a unique area of Arlington, leverage existing institutions and buildings, and stop the cookie cutter development from settling in. While this area already provides value with its arts and industrial uses, our report outlines how it can offer so much more as a branded, place-making center for Arlington.

Unanimous in our support for the recommendations in our Committee report on an arts and industry quarter, we find that working in collaboration – business, arts and community – we have a strong opportunity ahead of us.

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

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