Arts Focus: The arts in Arlington — 2021 in review

By Michelle Isabelle-Stark, Director at Arlington Arts

If you are like me, 2021 might seem like something of a blur. It can be difficult to chart progress when significant leaps forward are followed by a couple of steps backward, followed by another step ahead.

In fact, there have been many signs of progress and hope for the arts field. As Arlington Cultural Affairs, a division of Arlington Economic Development, moves forward in 2022 we take inspiration from a year filled with significant successes.

Advancing the Arts In Arlington

During the year, the County’s Arts Program led the arts community’s steady but measured return to in-person presentations and performances in the face of the lingering impacts of the pandemic and delivered an impressive string of projects which are continuing into 2022. For example, staff reimagined interactive Arlington Art Truck installations as to-go or take-and-make activations and scaled down signature in-person events to encompass virtual elements. The acquisition of new live- streaming technology ensured cultural affairs programs touched the lives of even more community members.

2021 Highlights

Commemorating Arlington’s Civil Rights History: Art and history intersected in A Tribute to the Desegregation of Arlington Lunch Counters by artist Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr., a celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the historic 1960 sit-ins. The project employed an innovative social media campaign to direct patrons to self-serve kiosks at, or near, the seven original sit-in locations. A collaboration between the Arlington Art Truck and Arlington Public Art, the project garnered wide media attention ranging from WRC-TV NBC4 to WTOP 103.5 FM.

Lubber Run Amphitheater Concerts: Encouraging social distancing and masking, the Lubber Run Amphitheater Summer Concerts resumed in-person performances. Nationally acclaimed blues singer-songwriter Chris Pierce opened the season to capacity crowds that continued through much of the summer.

Highlights of Arlington Arts Program

Working with the County’s performing arts groups, staff created the all-Arlington-based Spotlight Series at Lubber Run Amphitheater, representing the first public performances for many groups since the start of the pandemic. It opened with Synetic Theater’s Shhhhhakespeare Revue. To expand audiences and to allow for participation of patrons not comfortable with in-person performances, the County live-streamed most of the concerts over YouTube, a successful first endeavor.

Collaboration with County Business Improvement Districts: Through collaboration with County BIDs and Partnerships, several signature Arlington events returned safely and successfully as ‘scaled-down’ in-person activations with attendance limited by reservations to allow social-distancing. A highlight was the September Rosslyn Jazz Fest.

Co-presented with the Rosslyn BID, it featured nationally acclaimed regional performers. Similarly, the Columbia Pike Blues Fest returned, utilizing a smaller footprint to allow for controlled access and social distancing. The Columbia Pike Partnership coordinated discounts and promotions with area restaurants for attendees and live-streamed pre-festival concerts in partnership with the Manoukian Rug Shop.

Moving Words Poetry Competition and Light Projections: The student component of the annual Moving Words Poetry Competition resumed in the fall, as part of the County’s partnership with APS Pick-A-Poet program. ART bus passengers enjoyed the winning poems of student and adult poets, showcased in the overhead display panels of the entire fleet. Another collaboration with APS, Collaboration Through Isolation, projected students’ post-COVID-19 aspirations outside their high schools

Updated Public Art Master Plan

In November, the County Board approved the first update to the Public Art Master Plan (PAMP) since its adoption in 2004. Positioning public art as integral to distinguishing our civic realm, the Plan outlines a strategy for how public art will improve the quality of public spaces and the built environment for civic placemaking in Arlington. As a sub-element of the Public Spaces Master Plan (PSMP), it offers guidance for future planning efforts as the County and private developers make investments in civic facilities and new developments, within the consideration of other County priorities and plans.

Staff began the process to update the document in 2017 with an intense phase of research, followed by robust community engagement, including steering committees, a widely distributed questionnaire, public open houses, and two artist-led community engagement activities.

The updated PAMP newly positions public art as integral to the County’s evolving priorities, such as fostering equity, protecting its natural resources through sustainable practices, leveraging its innovative businesses and workforce, and creating a sense of place in its urbanizing corridors. It accomplishes those goals while preserving some of the strongest aspects of Arlington’s approach to public art — its fundamental commitment to artistic quality, its focus on engaging with the most treasured places in Arlington’s public realm, and its flexibility in working with many partners to achieve outcomes that satisfy a broad range of goals.

As a result, public art will continue to be a timely and timeless resource, responding to current community priorities while creating a legacy collection of artworks that provide shape and meaning to places that are socially inclusive and aesthetically diverse features of Arlington’s public realm.

To follow the arts scene in Arlington during the exciting year ahead, bookmark our website, or follow Arlington Arts on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.