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Local arts nonprofit develops plans for a new performance venue

Encore Stage & Studio’s 2019 production of ‘Newsies’ (courtesy of Cindy Kane Photography)

Embracing Arlington Arts has put forward a business plan for a future “Arlington Performing Arts Center.”

And it is taking great pains to prove it will survive on private financial support, and won’t take county funds or fizzle out like the county-run Artisphere in Rosslyn, which suffered from ineffective marketing and a relative lack of engagement from Arlington residents and artists.

The arts nonprofit proposes a roughly 14,300-square-foot performing arts space, with a black box main stage theater seating up to 150 people. The center would have four rehearsal studios, dressing rooms, a lobby with a box office, a concession stand, storage, offices and an art gallery wall.

“We are very excited to publish this business plan for a new venue in the County,” Embracing Arlington Arts (EAA) President Janet Kopenhaver said in a statement. “We know this is a challenge, but we also recognize that Arlington is a great County that can be made better with the addition of a performing arts/live music venue.”

Now, the organization said it is looking for the right site, and will announce its pick after consulting with the county. If the Arlington Performing Arts Center (APAC) is built as planned, the facility could cost $8 to $10 million to build, costs the nonprofit aims to cover with corporate and individual donations.

The proposed layout for an ‘Arlington Performing Arts Center’ (via Embracing Arlington Arts)

“This plan assumes that EAA will raise funds to support the new venue from investors, corporations, the developer, private individuals, foundations and other entities to cover the capital costs of the building,” the organization’s treasurer, Robert Goler, said in a statement. “Furthermore, this plan assumes no management requirement by the County, no County staff expenses, and all operating expenses being paid by the APAC operating entity.”

EAA already has some support from Amazon, which Kopenhaver thanked for “underwriting the consultant’s fees to research and draft this important document.”

“Our work with Embracing Arlington Arts is a part of our broader support of arts-focused nonprofits across the DMV,” Amazon spokeswoman Hayley Richard tells ARLnow, listing nearly a dozen other arts groups it has supported, including Signature Theatre, Arlington Arts Center and Synetic Theater.

According to the business plan, rent from theater companies and others will not fully cover the APAC’s operating expenses, and the arts booster group will have to raise about $25,000 a year to break even.

Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol has expressed excitement for the proposal.

“The opportunities that a professional mid-size venue will offer in Arlington are tremendous: It will bring high-quality arts experiences to residents and give local arts groups access to professional rehearsals and performances in Arlington,” she said in a statement included in the plan. “It’s exciting to see multiple sectors come together to support this vision, particularly in our current moment, where the arts are essential to help our community make meaning of and heal from the pandemic.”

The nonprofit surveyed residents as part of its research. While much of the feedback was positive, some predicted, according to the business plan, the APAC wouldn’t succeed because the Kennedy Center in D.C. is close by and Arlington already has too many venues.

EAA said APAC would host performances by local groups that would not be able to afford or sell out the Kennedy Center. A more modest theater would keep ticket prices down, expanding the scope of who could attend performances.

As for making do with what’s around, EAA says none of the nearly two dozen venues across the county meet the needs of several professional, local theater organizations.

Schools are too small and lack the ambiance guests expect when going to the theater, per the business plan. Meanwhile, existing privately run spaces like Synetic Theater and county-run spaces like Theatre on the Run wouldn’t be able to provide the flexibility EAA is seeking to host live music, readings, plays, receptions, artist exhibitions, camps and improv nights throughout the week.

Meanwhile, an earlier county plan that would have seen a developer build a Metro-accessible black box theater in the Virginia Square area fell through, leaving it up to private organizations like EAA to envision ways to fill the void.

“Our goal is to have a lively and vibrant facility that also serves as a community partner and good neighbor,” Kopenhaver said.

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