(Updated at 6:30 p.m. on 08/25/23) Arlington Independent Media is seeking sponsors for a free community event it will host early next month.
Arlington’s public access TV channel, its community radio station and a media training provider is throwing its first-ever “MusicFest.” The event, on Sept. 7, from 5:30-10 p.m. at its Clarendon studios at 2701 Wilson Blvd, will have live music, food and drinks and vendors.
Ahead of the event, the organization is seeking individual donations as well as sponsors, who can get perks such as logo placement, free beer and wine and radio announcements on WERA 96.7 FM for contributing $1,000 to $5,000.
The event comes as the Arlington County Board is encouraging the organization to vary its funding sources. The fundraiser coincides with AIM’s 40th anniversary and will “honor our legacy as Arlington’s premier community media center and to celebrate AIM’s exciting future at the forefront of media arts,” per a letter to supporters.
“Arlington Independent Media has witnessed tremendous growth in 2023,” it continued. “We have been continuing the build-out of our new podcast/broadcasting multimedia studios at our South Arlington location, pioneering our new youth-centered journalism initiative, upgrading our cabling system and reimagining our training and membership programs.”
The new studio, located in Green Valley, is set to have a ribbon-cutting on Oct. 20, AIM CEO Whytni Kernodle says. As for the Youth Journalism Initiative (YJI) vaunted in the letter to prospective sponsors, she says 10 students have come through the program. Another 20 participated in a Youth Journalism Club that AIM hosted with Arlington Public Library and 35 attended a camp intended to prepare them for YJI.
Kernodle, who has made a commitment to racial justice part of her mission as AIM’s leader, says the organization is changing its selection process for training programs to uplift marginalized voices. It is also looking to make membership free so people do not feel excluded based on cost.
Next month’s fundraiser could offset the financial impact of striking membership fees and bigger financial headwinds AIM faces. For instance, a once-reliable funding source — a cable franchise agreement, which provides funding based on local cable TV subscription numbers — become increasingly unpredictable.
After years of trying to lessen AIM’s reliance on tax dollars for operating expenses, the County Board approved a 33% increase its support to the organization in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget, giving it $506,579.
Still, the County Board wants AIM to demonstrate it can fundraise and clean up its budget.
The organization’s federal Form 990s are behind schedule and a profit-and-loss document ARLnow reviewed from 2018-2021 shows the organization had lost more than $345,500 between 2018-2020. A copy of AIM’s 2022-23 fiscal year budget, which ARLnow also reviewed, appears to show AIM is working on meeting the Board’s directive.
In all, AIM took in $1.3 million this immediate past fiscal year, which ended in June, up from $564,587 last year. This includes a 30% increase in unrestricted grant funds, a $35,000 increase in revenue from underwriting sponsors, and new revenue from camps and studio fees.
Still, more than half of the $750,000 increase comes from an infusion of “restricted grants” equivalent to the Public, Educational and Government (PEG) funding it logged: $433,054. The sudden infusion, earmarked for capital expenses, came after three fiscal years in which no PEG funds were allocated, per the profit-and-loss statement.
Under its current leadership, AIM — which was founded in 1982 — is trying to broaden its reach and uplift diverse residents. Reaching this goal, however, is hampered by messy finances: audit reports from 2018-19 show it has been losing money, while its 990s are behind schedule and staff are not getting paid on time.
Bringing Arlington Independent Media, or AIM, into the 21st century, increasing its name recognition and charting a new financial course is slow going.
Arlington County has chipped at AIM’s operating expenses recently to lessen its reliance on tax dollars — though cuts in 2018 were partially restored after public outcry, on the condition the organization would up fundraising. Meanwhile, the organization has to watch a once-reliable cable franchise agreement, which provides funding based on local cable TV subscription numbers, become increasingly unpredictable.
Arlington pays for AIM’s operational budget while revenue from the cable agreement, dubbed Public, Educational and Government (PEG) funds, go toward its capital expenses. As cable subscriptions dwindle, though, Arlington County has to decide where to prioritize funding.
Recipients for PEG funding include AIM, the broadcasts of county government meetings and work sessions, the county’s dark fiber network, and certain Arlington Public Schools initiatives.
“Our approach has been to review and consider all eligible expenses submitted to the County by AIM and other eligible entities,” spokeswoman Bryna Helfer said.
It is unclear how many people listen to and watch AIM. It has 322 paying members, down from 577 in 2019, while broadcasting metrics are too expensive and radio analytics efforts for WERA 96.7 FM are nascent, according to its CEO Whytni Kernodle. She says a better metric is its several community-based partners and its work to center diverse voices, including a scholarship for budding journalists whose parents do not speak English at home or are low-income.
“We are an outside organization that is attempting to use the power of the people to really uplift the community in general by focusing on the most marginalized,” she said.
With the operational and capital funding sources each drying up, AIM should do more fundraising, the county insists. Kernodle counters that the county controls the PEG funding and could give it to AIM but is funneling it to other initiatives and creating a backlog of PEG-eligible expenses.
“The problem is not lack of available funds or that the request is not an acceptable one under the guidelines, but that the county has other priorities for future usage of those funds,” she wrote in a March memo to the county. “This is clearly inequitable and alarmingly questionable as to appropriate usage of funds managed, not owned, by the County.”
Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey told ARLnow that AIM received $660,000 in PEG funding last year. That’s actually an increase from years past, Kernodle said, chalking it up to her persistent requests — but she thinks more is warranted.
“We’re attempting to do the best we can,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is create a situation where something formed in 1982 can thrive now, and for those running it 40 years from now.”
Arlington Independent Media hopes to open its first satellite studio by early fall.
The non-profit video and audio production studio has begun the build-out at 3700 S. Four Mile Run Drive in Green Valley, Arlington Independent Media (AIM) CEO Whytni Kernodle told ARLnow. They are looking to modernize three underused audio-production studios inside Arlington Arts’ Cultural Affairs Division office, with a focus on providing podcasting space.
Construction is expected to take about four months and cost over $200,000. The aim is to be finished and ready to open sometime in September, Kernodle said.
AIM was established about four decades ago and provides programming for two local cable access television stations and operates the radio station WERA 96.7 FM.
In November, the county approved a lease agreement allowing AIM to take over about 1,100 square feet of space at the Arlington Arts location in Green Valley. It follows the county’s vision for an “arts & industry district” along Four Mile Run.
This new studio in Green Valley represents AIM’s commitment to branching out not just in terms of location but also who is using the studios to tell their story.
“After 40 years, we’ve always existed in one space, always in North Arlington,” Kernodle said. “And our membership has primarily been people over the age of 60, mostly retired, mostly white, mostly male, mostly cis-gendered, mostly English speakers, mostly non-military, and mostly non-disabled. We are trying to change that because that’s not reflective of our community.”
And the hope is that this will not be AIM’s only satellite studio, with Kernodle noting that the organization would love to set up studios in Virginia Square, Rosslyn, and Columbia Pike as well.
The aim is to put production facilities in locations that are accessible to communities that maybe didn’t have the ability to make their voices heard in the past.
“Our goal is to prioritize those voices that have been traditionally underserved or miss-served not just nationally but here in Arlington and here at Arlington Independent Media,” Kernodle said.
She also hopes to use the partnership with the county to turn Arlington’s art scene into the envy of the region.
“[Arlington] is not known for arts and industry. The goal of AIM and my goal is to really make Arlington into the Brooklyn of the D.C. area,” Kernodle said. “We have all the diversity and the resources that Brooklyn values and the proximity to the city as Brooklyn does. And we’re just not honing that because it’s not been centralized.”
Along with production studios, AIM also has access to the county’s “Theater on the Run” to screen films.
This past weekend, AIM hosted a showing of the documentary “The R-Word” as an introduction to the new space for the community. The movie depicts the experiences of persons with intellectual disabilities and how representation matters in telling the story of that community.
Kernodle hopes to have more screenings at the theater of this nature, prioritizing “films of marginalized people.”
With the plan to open AIM Green Valley in a few months, Kernodle believes that this is just the beginning of expanding Arlington’s artistic reputation.
“Our goal is to act as an anchor organization for art transformation and social justice,” she said.
Clarendon-based Arlington Independent Media (AIM) is expanding to a second location in Green Valley.
AIM, which has a 40-year history in Arlington, produces video, audio, web and digital content for locals and operates the radio station WERA 96.7 FM.
On Saturday, the Arlington County Board unanimously approved a lease agreement for AIM to occupy the studio, office and storage space at 3700 S. Four Mile Run Drive. This space was constructed as a Pepsi-Cola bottling plant in the mid-1940s and later served as WETA’s radio broadcast facility, per the press release.
For the next five years, with the option to extend the lease for another 25 years, AIM will occupy up to roughly 1,071 square feet, comprised of three vacant offices, two storage spaces and three studio spaces, according to the county. AIM will maintain its primary broadcast functions in Clarendon at 2701 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington acquired the facility in the early 2000s to house the Theatre on the Run black box venue, rehearsal spaces, dance studios, offices and gallery space. The studios AIM will now occupy were since used for both county and independent projects, such as the recording of a solo album by local bluegrass fiddler Roy “Speedy” Tolliver (1918-2017).
According to a county report, the new satellite location will increase collaboration between the county’s Cultural Affairs Division and AIM on audio-visual production and broadcasting projects.
“I am extremely proud and humbled to lead AIM as we expand into secondary space in South Arlington. As a longtime resident of Arlington, I respect and appreciate the rich history of the County, specifically Green Valley,” says AIM CEO Whytni Kernodle. “Team AIM is excited to bring community media to South Arlington, we look forward to connecting with the local community, meeting residents and business owners, and more.”
During the Saturday County Board meeting, Board Chair Katie Cristol said the expansion is “a long time in coming” for the “powerhouse” in media education and training, and independent art, news and entertainment.
“This unique collaboration will expand arts education and access to the wider Arlington community and provide the opportunity to share knowledge and resources,” Cristol later said in a statement. “The partnership also further the goals and vision for a thriving ‘arts and industry’ in the Four Mile Run Valley Area Plan by bringing community broadcast services as well as audio visual educational programming to the area.”
Arlington began using the “Four Mile Run Valley” name interchangeably with Green Valley — to the chagrin of some residents, who say it erases the historically Black community — in connection with a planning study that proposed an “arts and industry district” in the area.
The county is taking other steps to infuse the area with more arts programming and community facilities. Last year, Arlington acquired the former location of Inner Ear Recording Studios, once the epicenter of D.C.’s punk scene, and has plans to demolish the famed recording studio in a bid, it says, to make arts more accessible in south Arlington.
It now has ideas for a temporary outdoor arts space where the recording studio once stood (2700 S. Nelson Street). Locals can now share feedback on the future creative open space through Monday, Nov. 21.
The county says that AIM’s satellite location will “help to advance the County’s equity goals by offering the opportunity for community broadcast services and education in south Arlington and aligning with AIM’s mission to increase diverse and inclusive access to established and emerging public media for all members of our community.”
Arlington Man Arrested for Fairfax Murder — “A man was arrested in connection to the homicide of 32-year-old DonorSee founder Gret Glyer, according to Fairfax City Police officials. Joshua Danehower, 33, of Arlington, Va., was arrested at Dulles International Airport Tuesday night. He was charged with second-degree murder in connection with Glyer’s death, according to police. He was also charged with one count of use of a firearm during the commission of a felony.” [WJLA, Fox News]
Air Quality Warning Today — “The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has issued a Code ORANGE Air Quality Alert Thursday for Northern Virginia. A Code Orange Air Quality Alert means that air pollution concentrations within the region may become unhealthy for sensitive groups.” [National Weather Service]
Wardian Powering Through Dozens of Audiobooks — Achieving his Forrest Gump-esque goal of running some 3,000 miles coast-to-coast is not the only feat Arlington resident and decorated ultramarathoner Michael Wardian has tallied over the past couple of months. He says he has also listened to at least 35 audiobooks on 2x speed while on the journey. [NBC 4]
AIM ‘Coming Out Party’ Tonight — “The AIM and WERA teams invite you to join us tomorrow to celebrate our exciting new direction and plans! Come out and meet our new staff, learn about amazing programs and classes, and see how you can be a part of the future of inclusive public media in Arlington! Mix, mingle, meet Ms. Gay Arlington, dance to the tunes of drag queen DJ’s Katja and Giorgio — and have fun!” [Eventbrite]
Kitchen Fire and Power Outage in Ballston — “Kitchen fire at Uncle Julio’s. Sounds minor but the restaurant was evacuated, per scanner. There’s also a power outage in the area, affecting more than 600 Dominion customers, per the company’s outage map.” [Twitter]
It’s Thursday — Clear throughout the day. High of 88 and low of 68. Sunrise at 5:48 am and sunset at 8:39 pm. [Weather.gov]
GMU Computing School Clears Hurdle — “George Mason University’s new School of Computing, the first of its kind in the commonwealth, has received the all-important thumbs up from Virginia education regulators… The computing school, as well as the new Institute for Digital Innovation, will eventually have a physical home in Arlington, in a 360,500-square-foot building on Mason’s Virginia Square campus.” [Washington Business Journal]
Marymount Women’s Golf in NCAA Tourney — “After winning the Centennial Conference and Atlantic East Conference championships earlier this season, the Marymount University women’s golf is officially headed to the NCAA Division III Championships after yesterday evening’s selection show. The championships are scheduled to take place May 11-14.” [Marymount University]
AIM Hosting ‘Couchella’ — “Arlington Independent Media (AIM) and WERA 96.7FM present Couchella, a two night, online concert on May 7th & 8th, from 8:00pm – 10:00pm, featuring a wide array of musical performances from the DC region and beyond. Hosted by DC’s own sideshow girl, Mab Just Mab, this two-night virtual concert will feature national acts along with some of the DMV’s most popular performers, playing from their living rooms and studios.” [Arlington Independent Media]
Ballston Company Supplying Green Power to Google — “Arlington, Virginia-based AES Corp. has signed an agreement to supply electricity to power Google’s data centers in Virginia with carbon-free energy. Financial terms of the 10-year supply contract weren’t disclosed, but AES said it will require about $600 million of investment and generate 1,200 jobs, both permanent and construction, in Virginia.” [WTOP]
Hotels Hurting in Arlington — “Hoteliers and moteliers in Arlington continue to be filling far fewer rooms than they were in the pre-pandemic period, and coupled with significant reductions in room rates, are receiving less than half the revenue per available room than they were a year before. Arlington’s hotel-occupancy rate of 31.6 percent for the first three months of the year was down from 52.3 percent for the January-February-March period of 2020.” [Sun Gazette]
Office Vacancy Rate Up This Year — “Countywide, the office-vacancy rate stood at 18.7 percent in the first quarter, according to data from CoStar as reported by Arlington Economic Development. That’s up from 16.6 percent a year before, but still down from a peak several years ago, when the countywide rate touched the 20-percent mark.” [Sun Gazette]
AIM to Spotlight Arlington’s Black Community — “In 2018, Arlington native Wilma Jones published a book about the neighborhood she grew up in. My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhood details the evolution of a community of freed slaves, which was founded after the Civil War… Jones and Arlington Independent Media (AIM), a nonprofit organization, are launching a multi-part series called UNTOLD: Stories of Black Arlington.” [WDVM]
Interview with Interim Police Chief — “After 29 years with Arlington County, Virginia, Police, Deputy Chief Andy Penn knows a concerning trend when he sees one. Just weeks before moving into the role of interim chief, Penn said addressing an uptick in deadly overdoses was an immediate focus. As of Aug. 18, the county had lost 16 people to overdose deaths, according to Arlington County police data.” [WTOP]
Flu Vaccines Now Available at Giant — “Giant Food announced Monday flu shots are available at in-store pharmacies, including locations in the Arlington area. The flu vaccines are administered by Giant pharmacists and do not require an appointment. A copayment is usually not required through most insurance plans.” [Patch]
Here’s Why Glebe Road Was Closed — “For those wondering, Glebe was blocked just north of Ballston [Sunday] night due to a vehicle that rammed a house’s gas meter, causing a leak. No injuries were reported, some nearby homes were briefly evacuated, per ACFD spokesman.” [Twitter]
Storms Possible This Evening — “[Monday was] the beginning of a several-day stretch of storm threats. [Today] the Storm Prediction Center has the region under an ‘enhanced risk,’ or Level 3 out of 5. On Wednesday, it’s a slight risk at Level 2. As with tomorrow, damaging winds will be the main threat.” [Capital Weather Gang]
In a letter to friends and colleagues, LeValley cited ongoing health concerns as the reason he’s stepping down. He plans to remain active in AIM, which holds media training classes while operating Arlington’s public access cable TV channel and local radio station WERA 96.7, as a member of the organization.
“I’ll continue to be a strong supporter of AIM and WERA,” he wrote. “I’ll keep my membership active and I’ll come around to enjoy the parties and the [Friends of AIM] events — it will be fun (and strange) to not have to be the host.”
While LeValley will be stepping away from duties as executive director, he expressed a strong belief that the organization is being left in good hands with its board of directors and staff.
My tenure at AIM began more than 27 years ago when the board of directors took a chance on an eager, displaced Midwesterner who was only 35 years old and looked seventeen. I knew when I began that I was going to like the job. A great staff, tremendously talented producers, dedicated volunteers-what was not to like? But I didn’t know how much I would grow to love it and all the people that make up America’s Number One Community Media Organization.
We’ve been lucky for all the years that I’ve been the executive director to have benefitted from dozens of outstanding board leaders and members. Working with them to chart a path for AIM has been great fun as well as very rewarding. We’re extremely fortunate right now to have one of the best boards we’ve ever had. My leaving is made easier by the knowledge that they are here to keep the ship sailing in the right direction. Though the challenges are significant, I’m confident that they’re up to the task.
The challenges referenced in the letter include continued reductions in county funding.
LeValley said he plans to retire on Feb. 7.
Photo via AIM/Facebook
Arlington officials plan to cut funding for the county’s independent TV and radio stations next year, as part of a gradual effort to wean the nonprofit that operates the stations off government funding.
In all, the county plans to send the nonprofit about $415,000 to support its operations under the new budget proposed by Schwartz late last week. Established in 1982 as Arlington Community Television, AIM operates a public access TV channel and the WERA radio station and offers training in all manner of media technologies.
Schwartz proposed a much larger cut to the county’s support for the community broadcaster last year, with plans to slash about $90,000 in ongoing funding for AIM as the county sought to cope with a tough fiscal picture without raising taxes. But in the face of outcry from AIM employees and its viewers, the County Board ultimately decided to restore $70,000 in funding to the group on a one-time basis.
The county manager’s proposal for the coming fiscal year maintains that $70,000 in the budget, once again on a one-time basis, but Schwartz is warning that the county will likely need to start rolling back its support of the nonprofit moving forward. In a message attached to his proposed budget, Schwartz suggested that he’d like to slash AIM’s funding by 5 percent for the next three years, as well.
AIM has faced a precarious financial situation ever since the county signed a new franchise agreement with Comcast in late 2016. The cable provider traditionally chipped in cash to support the nonprofit media company, but the county’s new deal allowing Comcast to operate in Arlington removed all dedicated funding for AIM.
That has forced the county to provide a bit more funding on its own for AIM, which otherwise relies on member contributions to stay afloat. But Schwartz cautioned in his message to the Board that the county likely won’t be able to continue backstopping the nonprofit, and he noted that a recent study of AIM’s operations suggested that it will likely need to more aggressively fundraise to support itself going forward.
“As the county continues to support AIM in their transitional period, AIM must work to diversify their revenue streams and re-evaluate their position in the ever-changing media industry,” Schwartz wrote. “To help with this, consistent with the findings of the independent study, the county strongly encourages AIM to develop a set of performance metrics that can help demonstrate its community impact and contributions, which could help it attract new strategic funding partners or like-minded community nonprofits with which it might share staffing or other resources.”
Schwartz added that the study of AIM also examined “Arlington TV,” the county-run cable network, and recommended moving some of its functions to the county’s existing communications and public engagement office to save a bit of cash.
The Board will have the final say on all these budget changes as it reviews the spending plan over the course of the next few weeks. It’s scheduled to adopt a new budget in April.
In a forum focused on the county’s arts scene, hosted by Embracing Arlington Arts and Arlington Independent Media earlier this month, both independent incumbent John Vihstadt and Democratic nominee Matt de Ferranti emphasized that the arts have such a vital role to play in the county’s cultural and economic health that the county needs to subsidize local programs.
Furthermore, both candidates want to see the county restore the $30,000 the Board slashed from the new year’s budget in funding for “Challenge Grants,” which provide some matching funds for artists who attract private donations. Vihstadt and de Ferranti both advocated for even increasing the amount offered through the program in future budget cycles, even with the county facing an uncertain financial future due to Metro funding obligations and a persistently high office vacancy rate.
Though the forum was light on stark disagreements between the two, Vihstadt painted the private sector as having an especially large role to play in supporting the arts. Though he remains confident the county will be able to eventually increase grant funding, he cautioned that Arlington’s “economic headwinds” will inevitably limit what the county can do.
“The arts are going to have to step up to the plate a bit, maybe to a greater degree than the art community has, in terms of really leveraging those private sector resources,” Vihstadt said. “The government can be a catalyst, it can help with climate change of a sort, but the government can’t do it all.”
He pointed out that the Board already took one step in the direction of encouraging artists to embrace the private sector when it restored $70,000 in funding for AIM originally set to be cut from the fiscal 2019 budget, which came with the condition that the organization pursue matching funding from donors.
“That was controversial, but I felt it was the right thing to do to encourage and really make sure that AIM would further reach out into that community and bring in those private sector dollars,” Vihstadt said.
De Ferranti says he was certainly glad to see those AIM cuts reversed, calling them “short sighted,” but he was more willing to see a role for direct county spending, connecting the success of Arlington’s arts scene to its economic prosperity.
“If we view this as a zero-sum game, then Arlington will lose in the long term,” de Ferranti said. “We have to see it as how we can grow together and have the vision to find the right investments to move us forward so the budget isn’t so tight… We have to think about, how do we create an environment where millenials don’t want to go to the Wharf and the Anthem, but want to stay in Crystal City, or at least consider it.”
Beyond direct subsidies, de Ferranti also expects the county can do more to help artists afford to live in Arlington. For instance, he pointed to the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust in Richmond as a model for the sort of program the county could experiment with to make home ownership more affordable — the nonprofit acquires single-family homes to sell to qualified buyers at affordable prices, but maintains ownership of the land itself. That helps the nonprofit reap the benefit of any increase in market value when owners decide to sell, which it uses to keep prices affordable going forward.
De Ferranti foresees the county creating a similar system matching artists, or even groups of artists in co-op communities, with affordable homes.
“Artists desperately want to live here… but in Arlington, being middle class is not easy,” de Ferranti said. “We need to make sure we’re caring for folks who need the chance to get up that economic ladder.”
Yet Vihstadt and de Ferranti both expressed confidence that space in the Four Mile Run valley in Nauck will someday be home to more affordable studio space for artists of all stripes. Though the creation of an “arts district” in the area has at times stirred controversy throughout a lengthy planning process for the valley, both candidates say they feel such a solution is the right fit for its future.
“We will have an arts district in harmony with the other uses around that park area, and we’ll have that synergy,” Vihstadt said.
Photo via YouTube
November will mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, and Arlington will take some time to mark the occasion this week.
Arlington’s World War I Commemoration Task Force and the Arlington Historical Society will host an educational event tomorrow (Thursday) at the Navy League Atrium (2300 Wilson Blvd.) to commemorate the centennial of the conflict’s conclusion.
The event, entitled “Arlington Remembers the Great War,” will include a performance of period music from Opera NOVA, a video on the war produced by Arlington Independent Media and a keynote address on the war’s effect on Arlington from Mark Benbow, the director of the Arlington Historical Museum.
Admission is free, though the hosts encourage attendees to support the event and future World War I education efforts by donating online, by check or by purchasing commemorative coins for $25 each.
More information and instructions on how to RSVP to the event are available on the Arlington Historical Society’s website.