Arlington, VA

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.

County Manager Mark Schwartz hopes to shrink the county’s contribution to Arlington Independent Media by about $18,100 in fiscal year 2020, a roughly 5 percent reduction in funding from a year ago.

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.

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Both contenders for the lone County Board seat on the ballot this fall say they want to see more money go toward grants for local artists, though they differ a bit on the exact logistics.

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

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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.

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The Arlington County Board on Saturday unanimously passed a $1.276 billion balanced budget that includes a number of fee increases but no real estate tax rate hike.

The FY 2019 budget notably restores $70,000 in funding for Arlington Independent Media — County Manager Mark Schwartz proposed cutting about $90,000 in county funds for the community TV and radio broadcaster — after AIM collected more than 1,300 online petition signatures against the cut. The Board also boosted first responder pay, particularly starting pay which police and firefighter associations say is low and hurting recruitment, by $1.6 million above the manager’s recommendation, which already included a pay boost.

Funding the increased spending is the reallocation of $2.5 million from proposed renovations to the county government headquarters in Courthouse and the freezing of 16 vacant public safety positions.

Per the manager’s recommendations, the budget also increases parking meter rates and extends metered hours until 8 p.m., while increasing utility taxes, household waste fees and various departmental fees.

“The Board largely accepted the $8.4 million in spending reductions, $6.6 million in fee and tax increases and $5.5 million in funding realignments recommended by the County Manager in his proposed budget,” notes a county press release, below. County Board Chair Katie Cristol called the adopted budget “sustainably progressive.”

County funding for Arlington Public Schools will top the $500 million mark, as the school system continues to face pressures from enrollment growth and the opening of new schools. Metro, meanwhile, will receive a 3 percent increase in funding, receiving $73.1 million from the county’s coffers and state transit aid earmarked for Arlington.

In addition to AIM and first responders, the Board nixed the following cuts proposed by Schwartz, according to the markup record:

  • $620,000 for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund
  • $365,000 for Lee Highway planning and $25,000 for the Lee Highway Alliance
  • $40,000 for the Legal Aid Justice Center, which serves immigrants
  • $200,000 for a body scanner at the county jail
  • $50,000 for the Arlington County Fair
  • $20,000 for community shredding events
  • $40,000 for the Arlington Neighborhood College program
  • $184,000 for a youth mental health therapist

Among the proposed cuts not restored: the elimination of the printed Citizen newsletter, the elimination of two ART bus routes, the elimination of Arlington’s poet laureate and a $555,000 cut to the Arlington Initiative to Rethink Energy residential rebate program.

The latter drew some pushback from Board members.

“The cuts that we’re doing this year to AIRE — nobody’s going to die, there’s nothing fundamentally that any of us are going to lose sleep over or should be ashamed of,” said Erik Gutshall. “But while people don’t die, our planet is dying, its ability to sustain our life at least.”

“In future budgets, while we’re going to continue to make tough choices, we’re not going to let our commitment to the environment fall behind,” he added.

Despite the disagreements, the Board was unanimous in its vote on the budget, which Board members praised for prioritizing key areas while avoiding a tax rate increase. (The tax burden on the average homeowner will still increase by $296.)

“Despite the reductions, there are investments our community can be proud of in this budget,” Cristol said in a statement. “We prioritized funding our public schools, especially teachers, and investing in our workforce, especially public safety personnel. We preserved our social safety net and sustained funding for affordable housing and core services.”

“I see this budget really as a transition from the way we’ve been doing things to the way we’ll need to do things going forward,” said Libby Garvey. “This community has pretty much gotten used to having as much money as we need to do what we want to do. This year it’s starting to change. It’s likely to be even harder in the future with the stresses we have moving forward. I think it’s a good transition to what we’ll be doing moving forward.”

“What I think we’ve done is really weatherize our fiscal house for the inclement weather ahead,” echoed John Vihstadt. “It’s only going to get tougher as we move forward, but we took some important steps here that, while not greeted uniformly favorably, were necessary to be done.”

Arlington Independent Media and public safety associations, meanwhile, expressed gratitude for the additional funding.

Arlington County’s press release about the budget, after the jump.

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Morning Notes

ATS Parents Peeved About Overcrowding — Arlington Traditional School parents are protesting the addition of classes and relocatable classrooms to the already-overcrowded school. [Arlington Connection]

Alliterative Pothole Patching Update — Via Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services: “Punctilious, present pothole people have plugged 500-plus problems post-2017 but prefer a plethora for practice. Please provide. http://topics.arlingtonva.us/reportproblem or call 703-228-6570.” [Twitter]

AIM Petition Nearing 1,000 Signatures — More than 900 people have signed a petition calling on the County Board to nix the proposed 20 percent cut in funding for Arlington Independent Media. “The proposed Arlington County FY ’19 budget would be catastrophic for AIM,” the petition says. [Change.org]

Arlington Ranks No. 2 in Virginia ‘Healthiest’ List — Arlington is second only to Loudoun on a list of the healthiest counties in Virginia, compiled by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. [WTOP]

Capitol City Files for Bankruptcy — Shortly after closing its Shirlington brewpub, Capitol City Brewing Co. has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Owner David von Storch says he intends to keep Cap City’s downtown D.C. location open, serving its four core in-house beers, which will now be brewed by a contract brewery, as well as local craft brews. [Washington Business Journal]

Kaine to Talk Guns at Wakefield HS — Via press release: “On Friday, March 16, Senator Tim Kaine will hold a classroom conversation on gun violence and school safety with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington. Kaine will hear students’ perspectives on how policymakers should address this issue and which solutions they would like to see implemented to keep schools safer.”

Photo courtesy @thelastfc

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The Rosebud Film Festival, which honors the “innovative, unusual, experimental, and deeply personal” in film, will run Friday (January 26) through Sunday (January 28).

The festival, put on by Arlington Independent Media, will screen 34 films across three different showings — Friday at 7:15 p.m. and Saturday at 8:15 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Tickets for one film screening block cost $15, or viewers can pay $40 for the whole weekend. The screenings will be held at the Miracle Theater in Washington, D.C. (535 8th Street SE).

On Sunday, AIM will host two free panel discussions, entitled “Student Filmmaking: From the Classroom to the Real World!” at 12 p.m. and “What Critics Look For?” at 2 p.m. An awards ceremony at the Clarendon Ballroom will follow that day, with the top five films set to each receive a $1,000 cash prize.

This year was a bit different for the festival as it expanded accepted entries from the world. Before, it only accepted films from people living in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

As a result, festival director Kevin Sampson said the submissions nearly doubled. Some of the themes in this year’s films include politics, identity, gender and sexuality.

One film titled “A Name that I Admire” follows a seventh-generation dairy farmer in Virginia as he decides who to vote for in 2016 election. An animated film also reflects on today’s politics in a project titled “Trump’s Got No Tact.”

Another film “Spectrum” is a documentary focusing on the social, political and spiritual world of 10 transgender people living in Israel.

Sampson said one of the best things about Rosebud is that it’s different from other mainstream festivals and movie viewings.

“Coming out to Rosebud you really get to hear from these artists that are speaking from their hearts,” he said. “I think if people want to be entertained as well as challenged that Rosebud is the perfect fit in terms as a festival to come out to and check out.”

Photo via Rosebud Film Festival

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Second Lady Karen Pence appeared on Arlington community radio station WERA yesterday (Tuesday), to discuss her art therapy initiative and the family’s Arlington ties.

Pence launched “Art Therapy: Healing with the HeART” earlier this year, and discussed the program with Janet Kopenhaver, chair of citizens group Embracing Arlington Arts.

It looks to emphasize the qualifications of art therapists, educates people about its benefits and shows young people that it could be a viable career path. Pence said it can be easy to forget that art therapists are highly qualified medical professionals.

“Their profession is really misunderstood,” she said. “People just think they do arts and crafts.”

Instead, the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy is an “integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individual, families and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.”

Pence noted that it is not focused on the art as a finished product, but a way for people to deal with their issues. And it can benefit anyone, including those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, children with cancer, those with eating disorders and autism, among others.

“What we find when clients work with therapists, all these feelings and emotions they’ve been dealing with seem to come out of their heart,” she said. “They’ll put them on paper and say, ‘Wow, I didn’t realize I was thinking that.'”

Pence said her interest in art therapy goes back years, having received a Master’s Degree in Arts Education. When her husband, Vice President Mike Pence, was in the U.S. House of Representatives representing Indiana’s 6th congressional district, she saw first-hand the benefits of art therapy at Tracy’s Kids, an art therapy program for children in Georgetown.

And when Mike Pence travels for work, Karen Pence said she looks to join the trip and find an art therapy program to visit.

After Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico and the Pences visited to observe and help with recovery efforts, she brought 125 pounds of clay on Air Force Two to donate to an art therapist on the island.

“If we can tag along, we’ll find something to do related to art therapy,” Pence said. “When we knew we were going down to Puerto Rico, we thought, ‘Surely we can find a block of time of an hour or so where we can find an art therapist.'”

Kopenhaver said she enjoyed interviewing Pence about her initiative, which she launched earlier this year at Florida State University. The Pence family has strong connections to Arlington, as both their daughters attended Yorktown High School and were involved in its drama program.

“It was great having Mrs. Pence in the studio today to talk about the important mental health profession of art therapy, and specifically her initiative Art Therapy: Healing with the HeART,” Kopenhaver said in a statement.

Courtesy photo

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Second Lady Karen Pence is scheduled to appear on Arlington community radio station WERA next week.

Pence will join a show hosted by citizens group Embracing Arlington Arts to discuss art therapy, the group’s chairwoman said. The show will air Tuesday, December 5 at 3 p.m. and will raise awareness of the role art therapy plays as a mental health treatment, we’re told.

Pence has started a blog about her efforts to spread the word about art therapy, and posts regularly on Twitter about its positive impact on veterans, those fighting cancer and children suffering from mental illness, among others.

“I am so thrilled to not only be able to chat with Mrs. Pence, but also to discuss such an important topic as art therapy — her policy priority as Second Lady,” Janet Kopenhaver, chair of Embracing Arlington Arts, said in a statement.

According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy is an “integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individual, families and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.”

The association said it can help improve cognitive functions, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate resilience, enhance social skills and reduce/resolve conflicts and distress.

Official White House photo by Allaina Parton

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Arlington Independent Media’s content is now available online on demand.

It is a part of AIM’s effort to make local productions more accessible to those around Arlington or elsewhere.

With the on demand option, AIM programs can be viewed online, from home or elsewhere. The move is intended to help expand AIM’s viewership beyond those who have access to the network’s cable channel via Comcast or Verizon.

The website update also features a more detailed schedule of AIM’s public access programming.

More from an AIM press release:

A new web platform has arrived for video programming at Arlington Independent Media. For the first time in its history, starting on July 14th, 2017, AIM will launch a video-on-demand capability for content produced through its facilities. It will also offer a more detailed lineup of scheduled programming, specific to the very minute that a program airs on its television channels, Comcast 69 and Verizon 38. Together these resources will improve Arlington County’s access to view and enjoy a wide array of diverse content created by local producers, including public forums, newscasts, and talk shows.

All video programming applications have been enhanced and freshly synchronized on the Arlington Independent Media website, www.arlingtonmedia.org. A live stream is available for every viewer living within and outside of Arlington County to watch, along with updated information about current programs. Keep an eye out for the stream’s slideshow graphics, which include notices on training workshops, events, and announcements from AIM.

These additions enhance AIM’s longtime mission to bring independent voices together, to make people into producers, not just consumers, of media, and to facilitate freedom of expression in the community. Now AIM welcomes you to experience the next level of enriching that goal. Raise your voice!

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Arlington Independent Media in Clarendon

Arlington Independent Media, the local public access cable channel and media education center, is asking its members to support a new cable franchise agreement the county has reportedly reached with Comcast.

The franchise agreement is what allows Comcast to serve customers in Arlington, to the exclusion of other traditional cable providers. (Verizon’s FiOS service has its own franchise agreement in Arlington.)

Arlington County has been negotiating a franchise agreement renewal with Comcast since 2013, when its last long-term agreement expired. The County Board has continuously, temporarily extended the agreement until negotiations could conclude.

The specifics of the new agreement, which reportedly runs through Dec. 2021 and is expected to be considered by the County Board next month, were not immediately available. However, in an email to its members, AIM said the agreement would continue to fund the organization, with some notable changes.

Arlington Independent Media students interview a subject on Wilson Boulevard in ClarendonUnder the agreement, AIM would be upgraded to an HD channel on Comcast’s cable service. Meanwhile, the organization would “continue to receive approximately 1% of Comcast’s gross revenue as operating support,” according to the email, with the county contributing another 1% from its 5% communications tax in addition to an annual capital grant.

AIM’s current facilities in the Comcast building in Clarendon, however, would cease to be rent-free starting Jan. 1, 2018. That “presents AIM with a significant challenge and we will have to quickly figure out a way to remain viable under these conditions,” wrote AIM Executive Director Paul LeValley.

Overall, LeValley wrote, the agreement is “very positive for AIM and we are grateful to the County for negotiating its terms on our behalf.” The only change the organization is seeking is a provision requiring that Comcast list its programming on its on-screen guide.

It is “imperative that our full program schedule be included in Comcast’s digital program guide,” wrote LaValley. “Unfortunately, the draft agreement fails to make this requirement. We believe that inclusion of our program schedule would significantly improve our ability to attract and keep audiences for the many fine programs that you all work so hard to create for our community.”

The full email has been published on the AIM website.

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WERA Control Room (Courtesy of Paul LeValley:AIM)

(Updated at 4:32 p.m.) Arlington Independent Media is asking for residents’ ears starting at 6 p.m. on Dec. 6, the exact moment when the organization’s low power FM station will hit the airways.

WERA 96.7 FM is an AIM project with a focus to air programming for the local community, by the local community.

“We would really like to reach out to all of Arlington’s communities and have widespread participation,” AIM Executive Director Paul LeValley said. “We’re working to ensure the programming is compelling, and we hope people will be open minded about giving us a shot.”

As a public radio platform, the station’s funding will come from listener and member contributions, as well as local business underwriting.

According to Andrew Rosenberg, member of the AIM Board of Directors and the station’s Program Advisory and Review Council (PARC), the primary means for keeping residents so closely involved has little to do with money.

“We want to create a service that fills a need in the area so people know this is their station,” he said. “My greatest hope is that we become a real fixture for the community.”

Rosenberg said in recent months members on the project team have worked throughout the Arlington community to start putting together a program schedule.wera-logo-75

Though the schedule itself will be a work in progress as the station grows, Rosenberg said they’ve received several proposals for programs of all varieties. Some of these include:

  • music programming (disc jockey, world beat, ska, music collection shows, etc.)
  • local news and events
  • world news summaries
  • documentary
  • school news summaries
  • call-in discussions
  • content from independent public radio producers

In the beginning, WERA will also air programs sourced from other public radio outlets, if their content is relevant to Arlington listeners. However, Rosenberg said he hoped that over time community programming will displace these.

“We’ll be very much in touch with what the community wants to hear,” he said. “We’ll also be taking proposals on a rolling basis and changing up shows to keep things interesting.”

Arlington Independent MediaThe community station will broadcast out of AIM’s current building at 2701-C Wilson Blvd near Clarendon.

To celebrate, the station is also hosting a party from 3 to 8 p.m. on the launch day in the WERA control room . There will be refreshments, hors d’oeuvres and drinks provided. The family-friendly event is free open to the public, though all attendees should expect to get involved.

“We’re making this participatory because that’s the whole idea behind community radio,” LeValley said.

In addition to demonstrations of the equipment and facilities, guests can rehearse and record a radio drama, share a short story, or participate in a sing-along to “This Land is Your Land.” These recordings will be some of the first segments to go on the air shortly after the ribbon cutting at 6 p.m.

“The more people, the better,” LeValley added. “We would love to have the whole community come and help us launch.”

Photo courtesy of Paul LaValley/AIM

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