Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

Post-Amazon Real Estate Boom in N. Va. — “After an anemic first quarter, Northern Virginia’s home-sales market blossomed last month, with prices on the rise and sales at their highest April mark since the pre-recession boom of more than a decade ago.” [InsideNova]

Northbound GW Parkway Partially Reopens — “One of two northbound lanes of the George Washington Memorial Parkway reopened Tuesday after a 10-foot-deep sinkhole appeared in the road Friday. But officials warned that future lane closures are planned on both sides of the parkway as long-term repairs continue.” [Washington Post]

More Endorsements for Stamos, Tafti — In the heated race for Commonwealth’s Attorney, incumbent Theo Stamos and Democratic primary challenger Parisa Dehghani-Tafti have picked up some new endorsements. Arlington Sheriff Beth Arthur and former county treasurer Frank O’Leary have endorsed Stamos. School Board member Nancy Van Doren, meanwhile, has endorsed Tafti.

New Exhibit for Arlington Art Truck — Arlington County’s art truck is debuting a new work today with planned stops in Rosslyn and Clarendon. “In What’s Your Sign?, participants can select free, humorous signs about daily life, consumption and the environment by artist Paul Shortt, or make their own signs that re-think the spaces we encounter every day,” says a description of the project. [East City Art, Facebook]

Nearby: Bikeshare in Falls Church, Fairfax Co. — Capital Bikeshare has launched in the City of Falls Church with 10 new stations. Bikeshare is also planning new stations around the Tysons area in Fairfax County. [City of Falls Church, Tysons Reporter]

Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler

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(Updated at 10:40 a.m.) A powerful painting about immigration by a Yorktown High School student is now set to hang in the U.S. Capitol.

The art features two young children looking to the side with pinched expressions while one of them holds a sign that reads, “Bring Our Mom Back.”

The artist behind the work is 17-year-old Dominick Cocozza, who notes on his website that his passion for art began “at a very young age”.

Cocozza won the Congressional Art Competition, which seeks art from young makers each year and is judged by local art educators. The art can be any of several mediums, and the winning artwork is displayed for a year in the U.S. Capitol Building.

“For this particular piece I was inspired by “Immigrant Children” who have been separated from their families!” Cocozza told ARLnow in a social media message, referring to the painting’s name. “I want to illustrate this particular issue to inform my peers of this ongoing crucial conflict.

He added that he was adopted from Central America as a baby but that the painting doesn’t represent his experiences.

“I am honored to have my work displayed in the capitol and I hope it can spark understanding to my audience,” Cocozza said.

He says he painted the work as part of his AP Studio Art class at Yorktown. It was honored yesterday during a ceremony for competition which was held in the 8th District of Virginia this year.

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) represents the district and told ARLnow he was proud to have Cocozza’s painting “Immigration” represent the district on Capitol Hill.

“His work expresses feelings many of my constituents share,” Beyer said. “It will make a strong impression on the members of Congress, staff, visitors, and tourists who pass it every day. I congratulate Dominick and Yorktown High School for this accomplishment, and thank the many talented young people whose collective work again made for a very competitive Congressional Art Competition.”

Continuing the immigration theme, the high-schooler posted another 24 by 30 inch painting on his Instagram called “The Letter,” which shows a woman covering her face with her hands. Behind her a letter pleads for someone to “Please stop separating families at the border.”

“I chose to paint this in response to what’s currently going on in the United States,” Cocozza wrote in the image’s description.

Last year, Cocozza was selected to attend the Virginia Summer Residential Governor’s School for Performing and Visual Arts, reported InsideNova.

Image via Twitter

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Morning Notes

Questions About Arlington Woman’s Death — “A search warrant filed in the case supports the theory it was an assisted suicide, according to a friend of [philanthropist Penny Holloway] who was there at the time. He said a doctor also was present. That doctor died three days after Holloway. Her friends said police questioned him before his death.” [NBC Washington]

Apartment Fire On S. Glebe Road — A first floor apartment caught fire Friday night at the newly-renovated Dominion Apartments on S. Glebe Road. [Twitter]

Is Arlington an Actual Amazon HQ? — “Amazon will move thousands of jobs from Seattle to nearby Bellevue, Washington over the next four years… With this move, some are now calling Bellevue the ‘Real HQ2.'” [GeekWire, Inc. Magazine]

Sawdust Art in Arlington — “Alfo-Conce — an ever-expanding group of artisans from Guatemala with a knack for creating beautiful religious iconography out of sawdust — began prep work for their Holy Week art during a meetup in Arlington March 30.” [Arlington Catholic Herald]

Pedestrian Fatality in Seven Corners — “A woman died overnight as a result of injuries from a crash that occurred just after three yesterday afternoon in the 2900 block of Peyton Randolph Drive.” [Fairfax County Police]

Flickr pool photo by Michael Coffman

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Washington Boulevard will transform into an art-lover’s paradise during the 7th Annual Arlington Festival of the Arts on Saturday, April 13 and Sunday, April 14 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

One hundred and fifty national and international artists are set to display their fine works from across the globe in a prestigious show encompassing fine jewelry, exquisite works of art and hand-crafted apparel and decor.

Whether your passions run to sparkling jewels and one of a kind paintings, crafted glasswork or to an art deco sculpture, you are sure to find it during the free, two-day event. Ample parking is available and pets on leashes are always welcomed.

Festival At-A-Glance:

  • Original handmade artwork
  • 150 national and international artists
  • All artists on site for duration of festival
  • Juried, first-class outdoor art gallery showcasing local and national artists
  • Artists hand-selected by independent panel of expert judges from hundreds of applicants
  • Vast array of artistic media including paintings, sculptures, photography, ceramics, glass, wood, handmade jewelry, collage and mixed media
  • Ample parking available and pets on leashes welcome

Presented by Howard Alan Events (HAE), producer of the nation’s finest juried art shows, the 7th Annual Arlington Festival of the Arts represents original, hand-crafted artwork selected by an independent panel of expert judges from hundreds of applicants.

HAE’s careful vetting process also ensures a wide array of mediums and price ranges will be offered during the Festival.

For additional information on the Annual Arlington Festival of the Arts and other Howard Alan Events art and craft shows across the country, visit www.artfestival.com or call 561-746-6615.

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A free exhibit entitled Mister Rogers: Just the Way You Are is currently on display in Crystal City.

The exhibit is open to the public at the Crystal City Shops entrance to the PBS building (2100 Crystal Drive) through May 31. Created by Nashville-based artist Wayne Brezinka, the exhibit is described as “a unique and interactive mixed media portrait experience incorporating both two and three-dimensional elements.”

“Through the use of objects, artifacts and memorabilia assembled together, these items craft extraordinary story lines within this artistic profile of America’s most beloved neighbor, Mister Rogers,” Brezinka wrote.

The exhibit is especially relevant given “the love and affection that many have with Mister Rogers in our current social and political climate [and] the buzz around the upcoming film starring Tom Hanks who stars as Mister Rogers later this year,” he said.

The touring exhibition’s Crystal City stop was made possible by Arlington-based PBS and property owner JBG Smith. It is open weekdays from 7 a.m.-6 p.m.

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Hoffman-Boston Elementary now has a new mural thanks to a collaboration between its 5th grade students and renowned artist MasPaz.

The mural features animals from foxes to fishes and took the students several weeks to paint along one of the school’s main hallways, according to a video of the project.

MasPaz, whose name means “more peace,” has painted murals worldwide before moving back to Arlington. He told ARLnow last year he’s eager to work on more local projects.

Hoffman-Boston’s mural is part of the student’s legacy project that build “excitement” among other students who got to see the work progress over the past month, said art teacher Emily Wade.

Wade said it was an “incredible opportunity” for the students to get to learn from the Columbia-born artist who grew up in Arlington and attended Oakridge Elementary and H-B Woodlawn.

“So many of our students here can relate to that,” said Wade.

“I liked doing the mural with MasPaz,” said one student interviewed in the video. “He has a very unique style and I like the way he designed the fox and I hope he comes back again.”

The project was funded by The Humanities Project which brings artists into Arlington schools to lead workshops or teach courses.

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WHAT: Rosslyn CAFÉ — Photography exhibit & local distillery tasting
WHERE: Bennett Park Art Atrium (1601 Clarendon Blvd)
WHEN: Friday, March 29, 2019 6-8 p.m.
MORE INFORosslyn BID website

For most of the week, Birch Thomas goes to her 9-5 job as vice president of finance for a small company in Georgetown.

She loves the precision of numbers and balance sheets and is good at what she does, but her day job doesn’t define her. When Birch Thomas is really “on,” she’s out with her camera taking pictures.

Although this tenth-generation Arlingtonian grew up in a creative household — her mom is a pastel artist and photographer and her dad a sculptor — she never picked up a camera for more than the usual snapshot until about three years ago.

“I grew up with the camera around, and stopping on the side of the road on a family vacation to take a picture was a normal thing for my parents to do,” she says. “Around 2015, I found myself borrowing my mom’s camera all the time. I’d go on walks by myself taking pictures. I’d lose track of time, getting into the flow of it. I realized how much I enjoyed it.”

Over the past few years, Birch has gradually built up a small photography business on the side. She photographs food, weddings and other important moments in people’s lives. And she still goes on long walks with her camera, lending her unique perspective to D.C. landmarks, monuments and pieces of everyday life.

This Friday, March 29, Birch will have her first solo exhibition at Rosslyn CAFE, a four-week series of free community events every Friday evening hosted by the Rosslyn Business Improvement District (BID).

Taking place at the beautiful Bennett Park Art Atrium in Upper Rosslyn, Rosslyn CAFE introduces attendees to the work of new local artists each week, offering them the opportunity to purchase art while enjoying food, drinks and a festive atmosphere.

Birch will be selling unframed prints at Rosslyn CAFE in a variety of sizes, and if she doesn’t have exactly what people want on hand, they can order it at the event.

“I’m not all that concerned about selling,” she says. “Mostly, I just want people to experience my work and gain a greater appreciation for the beauty that surrounds us.”

Birch says taking pictures of people is a different process for her than capturing objects and places. Photographing people is more about developing a relationship and sense of trust so that others feel comfortable around her.

Currently, she’s in the midst of a documentary project photographing artists in their studios. It’s been an honor to be present with artists as they create, and to see how each person’s creative process is different.

When she’s out with her camera by herself, Birch shoots whatever catches her eye, aiming to depict something people see every day in a different light. For instance, one Sunday morning she stumbled upon a field of seemingly endless purple flowers with the Washington Monument and Capitol in the background. This is one of her favorite, unexpected photos.

Other times, though, she’s deliberate about what she wants to shoot, and will spend months planning and strategizing to take the photo she has in her mind.

“Photography gives me a feeling of satisfaction I’ve never felt with anything else and I’m grateful that I’ve found it as an outlet,” she says. “If I haven’t taken a good photograph in a while, I’ll feel out of balance, the way some people do when they don’t go to the gym or meditate. I never really found my thing until I started taking pictures.”

To learn more about Birch Thomas and her work, subscribe to the Rosslyn BID’s weekly email, which will feature a longer version of this piece later this week.

See Birch’s photography on her website and on Instagram. Click here to learn more about Rosslyn CAFE.

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An art studio for kids along Lee Highway is looking to double in size as part of its new expansion plans.

Art House 7, located at 5537 Lee Highway in Yorktown, is looking for the County Board’s permission to earn the necessary zoning changes to make the move. The studio has offered classes and summer camps on everything from painting to pottery-making since it opened in the space in 2015.

Art House 7 is currently based in a condo complex near the Lee Harrison shopping center, with classes offered on both floors of the small home. But its owners recently purchased an adjacent condo as well, located at 5535 Lee Highway, and wants to expand its operations there as well, according to a report prepared by county staff.

That would allow the studio to double the number of students allowed in the space at any given time, from 12 kids up to 24.

Staff wrote that they haven’t found any reason to deny that request, and noted that both the Yorktown and Leeway Overlee civic associations support the permit changes.

The matter is slated to go before the Board Saturday (March 16), as part of its consent agenda. That is generally reserved for noncontroversial items passed without debate.

So long as the Board signs off on this change, it would be up for review in one year’s time.

Photo via Arlington County

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Arlington Metro riders might soon notice some digital screens displaying local artwork popping up at five stations sometime this spring.

WMATA plans to install the new screens at a dozen stations across the Metro system over the coming weeks, including several stops in Arlington itself: Crystal City, Ballston, Pentagon City, National Airport and Rosslyn.

The screens are part of Metro’s “Art in Transit Program,” which seeks to “work with cultural organizations and stakeholders to integrate art content into the new digital displays,” according a report by county staff. The County Board is set to approve an agreement this weekend that would allow Arlington Cultural Affairs to submit content to be displayed on the screens.

“Through this collaboration, WMATA is seeking to create a dynamic transit experience that increases community awareness and pride, and provides customers and the public with additional access to vibrant art produced by partnering organizations,” staff wrote in the report.

Other groups contributing artwork include the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the NOMA and Golden Triangle business improvement districts.

Arlington’s artwork is set to appear on the screens for “20 seconds at least every six minutes for a period of at least 28 days,” according to the report.

The Board is set to sign off on the project at its meeting Saturday (March 16), but riders should start noticing the screens as soon as this week. WMATA is scheduled to install the Crystal City screen from March 11-15, then bring the screens to the other Arlington stations sometime between April 29 through May 3.

This wouldn’t be the first public art project bound for the Ballston station, in particular — the station is set for a colorful, LED-light makeover sometime within the next few years.

File photo

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Ballston’s Metro station could soon see a colorful, motion-activated, LED light display as part of a new public art project.

Dubbed “Intersections,” the project is being backed by the Ballston Business Improvement District and is still many months away from completion.

But the BID is picking up steam on the effort, according to documents prepared for the County Board, and it’s designed to “create a dynamic, ever-changing feature that will turn an ordinary subway entrance into a place of surprise, wonder and delight.”

The BID is teaming up with a Dutch “design/art collective” to create the art installation, which will consist of spotlights projecting a variety of different colors onto the canopy stretching over the Metro station’s entrance.

The lights will also come equipped with a “a grid of sensors” to “pick up the activity of the people moving in and out of the Ballston station, making the pedestrians active participants in the work,” according to a description of “Intersections” on the BID’s website.

“Pedestrians have a direct influence, in that their presence under the canopy will effect the spawning of lines that travel over the canopy,” the design team wrote about the project, according to a county staff report. “Where these animated lines intersect one another, they will give life to ‘autonomous artifacts of light.’ Once these artifacts pass a threshold, they will form the basis of a more involved visual effect. Afterwards, the installation will reset to its initial state.”

The BID is funding the project with the help of a collection of Ballston businesses, and it’s one in a series of public art installations the group has commissioned over the years.

In a report to be reviewed by the Board at its meeting Saturday (Feb. 23), the BID says it has yet to receive Metro’s approval for the project, but it expects to win WMATA’s sign-off soon. Once that’s done, it’ll take about 15 months to fully design and construct the installation, likely to be completed sometime in fiscal year 2021.

The BID described these changes as part of its annual funding request to the Board. The business group is funded by a property tax in Ballston, and the BID is asking the Board to hold the tax rate steady this year to maintain its existing operations.

Board members agreed to a small rate hike last year to account for a dip in property values in the area, and the BID argues that it still needs the extra cash. The Board will begin its full round of budget deliberations in earnest Saturday, in what could be a challenging year.

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 “You walked in and you just felt good,” says Eric Brace.

When the IOTA Club and Cafe, a Clarendon performance venue whose motto was “live music forever,” closed its doors in the fall of 2017 after more than 23 years, Brace took it hard. Though the Last Train Home frontman played IOTA with his rootsy rock band on two of the club’s final three evenings, he couldn’t bear to return to the club for its closing night.

“I did not go on the last day because I was kind of too sad,” says Brace, who lived in the D.C. area for about 20 years before moving to Nashville. “I was just physically and emotionally wiped out.”

In a somewhat ironic turn, Last Train Home — a band that had one of its first gigs at IOTA in the mid-’90s and went on to play annual New Year’s Eve shows there for a string of years — performed a late-December set at The Birchmere just a few hours after our conversation. The legendary Alexandria music venue was an inspiration to IOTA’s founders, longtime Arlington residents Jane Negrey Inge and brother Stephen Negrey, who identified it as one of their “idols” in a press release prior to the club’s closing.

Now, more than a year since the closing of the storied arts space — home to performances from Norah Jones, John Mayer, Ryan Adams, Dawes and countless others between 1994 and 2017 — Arlington has yet to fill the void.

For Josh Stoltzfus, deputy director of Arlington Cultural Affairs, the county arts scene is essentially a series of micro-scenes, defined by the venues and events in each neighborhood. But when it comes to specific music spaces, Stoltzfus says, “there is no one flagship that everything revolves around.” Luckily, the county boasts many restaurants and bars offering live, local music, including Galaxy Hut, Rhodeside Grill, Westover Beer Garden, Cafe Sazon and Bistro 29.

Yet none of those establishments regularly host a mix of national touring acts, D.C.-area musicians and poetry readings, as IOTA did for more than two decades.

Today, the Wilson Boulevard building that once housed IOTA lies dormant, its vestibule sporting a dangling string of twinkle lights and a well-preserved, if incongruous, welcome sign. The block is slated for redevelopment as Market Common Phase 2, a property of Regency Centers, with construction expected to begin early this year.

In the press release announcing their closure, IOTA’s owners cited the impending construction and anticipated rent increase as contributing factors in their decision. But as a cultural mainstay that managed to survive for nearly two dozen years in a transforming neighborhood, IOTA and its legacy has not been forgotten.

One project memorializing the space is “The IOTA Chair,” a video series led by D.C. musician Rachel Levitin, who purchased a chair from one of the venue’s fire sales and re-imagined it as a set piece for performances and interviews of onetime IOTA performers she posts on Facebook. Another notable tribute is on the way — in September, Inge launched a GoFundMe campaign for a book that will retell IOTA’s history through her and Negrey’s eyes. Thus far, the effort has raised only about 13 percent of its $30,000 goal but garnered dozens of supportive comments.

“IOTA was one of the most beautiful music communities I ever met in my travels; it helped make my life worth living,” writes one donor.

Inge declined to be interviewed for this article but reflected on her venue via email: “At IOTA, live music was the center and purpose of everything we did,” she writes. “We chased inspired live experiences and creative new music for our stage. Stephen and I had the honor to meet and work with wonderful poets, musicians and musical performers, touring and local. We got to know the people who appreciated the shows, who got it, and who supported IOTA to keep us going for so long.”

For D.C. singer-songwriter Laura Tsaggaris, who started playing IOTA in the early 2000s and has performed throughout the area, the club was “the center” of the local songwriting scene.

“It felt easy — easy to stretch out and do what you wanted to do there,” Tsaggaris says. “I’ve never felt as comfortable as I did there.”

To acquire an IOTA-esque mystique, an Arlington music venue would need to strive not just to attract talented national artists but also serve as a sought-after haunt for the local arts community. Arlington singer-songwriter Justin Trawick, founder of “The 9” songwriter series and co-host of “The Circus Life” podcast, began making the trek to IOTA from Leesburg in 2005 in pursuit of the club’s well-known open-mic night. IOTA had a scene, he says, perhaps matched today only by Jammin Java in Vienna or a couple of newer D.C. venues, such as sister venue Union Stage.

“They’ve really created an amazing culture of not only bands that play there, but people who want to hang out there in that ‘Empire Records’ kind of way,” Trawick says. “IOTA had that.”

Though IOTA certainly had a successful open-mic culture, with two sign-up times per night to accommodate the dozens of eager performers filing in, Arlington’s open-mic opportunities live on. Alexandria musician Alex Parez hosted IOTA’s weekly open mic in its final three years and has since transferred the IOTA format to Rhodeside Grill. While he says “no place can replace IOTA,” he expresses pride over the local talent that continues to surface in Arlington.

Yet Brace, who is also a former music journalist for The Washington Post and the founder of Nashville-based Red Beet Records, expressed doubts about whether modern-day Arlington can provide an affordable space for an IOTA-size venue, which had expanded its capacity to roughly 300 when it closed.

“Arlington’s square footage is so expensive; it’s hard to have a place where you can afford to just have a big empty space in the form of a stage, and it’s hard to invest a lot of money in a great sound system and have a great sound person every night the way IOTA did,” Brace says.

But with the coming arrival of Amazon HQ2 to the newly named “National Landing”, it’s not unthinkable that music venues along the lines of The Wharf’s Union Stage or Pearl Street Warehouse could be part of the development mix.

A spokesperson for National Landing developer JBG Smith declined to comment, but the property website does highlight JBG’s plans for the “Central District” redevelopment project, set to include “a 130,000-gross-square-foot entertainment and shopping destination anchored by a 49,000-square-foot Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, a specialty grocer, restaurants, bars and other experiential offerings.” Could a live performance space be one such offering?

For now, Arlingtonians hoping for an IOTA-like experience will have to wonder and wait for an existing Arlington music hub to expand its offerings (not to mention its footprint) or an entirely new venue to spring up.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” Brace says. “There’s always people making music, and they’ll have little pop-up clubs in basements or house concerts. I’ll choose to be hopeful.”

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