Synetic Theater’s premiere of War of Worlds has been delayed after co-founder Paata Tsikurishvili suffered what are described as serious injuries in a vehicle crash.
In an update last Friday, the Crystal City-based theater company said that its co-founder and artistic director Tsikurishvili had been hospitalized for a number of days “as a result of injuries he sustained in a serious car accident.”
The injuries included “several broken bones” but no head trauma, the theater company said. He’s expected to make a full recovery and “is recovering faster than expected” but he is in need of a several-month rehabilitation period, Synetic said.
The crash was first announced in early December, but few details were provided.
“The Tsikurishvili family thanks the many people who reached out with words of support. Those who wish to send good wishes may do so at [email protected],” the update notes.
Due to the co-founder’s need for recovery, the theater’s “largest and most ambitious production in its history” is being pushed back from the spring to the fall.
The Tsikurishvili-directed War of the Worlds was set to debut at Synetic Theater in March but now is planning a fall premiere, per the update:
Prior to the accident, Mr. Tsikurishvili was finishing work on the world premiere of War of the Worlds-Synetic’s largest and most ambitious production in its history-which was scheduled to begin workshopping and rehearsals immediately after the holidays. In order to give him the time and space to focus on his recovery, War of the Worlds, slated to open March 3, 2023, will be postponed until Fall 2023 (precise dates to be announced).”
The production is based on the famed 1897 H.G. Wells story about an alien invasion of Earth and the threat to humankind. The sci-fi tale has been continuously adapted over the last century, including by Steven Spielberg for his 2005 movie starring Tom Cruise. Synetic is now set to adapt it into a physical, wordless stage production.
“In [this] latest iteration, War of the Worlds leaps off the page and onto the stage through Synetic’s wordless Physical Theater style and its signature immersive, multimedia production design,” reads the website’s description.
In the show’s place, a revival of the 2014 production Beauty and the Beast will now take the stage in March. It’s being choreographed by the other half of Synetic’s husband-and-wife founding duo, Irina Tsikurishvili, and directed by managing director Ben Cunis.
The show will run until April 2 and the theater warns the show is for ages seven years or older.
“This production of Beauty and the Beast contains fantasy violence and may be scary to younger children,” the theater warns. “Parental guidance is advised. Please note that this is not the Disney musical.”
Known for its physical and nearly wordless theater, Synetic Theater first moved to Crystal City from Rosslyn in 2010. It nearly lost its lease at 1800 S. Bell Street in 2018 but building owner JBG Smith backtracked and agreed to let them stay. Like many performing arts venues, Synetic ceased live performances for more than a year during the pandemic.
In October, the theater debuted a “bloody” adaption of Dracula. Directed by Tsikurishvili, it turned out to be the last show he will likely direct for at least a year.
Two design concepts have emerged for a temporary outdoor arts space where Inner Ear Studios, the epicenter of the D.C. punk scene, used to be.
Last year, Arlington County acquired two parcels of land — 2700 S. Nelson Street and 2701 S. Oakland Street — and the warehouse that sits on it, which housed Inner Ear, a Ben & Jerry’s catering outfit and, temporarily, part of Arlington Food Assistance Center, while its main building was under renovation.
Shortly after the acquisition, Arlington County began making plans to raze it and build an outdoor entertainment space as part of an effort to implement an arts and industry district in Green Valley.
Dealing with the optics of demolishing a famed recording studio to build an arts and industry district, the arts division argues the space responds to community needs and makes art more accessible.
“Arlington County is prioritizing a community-based vision that is reflective of local needs and ideas for public arts programming,” per a recent report.
So this spring and summer, Arlington Arts and a placemaking and public arts firm Graham Projects engaged with nearly 400 people, nearly half of whom live or work nearby in Green Valley, Shirlington and elsewhere, through in-person and virtual events, as well as an online engagement page.
Participants shared their feedback on colors, themes, local history and programming, which formed the basis of the two designs. Generally, they envisioned an open space with natural landscaping and plantings, murals and temporary sculpture installations.
Respondents suggested creating a space that could host open-mic nights, art classes, festivals, kids performances, movie nights, partnerships with schools and community arts programs, and food-related programming to dovetail off the work of nearby Arlington Food Assistance Center, per the report.
Some requested multicultural programming and an emphasis on ethnically and racially diverse artists to highlight the same diversity in Green Valley. Others suggested a new recording studio to pay homage to Inner Ear Studios, which has returned to founder Don Zientara’s basement in Arlington Heights.
In short, as one resident said, the open space should be “a place to create music and art, and not just another performance venue or theater stage.”
Another resident urged the county not to “replicate things that are already available to the community within Jennie Dean Park.”
After going over the feedback, Graham Projects came up with two designs, dubbed the “Grid” or the “Glade.” Both feature:
- a large event space
- a small performance area
- a temporary public arts space
- a makerspace
- natural berm seating and built seating
The “Grid” design features community tables while the “Glade” has some pergolas covering community tables.
But not everyone wants to see these features take over the open space.
One had concerns that portable art would be stolen, while some others said the county should consider adding parking for visitors to and staff at the Arlington Food Assistance Center.
“‘Pave paradise’ and please, please, please, put up a parking lot,” one said.
People can provide their feedback on these designs through Monday, Nov. 21.
Demolition could start in late 2022 or early 2023, according to a county webpage for the project.
Clarendon-based Arlington Independent Media (AIM) is expanding to a second location in Green Valley.
The community media organization will be taking over three underused audio-visual production studios at the Arlington Arts’ 3700 S. Four Mile Run Drive location, according to a county press release.
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.”
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.
“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.
Just in time for the spooky season, Crystal City’s Synetic Theater is debuting a “bloody” adaptation of Dracula.
The two-decade-old, local non-profit theater is bringing one of the world’s most famous horror stories to its stage next month, with shows starting on October 13. The show is set to run Thursday through Sunday through Nov. 6.
A special Halloween performance on Monday, Oct. 31 is planned. Additionally, on Oct. 28, Synetic is hosting its annual Halloween party Vampire Ball, which will include a performance of Dracula plus food, dancing, physical theater, and themed cocktails.
Located inside the Crystal City Shops near the Metro station, Synetic Theater first opened in the neighborhood in 2010 after previously making its home in Rosslyn. It’s known for its physical and nearly wordless theater.
This adaptation of Dracula will adhere to Synetic’s well-known style, something co-founder and the show’s director Paata Tsikurishvili believes will help tell the 125-year-old story of the “vicious vampire.”
“With minimal dialogue in our storytelling, this production relies heavily on visuals, music, physicality, and most importantly, audience interpretation,” Tsikurishvili told ARLnow about what makes their version of Dracula unique. “Whether it’s Shakespeare or Stoker, Synetic provides room for audiences to find their own meaning in our productions.”
This will be the third time that Synetic Theater has adapted Dracula, with previous performances in 2005 and 2009, and will include a number of actors reprising their roles, including Dan Istrate as Count Dracula.
Tsikurishvili said the 2022 version will have “significant updates to the costumes, choreography, and set design” but the set will continue to be “very minimalist” to allow “audiences to fully focus on the actors, movement, and story.”
It’s been something of a rough go for the venerable physical theater company over the past few years.
In late 2018, Synetic nearly lost its lease at 1800 S. Bell Street, but building owner JBG Smith backtracked and agreed to allow Synetic to stay in the building until at least the end of this year. The pandemic happened just over a year later, forcing Synetic to shut down performances. It was only late last summer when the theater got back into its space and started doing regular performances again.
With all that is happening in the world today, Tsikurishvili told ARLnow that showcasing the story of Dracula now is “very fitting.”
“When you think about the moral of Stoker’s story — it’s about confronting darkness, but not alone,” he said. “In this season and in this show, we explore otherness and what it takes to push differences aside and work together against evil.”
In a bid to generate more visitors, Arlington Arts Center has renamed itself the Museum of Contemporary Art Arlington.
The non-profit arts organization at 3550 Wilson Blvd in the Virginia Square area is one of the largest non-federal venues for contemporary art in the D.C. area, per its website.
But the center’s leaders say it needed a new name to elevate its work to show contemporary art, support artists-in-residence and organize art classes.
“Our new name will help us increase our visibility and reflect our position as a premiere hub for contemporary art and artists and as the only art museum in Arlington County,” Catherine Anchin, its executive director, said in a press release. “Our mission to connect you with contemporary art and artists through exhibitions, education programs, and artist residencies remains the same.”
Over the last year, those involved in the rebranding initiative conducted research and interviews to see how the arts center could improve how it communicates its mission.
Last winter and spring, the arts center searched for and hired a new executive director likewise charged with raising its visibility.
The Museum of Contemporary Art Arlington will be one of the few museums in the D.C. area without a permanent collection on display. Anchin says this will allow “MoCA Arlington” to keep up with contemporary art as it evolves.
“It is our goal that, when you visit the Museum of Contemporary Art Arlington, you will experience some of the most cutting-edge art by local, regional, national, and international artists, explore the power of your own creativity, engage with living artists, and further embrace Arlington’s place within a global contemporary art sector,” she said.
M0CA Arlington will reopen under its new name on Saturday from 12-8 p.m. with two new exhibits to peruse. The reopening day celebration will feature curator-led tours, art-making activities and visits to the studios of its artists-in-residence.
The first exhibit, “Assembly 2022: Time and Attention,” highlights trends in concepts and materials among today’s working artists. It features 12 artists from nine states, including Virginia, who were nominated by curators at peer organizations around the nation and selected by Blair Murphy, the curator of exhibitions for MoCA Arlington.
The second, “Let Them Kids Be Kids” by resident-artist Lex Marie, uses the playground as “a framework with which to examine the joys of Black childhood and the ways in which issues of race and equity are inscribed on the site,” Anchin said.
After Saturday’s grand reopening, the museum will be open Wednesday through Sunday from 12-5 p.m. through Dec. 18. Meanwhile, registration for fall art classes has opened.
Galleries reopened in spring 2021 and have had several exhibitions since then, Anchin told ARLnow. The museum has been closed so staff could install the forthcoming exhibits.
After the show ends in December, the center will close for two to three weeks to set up for its second show, she said.
MoCA Arlington was founded in 1974, has undergone several name changes and is located in the historic former Maury School. The building is leased through a partnership with Arlington County and holds nine exhibit galleries, studio space for artists, three classrooms, offices, and event rental space.
County Fair Starts Today — “The Arlington County Fair will take place from August 17 – 21 at Thomas Jefferson Community Center located at 3501 2nd Street S. The Arlington County Police Department will conduct the following road closure to accommodate the event: From approximately 8:00 a.m. on August 17 to 11:00 p.m. on August 21… 2nd Street S. closed between S. Jackson Street and S. Irving Street.” [ACPD]
Fewer Car Tax Notices — “Arlington County Board members as part of their annual budget process eliminated the $33-per-vehicle decal fee… About 20,000 vehicles will thus have nothing owed on them, and the treasurer’s office has decided not to send notices to them. An additional 30,000 county residents who own two or more vehicles under the same name will see their billing information consolidated into a single mailing in order to achieve ‘significant savings on paper and postage,’ Treasurer Carla de la Pava said in an Aug. 15 letter.” [Sun Gazette]
Senators Hail New Law — “U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) released the following statement after President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law: ‘We’re proud that this law will lower the price of prescription drugs, reduce the deficit, bring down energy bills and fight climate change… We will continue to look for ways to support the health and well-being of our communities, decrease inflation, and lower costs for Virginians.'” [Sen. Mark Warner]
Opera Making a Comeback? — “Supporters of Northern Virginia’s opera scene are hoping to reanimate the dormant Opera Guild of Northern Virginia, which through the years has raised funds and provided other support to opera organizations as well as promoting fellowships among those who appreciate the art form and introducing children to the unique and inclusive nature of opera.” [Sun Gazette]
It’s Wednesday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 81 and low of 65. Sunrise at 6:26 am and sunset at 8:02 pm. [Weather.gov]
Chess boards, interactive sculptures, ping pong tables and hammocks are just a few of the design elements residents can weigh in on for an outdoor arts space in Green Valley.
Arlington is collecting community feedback as part of the design process for the 2700 S. Nelson Street site, which formerly housed Inner Ear Recording Studios but could become a future outdoor “arts and maker space.”
The county’s second pop-up engagement event is set for tonight (Thursday) at New District Brewing, 2709 S. Oakland Street, from 6-8 p.m. to gather public input to “build a framework” for future uses of the site, according to the project website.
Residents can also take an online survey that is set to close at the end of Tuesday (May 31).
Arlington Cultural Affairs and Graham Projects, a public art and placemaking company, are overseeing the project at 2700 S. Nelson Street and its neighbor 2701 S. Nelson Street. After the end of the public consultation period, a plan for the site is set to be created this summer, while the original buildings are set to be demolished this fall.
The new site is expected to open in the summer of 2023, according to the project website.
Ideas the public can provide feedback on fall under several categories: rest, play, grow, color, design and programming. Some of the questions have a series of photos of design elements, and ask users to choose the top three that they like in the category. The survey also asks open-ended questions on programming and how the design could “celebrate the arts and industrial culture and history of the community.”
Funding for creating a new space is yet to be determined. Jessica Baxter, spokesperson for the county, said “the funding amount is dependent on future programming activities” and the money is set to come from the operating budget of Arlington Cultural Affairs and “other potential funding sources.”
Arlington County acquired the two parcels of land last year for $3.4 million. The outdoor space would be next to the county-owned Theatre on the Run venue and tie into a larger arts and industry district along Four Mile Run. This new district will run from west of S. Nelson Street to Walter Reed Drive, according to a vision outline published by the county’s Arts District Committee in 2017.
Local organizations such as the Green Valley Civic Association have criticized the county’s decision to tear down the recording studios. GVCA’s Vice President Robin Stombler said “losing a small, yet significant, arts-related business is antithetical to this vision” of an arts and industry district, in a letter to the county last June.
This proposed space will be near the recently renovated Jennie Dean Park and the Shirlington Dog Park, according to the 2018 Four Mile Run Valley Area Plan adopted by the county. That plan also called for “fostering the growth of arts uses in the future.”
The report by the Arts District Committee suggested that the new arts and industrial district should keep the “industrial tone” of the area, offer “a mix of entities,” such as galleries, woodworking and live music, along with creative street furniture and lighting to unify the area. It also suggested establishing a nonprofit to manage the district’s finances.
The Arlington Festival of Arts is coming back to Clarendon later this month
The annual free, outdoor arts festival is returning to Washington Blvd on April 23 and 24 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It will cover several blocks, with an entrance at the intersection of N. Highland Street and Washington Blvd.
The festival was canceled in 2020 due to Covid concerns and the 2021 version was pushed to September. So, this year marks the festival’s return to spring for the first time since 2019.
There are set to be over a hundred local and national artists selling their wares at the show. All artists were “hand-selected by [an] independent panel of expert judges,” a press release notes.
“Whether your passions run to sparkling jewels and one-of-a-kind paintings, masterfully crafted glasswork, or an art deco sculpture, you are sure to find it during the free, two-day event,” the press release says.
There will also be a “juried, first-class outdoor art gallery,” for attendees to peruse.
Pets on a leash are welcome, festival organizers say, adding that “ample” parking will be available in Clarendon.
While the Arlington County Police Department has not yet announced any no road closures, it probably can be expected that parts of Washington Blvd will be closed during event hours. Typically, local authorities urge drivers to avoid the area around the closures and take public transit to the event.
A number of annual Arlington events are marking their return this spring and summer after several years of scaling down or cancelling such events due to Covid. That includes last month’s DC Tattoo Expo in Pentagon City, May’s Ballston Quarterfest Crawl, and the yearly “Arlington Reads” series, which is back to being in-person through the spring and summer.
Maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are similarities between being a judge in a courtroom and an actor on stage.
“It’s all really about trying to understand that all human beings are complex,” Judge William T. Newman, Jr. tells ARLnow. “They are not all good and they are not all bad.”
Newman is a judge, an actor, and one half of a legit Washington power couple. He’s the long-time Chief Judge of Arlington County Circuit Court who’s presided over some of Arlington’s most well-known cases — as well as a veteran stage actor who’s appeared in several local productions over the years. In his dual roles, he’s known for his authoritativeness, clarity, and booming voice.
But this month the multifaceted Newman is doing something he’s never done before: starring in a one-man show.
The judge is portraying the legendary playwright August Wilson in the autobiographical How I Learned What I Learned. Produced by Arlington’s Avant Bard Theatre and staged at Gunston Arts Center, performances will be running through Dec. 19.
“It’s quite a challenge,” Newman says about being the solo performer on stage. “It’s you just there. It’s the raw essence of who you are up there.”
He notes the difficulty in holding the audience’s attention, avoiding becoming one-dimensional, and being able to shift tone on a dime.
“It’s trying to set different levels. Some of it is funny, some of it is sad,” he says. “You have to be ready to do the next thing, which may be totally the opposite.”
How I Learned What I Learned, published shortly before Wilson’s death in 2005, is an autobiographical look into the writer’s life and what it meant to be a Black artist in the 20th century. Wilson wrote the lead role for himself, which provides another unique challenge for Newman.
“August wasn’t an actor. He was a writer. So, in a sense, it’s trying to do this without overdoing it,” he says. “He’s a story teller and I’m trying to tell his story.”
Despite much of the play taking place in the mid-20th century, there’s plenty in the material that remains very relevant today. Citing the Black Lives Matter movement and last year’s protests over the killing of George Floyd, Newman calls Wilson’s work “prophetic” in that it deals with inequality and the country’s inability to cope with its history.
“August was really talking about how we need to come together as a community, as both Black and white,” he says. “To look at each other and not be as wary of each other.”
Newman notes that he completely agrees with Wilson’s assessment that we are “victims of our history.”
This isn’t Newman’s first show with the three-decade-old Avant Bard Theater (it was previously known as the Washington Shakespeare Company). In 2017, he starred as Oedipus in the theater’s production of The Gospel at Colonus.
This is his first time back on stage in about two years, however. Like it is for many local performing arts organizations, this holiday season is a greatly-anticipated return to performing in front of live audiences.
While Newman is very much looking forward to it, he admits he forgot how much it can take out of him both in terms of time, focus, and energy. Acting is about bringing life experiences to a role, he says, which can be exhausting.
For Newman, some of those life experiences come from the courtroom, where he hears cases and listens to people profess their innocence all day long. He says his acting and engaging in the arts brings “a sense of humanity” to his day job.
In Wilson’s writings, there are plenty of “shady” characters, but Newman knows those characters come from real life.
“There’s a human element to everything that they do… It’s part of what goes on in life,” says Newman. “These are real people, who do these real things, and say these real things.”
How I Learned What I Learned runs Thursdays through Sundays, from Dec. 1-19 at Gunston Arts Center, Theatre Two (2700 S. Lang Street). This article was funded by the ARLnow Press Club and first appeared in Saturday’s club newsletter.
Once the epicenter of D.C.’s punk scene, Inner Ear Recording Studios it is set to be razed by Arlington County to make way for an outdoor entertainment space.
The new open space, comprised of two parcels of land — 2700 S. Nelson Street and 2701 S. Oakland Street — would be part of the county’s efforts to implement an arts and industry district in Green Valley.
Arlington Cultural Affairs says a community engagement process exploring temporary uses for the site could begin later this fall or, more likely, in early 2022. Dealing with the optics of demolishing a famed recording studio to build an arts and industry district, the arts division argues the space responds to community needs and makes art more accessible.
“The exploration of outdoor activation space as a short-term possibility for the site is a direct result of our conversations with the surrounding community,” Arlington Cultural Affairs Director Michelle Isabelle-Stark said. “Bringing the arts outdoors and into the community is a low-cost, high-impact way to reach a broader and more diverse audience as we continue to explore the needs of the surrounding community.”
The outdoor space would tie into the Theatre on the Run venue, used by a number of Arlington-based dance and theatre ensembles, she said. And it would support existing programming, such as New District Brewing Co.’s outdoor beer festival, Valley Fest, as well as other cultural events.
Isabelle-Stark added that there’s an equity component to the open space.
“As the County continues to explore ways to address long-standing equity issues as it pertains to arts and culture opportunities, the addition of expanded outdoor performance space allows us to continue to present the arts outside of traditional brick and mortar venues and directly engage with the community,” she said.
So, after many years of recording bands including the Foo Fighters, Fugazi and Minor Threat, studio owner Don Zientara has until Dec. 31, 2021 to pack up the gear and the memorabilia before the building is demolished.
Crumbling cinder blocks and communication
Before the county agreed to acquire the building, Zientara told ARLnow he was at a crossroads: move the studio or retire. At 73, retirement was an option, and on top of that, the building was decrepit and recording sessions were down due to the pandemic. The county acquisition merely expedited that decision.
As soon as the building is demolished, the county says it’ll park its mobile stage there and start hosting outdoor performances, festivals, markets and movie screenings. Isabelle-Stark says South Arlington needed an outdoor arts venue — a community-generated idea. She told the Washington Post that the acquisition saved the property from being sold to a private developer for a non-arts-related development.
As this unfolded, the Green Valley Civic Association, a longtime champion of reinvestment and an arts district, criticized the county for the acquisition.
“It is curious for the county to spend millions to purchase and demolish a building, but state that intended cultural events will be provided in the remaining lot only if funds are available,” GVCA First Vice President Robin Stombler tells ARLnow.
At least the arts district could pay homage to Inner Ear, she said.
“Losing a small, yet significant, arts-related business is antithetical to this vision” of an arts and industry district in Green Valley, she wrote in a June letter to the county. “As the county takes a step in support of the district, it should recognize what is being left behind.”
She suggests naming the county’s mobile stage “Inner Ear Stage.” In addition, she said Zientara had indicated willingness to sell some music equipment to the county, which she recommended be used for a new recording studio in Green Valley for musicians and music educators.
“There has been no response to date,” she told ARLnow.