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Demolition could start on the former Inner Ear Studios building next year.

On Saturday, the Arlington County Board is set to review a contract to demolish the nearly 70-year-old warehouse and building at 2700 S. Nelson and 2701 S. Oakland streets in Green Valley, near Shirlington. The demolition will make way for a flexible open space for arts programming.

“The building is in a deteriorated condition, has exceeded its service life, and is cost prohibitive to repurpose, repair and maintain,” according to a county report. “Therefore, demolition was recommended.”

Work could take about 180 days and construction could be completed by the summer, per the report. Electrical outlets and hydrants would be installed as part of the project.

Arlington County plans to outfit the lot with a large event space, a small performance area, a temporary public arts space, a makerspace and seating. It will incorporate objects saved from the former epicenter of the D.C. punk scene.

“Several items of significance were salvaged from the Inner Ear Studio that occupied the warehouse prior to the County,” the report says. “Arlington County Cultural Affairs and Public Art are involving the community in shaping the future use of the site and incorporating the salvaged items for a flexible, open space that will be established after demolition.”

Arlington acquired the property in late 2021 in a bid to create an arts and industry district in Green Valley and make the arts more accessible in south Arlington.

The building is adjacent to the Arlington Food Assistance Center and the Arlington Cultural Affairs building, where an outpost of Arlington Independent Media is now located, and across from Jennie Dean Park.

Inner Ear Studios has remained active since moving out of its long-time home, with recording space now located in the basement of owner Don Zientara’s Arlington house.

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Arlington Poet Laureate and fellowship recipient Dr. Holly Karapetkova (courtesy of Marymount University)

She’s a poet and wouldn’t you know it, her verse skills have earned her lots of bills.

Dr. Holly Karapetkova, the county’s Poet Laureate and an English professor at Marymount University, received the American Academy of Poets Laureate Fellowship on Tuesday (Aug 2).

The $50,000 prize Karapetkova received is set to fund one of her projects to publish an anthology of poems from young residents in Arlington, with submissions currently open to local high school students, according press releases from Marymount University and Arlington County.

The theme is set to focus on resilience and the anthology is expected to be published in spring next year, according to a submission form.

Besides publishing the poems, Karapetkova’s project also includes holding readings and workshops with the selected poets, alongside designing lesson plans for instruction.

The poet is collaborating with two nonprofits from the area for this project. One is the D.C.-based Words Beats and Life, which uses hip hop to educate young people on the arts. The other is the publisher Day Eight, which is also based in the District.

The project has also received funding from Arlington Arts, according to Marymount’s news release.

Karapetkova was “honored” and thanked the academy for awarding her the fellowship, adding on social media that she would work to “lift up the voices of [her] county’s amazing young poets.”

“In times of distress, poetry provides a language for our hurt and frustration and an outlet for our expression of grief and anger. It can provide a means for healing,” Karapetkova said in a statement.

She has been Arlington’s poet laureate since 2020, the second after Katherine E. Young, who was appointed in 2016.

During her time in the post, Karapetkova organized the exhibition Visual Verse in 2020, where poems from different poet laureates were projected onto the side of buildings around Arlington for a month. She also judged a poetry competition and participated in readings at different music festivals.

The Poets Laureate Fellowship was launched in 2019 by the academy, which aimed to support the fellows’ public poetry programs and the nonprofits collaborating with them, according to its news release. This year, a total of 22 poets laureate of different cities and states were chosen. In Virginia, apart from Karapetkova, the poet laureate from Alexandria, KaNikki Jakarta, was also chosen.

Arlington County lauded the laurels bestowed upon its laureate.

“This Award will help support our Poet Laureate’s efforts to amplify the voices of the next generation of poets in Arlington and is a priceless gift to our community,” said Arlington Cultural Affairs Director Michelle Isabelle-Stark.

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A celebration of anime, gaming, comic, sci-fi and popular culture for people of all background is back at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Crystal City starting today (Friday).

The convention, BlerDCon, is being held at 2799 Richmond Highway and is set to run through Sunday. Its first event kicked off at 10 a.m. this morning.

All participants need to be vaccinated and masked while indoors, according to the convention’s website.

The theme for the convention this year is “Homecomin’.” BlerDCon expects that 3,000-4,000 participants — many in costume — will be joining, according to its website.

A weekend pass for the convention costs $65 and is still open for purchase. Registration for Friday and Saturday is open between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., while the hours will end at 5 p.m. on the last day of the convention.

Apart from celebrating Blerd — Black nerd — culture, the convention this year also celebrates its “connection with LGBTQ, the disabled, POCs and the international community,” according to its website.

The inclusive convention, which was also held in Crystal City last year, has already attracted some unintentional attention given current fears about gun violence and the propensity for some cosplaying attendees to also carry fake weapons.

Police were called to the McDonald’s along Route 1 around 12:45 p.m. today for a report, relayed via Alexandria’s 911 dispatch center, about a man seen crossing the road near the restaurant with a large gun, according to scanner traffic.

An Arlington officer, recognizing that the convention was taking place nearby, quickly radioed that the sighting might be related to BlerDCon. There were no reports of anyone being stopped by police, but there was some confusion on the ACPD dispatch channel about what exactly BlerDCon was.

“Black nerds,” an officer responded. “It’s like Comic-Con.”

During the weekend convention, different events are set to be held, including RPG games, comedy shows, cosplay contests and different panels. The first three panels of the convention are on topics such as representation in comics and a Kpop dance challenge, according to a tweet.

Comedian Orlando Jones is set to the convention’s celebrity guest.

BlerDCon is not the only subculture convention that regularly comes to Crystal City. Earlier this year the “furry” convention Fur the More was again held at the Hyatt Regency.

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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.”

An aerial view of the 2700 South Nelson Project site and the surrounding county-owned properties (via Arlington County)
An aerial view of the 2700 S. Nelson Project site and the surrounding county-owned properties (via Arlington County)

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.

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A look inside Inner Ear Studios in Shirlington (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

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.

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A cosplayer at the 2019 Blerdcon, which takes place in Crystal City (via Blerdcon/Youtube)

Nerds of all backgrounds are reveling in their geekdom this weekend in Crystal City.

BlerDCon — an anime, gaming, comics and sci-fi convention — has returned to the Hyatt Regency Crystal City (2799 Richmond Hwy), one year after the 2020 convention was canceled due to the pandemic. It’s taking place today through Sunday, July 18.

BlerDCon will feature a food truck rally, cosplay contests and music, but there will be pandemic precautions: Guests will be required to wear a mask and bring a vaccination card.

The event is not just for Black nerds, or “blerds.” The website said the “universally inclusive fan convention” welcomes people of color, the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities.

Other highlights include a maid cafe, a comedy show, gaming and a “Blerdfunk Concert.”

There will be a number of special guests, according to the website: “Rupaul’s Drag Race” star Dax ExclamationPoint, comedian Roxxy Haze, and actress Karan Ashley, who was the Yellow Ranger on the hit kids show “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.”

Tickets for BlerDCon are $55.

Cosplay costumes and dancing, featured below, are two hallmarks of the Crystal City event.

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Don Zientara, owner of the legendary Inner Ear Studio — long the seat of Arlington’s punk rock scene — is at a crossroads.

This Saturday, Arlington County is set to consider buying two parcels of land near Shirlington — 2700 S. Nelson Street and 2701 S. Oakland Street — and the warehouse that sits on it, which houses Inner Ear.

The warehouse, which is also home to a Ben & Jerry’s catering outfit and part of the Arlington Food Assistance Center, is old and structurally worn down, he says, and county documents indicate it will likely be demolished to make way for an arts and industry district along Four Mile Run.

Arlington County previously announced its plans to one day buy the building, but Zientara said no specifics were laid out as to when he would have to relinquish his studio. Now, however, the county has set a deadline: Dec. 31, 2021.

“I could retire at this point,” he said. “I’m weighing a lot of options. Closing it down is probably a strong one… It all depends on what we want to do. I’m not ready, really, to move the studio.”

The business is picking up “slowly, very slowly,” since the pandemic started. Musicians anticipate live music opportunities this summer and want to have a record or a downloadable song to “get things going,” Zientara said.

Zientara has been recording for more than 30 years in his basement and the Shirlington location. The long list of those who have recorded at the hole-in-the-wall studio includes the Foo Fighters, Fugazi and Minor Threat.

“I’m sorry to see it go, but that’s the way that it is,” Zientara said. “So I’m OK with it — it’s just the natural evolution of things. You can’t stop progress. I hope what they do have is something that can complement the arts in the county.”

That is the county’s plan.

The purchase would “fulfill multiple goals of the Four Mile Run Valley Area Plan, the Public Spaces Master Plan and the County’s Arts and Culture Strategy,” according to a county report. “The property is uniquely positioned to host a variety of diverse programming such as musical, dance, and theatre performances, and a multidisciplinary arts festival, anchored by a weekly outdoor ‘Valley Market.'”

County staff said the 18,813 sq. ft. of land could be used for the following uses as early as summer 2022:

  • An outdoor market, similar to Eastern Market in DC, and inspired by the county’s holiday markets and Made In Arlington pop-up events.
  • A location for the county mobile stage for musical, dance and theater performances.
  • An outdoor movie screening spot, “possibly curated for audiences not otherwise being served.”
  • A space for county-sponsored multidisciplinary arts festivals, supporting “a diverse range of artistic and cultural expression.”
  • A parking lot for when the space is not accommodating the above uses.

This sale would culminate a nearly two-year agreement between the County Board and the building’s owner, South Oakland Street, LLC. In June 2019, the county agreed to one day purchase the property for $3.4 million on the condition it made three annual, non-refundable, payments to South Oakland Street to delay the final sale for up to three years.

For the last two years, the County Board opted to make the yearly payments. Now, county staff is advising the Board to buy the property. Staff also recommend that the county give tenants until Dec. 31 to relocate.

AFAC will not be moving far. The organization, with its main building at 2708 S. Nelson Street, is temporarily leasing the additional space while it renovates a warehouse next door, which it purchased last year.

“The building was in serious need of renovation which we began in January of this year,” AFAC Executive Director and CEO Charles Meng said. “Once our renovation is completed in September of this year we will be vacating 2700 and moving back to our renovated warehouse.”

Photos (23) via Google Maps, photo (4) via Arlington County

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Local graphic designer and artist Hermes Marticio was only searching for a cup of coffee, but found an art studio instead.

It wasn’t Marticio’s first time walking into East West Coffee Wine in Clarendon (3101 Wilson Blvd) when he strolled inside in mid-November. Every time he noticed the art on the walls.

“It’s not curated. It’s just like they put it up there,” says Marticio.

So, he approached the owner, Mehmet Coskun, and asked if he could use a corner of the shop to create a pop-up art studio for his works. Coskun readily agreed and the two made a deal.

“I’ve always wanted my own studio,” says Marticio.

Marticio grew up in the Philippines, immigrated to California, and moved to Arlington about a decade ago for a job and to be closer to his mother. He is a father of one: a 19-year-old daughter.

Marticio says that this area provides good opportunities and schooling, which was also a big reason why his mom came to the United States.

“My mom grew up on a farm in the Philippines,” he says. “Something clicked in her head that wasn’t how [her] family was supposed to live.”

He says it was her “third eye” that guided her, a concept of having an invisible, perceptive eye — often in the middle of the forehead — that’s knowledgeable beyond normal sight.

His mother’s third eye is also inspiration for his art. Marticio designs illustrative portraits of pop icons, from Jay-Z to Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Muhammad Ali , many of which are depicted with a third eye.

“I feel like those icons have seen something that a regular person hasn’t seen,” says Marticio. “That’s why they became so successful.”

Like many folks, Marticio has had his job prospects fluctuate during the pandemic. When he lost his job earlier this year, he focused his energy and attention on creating art. He did get another full-time graphic designer job in July, but by then, he had created a whole lot.

“All of my time, I really poured into [my art]. You know, what else am I going to do?,” he says. “It was also for my piece of mind.”

Marticio has also embedded his art with augmented reality. Each work has a QR code, which if scanned with a phone using Artivie mobile app, reveals animation and other features.

“A lot of artwork can be static,” says Marticio. “But this adds elements to it.”

This augmented reality component is another variation on the “third eye,” adding a perspective not seen by the naked eye.

Coskun says he’s thrilled to have Marticio’s art in his Clarendon coffee shop.

“I like to support local businesses just because I’m a local business myself,” he says. It’s a win-win, a local artist gets to have an art gallery and a local business doesn’t have to spend money on generic decor.

“I’d rather have [Marticio’s] paintings and help him make some money, then [for me] go to IKEA to buy some paintings,” says Coskun. In fact, he’s got a few more inquiries from other local artists as well about putting their work on his shop’s walls.

“If there’s a space available, then why not?,” Coskun says, “It makes the walls look ten times better.”

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Busboys and Poets, a restaurant and arts space with a location in Shirlington, has been holding virtual dinner parties to replace its usual in-person gatherings.

Every Friday evening since late May, the restaurants has invited diners to watch a Zoom conversation between owner Andy Shallal and a featured guest, free of charge.

The restaurant, which has seven locations in the D.C. region, normally hosts in-person poetry, art and discussion-based events. Now, with the pandemic pausing such gatherings, Shallal said the dinner parties are meant to continue the “meeting of the minds” that Busboys and Poets used to facilitate.  

“We’re a place where art, culture and politics collide and we don’t want to lose that,” Shallal said. “We want to continue that collison.”  

Most of the parties’ featured guests have spoken at previous Busboys and Poets events, Shallal said. Recent guests include author Alice Walker, filmmaker Michael Moore and Alicia Garza, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Shallal said conversations usually cover a speaker’s background and upcoming projects as well as their thoughts on current events like the COVID-19 pandemic, the national reckoning on race and November’s election. 

Viewers are encouraged to order meals through Busboys and Poets’ pickup or delivery service to accompany the conversation. Shallal said popular takeout items have been the blackened salmon and the chicken panini, as well as signature cocktails.

Busboys and Poets has also been holding open mic nights and poetry slam competitions through Instagram Live. Hosted by one of the restaurant’s regular poets, amateur poets log in to the livestreams and present their work. Shallal said he hopes these programs maintain a sense of community between artists and art consumers while they are forced apart.  

“These are moments when people want to feel connected,” Shallal said. “[People] don’t want to feel like they’re alone. I think these types of virtual conversations and programs that we do help people to recognize that they’re not alone, that there are many, many people out there who are longing for this kind of interaction.”

The next virtual dinner party is Friday, September 11 at 6 p.m. Reverend William Barber II, a pastor and civil rights activist, will be the featured guest.

Image via Google Maps

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Arlington County is looking for a new top poet.

The selected poet would be the second laureate in the county’s history, succeeding Katherine E. Young, who ended her term in 2018. The new poet laureate would serve from 2020 to 2022, and will receive an honorarium of $1500 per year, according to Arlington Cultural Affairs.

Applicants must be published poets, with a track record of publishing their original work in poetry journals, magazines, and/or websites, that are predominantly not self-curated, personal websites or personal blogs. Interested poets must be 18 years of age or older.

The poet laureate will have several duties to carry out. One of those duties is to write and present two original poems on a subject that relates to issues relating to the county. In 2016, for instance, Young presented a poem about a thunderstorm in Ballston that felled a prominent tree.

The new poet laureate will also serve as a juror for Arlington Transit’s Moving Words Competition and facilitate community engagement programs with the Arlington Public Libraries and Arlington Public Affairs staff.

“The poet selected [as] Arlington’s poet laureate will serve as an advocate for poetry and the literary arts and will advance Arlingtonians’ consciousness and appreciation of poetry in its written and spoken forms,” Arlington Cultural Affairs said in a press release. “He or she will represent Arlington County’s commitment to fostering a creative environment that encourages collaboration, innovation and community participation.”

The county is accepting applications until March 24 at 5 p.m. The poet laureate’s term is set to begin on July 1 of this year.

The full county press release is below, after the jump.

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Blerdcon — a comic convention highlighting black nerd culture — is returning to Crystal City and fans of the ’90s anime Cowboy Bebop may recognize a familiar voice.

The convention is scheduled for the Hyatt Regency (2700 Richmond Highway) from Friday, July 12 through Sunday, July 14.

Guests highlighted at the convention include Estelle, a musician and who has a leading role in the Steven Universe cartoon show, and Beau Billingslea, who voiced Jet Black in the English dub for the seminal anime Cowboy Bebop.

The event celebrates both the creative talents of black nerds, a subculture emerging at the intersection of science-fiction/fantasy fandoms and the black experience in America that has historically struggled with a sense of isolation in both communities.

In addition to a focus on the black nerd cultural experience, the event description highlights the convention’s intersectionality with “LGBTQ, the disabled, POCs and the international community.”

Weekend passes to the convention are $55.

Photo via Blerdcon/Facebook

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