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Demolition of the old Inner Ear Studios in Green Valley is expected to start this month, after some delays.

This project was delayed after the discovery of unforeseen structural conditions with the adjoining building,” Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services Public Engagement Specialist Alyson Jordan Tomaszewski told ARLnow.

“After modifying the construction plans, we are now expecting demolition to start later this month and conclude in spring 2024,” she continued, noting that the issues were discovered in May.

Arlington County acquired the nearly 70-year-old warehouse and building at 2700 S. Nelson and 2701 S. Oakland streets — once the epicenter of the D.C. punk scene — in late 2021.

Deeming the building structurally unsound, the county decided to demolish it and build a flexible open space for arts programming. It aims to create an arts and industry district in Green Valley and make the arts more accessible in south Arlington.

The county approved a contract for demolition work last December and, at the time, work was expected to take 180 days and wrap up this summer. The surprise structural conditions have delayed the timeline several months and depleted the contingency budget down to $15,700, per a county report.

This weekend, the Arlington County Board is set to approve a $100,000 contract increase to cover “unforeseen conditions that are likely to be revealed” during the remaining work, the report says.

“Previously authorized contingency has been expended to implement structural modifications that were required due to unknown structural connections with adjoining buildings,” the report says. “The structural modifications have been resolved and demolition of the building is proceeding.”

If approved, the new funds will bring the total contract with Demolition Services, Inc. to nearly $547,750. Even with the contract increase, the overall budget for this project remains unchanged at $1,136,633, the report says.

Meantime, this August, the county released the final design plans for the new, temporary art space. It will be nestled among the Arlington Food Assistance Center and the Arlington Cultural Affairs building — now home to an outpost of Arlington Independent Media — and across from Jennie Dean Park.

A project webpage projects the space will be installed and open in 2024.

The designs take inspiration from Inner Ear Studios and nearby Four Mile Run, according to a video.

A plywood drum riser salvaged from Inner Ear Studios will sit atop a small outdoor stage, which has as a backdrop the corner of a wall saved from the original building.

“This small performance area serves as a monument to the creativity of the hundreds of local and national bands that recorded on this site from 1990 to 2021,” the video says. “Through a public workshop the wall will be decorated with wheatpasted print media including historical and cultural contributions from local communities and reprinted album covers from records recorded here.”

Thin blue and teal lines will criss-cross the pavement, evoking “a flowing river,” while string lights will serve as “gateways into the space,” the video says.

Lawns on either side of the small, Inner Ear-inspired stage will have outdoor sculptures and a mobile stage with a screen for movie projections. Planted berms and concrete blocks will provide a seating while a pergola will double as a shade structure and outdoor art gallery.

Inner Ear Studios has since relocated to the basement of owner Don Zientara’s Arlington house.

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Julia Franchi Scarselli announced her return home from high school one day calling out to her mom, or mamma, in a thick Italian accent.

She had just transferred from a class of 50 kids in a small British private school in Milan to the much larger Washington-Lee High School, now Washington-Liberty.

“I remember driving up to the school thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is an airport? Like, where did I land? I don’t know anybody,” Scarselli tells ARLnow.

Scarselli grew up in Milan with her father and Sara Gay Forden, who had spent two decades covering the fashion industry and luxury goods. This became fodder for her 2001 book “House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed” and the basis for the eponymous 2021 movie starring Jared Leto, Adam Driver and Lady Gaga.

Forden moved to Arlington to cover antitrust for Bloomberg in D.C., bringing Scarselli with her. The two clung to stateside vestiges of Italy when they were homesick, frequenting the Italian Store for wine and cheese and an Italian church in D.C. just to hear the language.

Scarselli struggled with her Italian and American halves, says Forden, but was quick to pick up cultural differences. Forden recalls that when her daughter burst home, saying mamma, she made the following observation:

“Americans, when they get an idea in their head, they just go for it in a straight line, bound and determined. Nothing will dissuade them until they reach their goal. Italians really know how to live.”

“Julia,” Forden replied, “if you figure out how to bring those two things into balance, you will figure out how to live.”

This balancing act has animated Scarselli’s career path and life since. It lead her to start an organic extra virgin olive oil company, Libellula, which bridges her American and Italian roots and maintains her Arlington ties.

Libellula olive oil bottle (courtesy photo)

Going to the roots

Libellula sells organic extra virgin olive oil produced by six Italian family farms, which use sustainable methods to preserve ancient olive groves threatened by climate change.

Customers can purchase gifts and subscriptions, adopt groves and take retreats where they can participate in the harvest, taste fresh-pressed olive oils and learn how to pair them.

Scarselli has been working on Libellula since she was a student at Smith College, though the brand officially launched a year and a half ago. Its U.S. warehouse, in Maine, has been a boon for the local economy, leading the Maine International Trade Center to recently name the company the Foreign Direct Investor of the Year.

Today, Scarselli oversees bringing oil to fine-food retail partners around the U.S. when not at her day job with the World Economic Forum in Geneva. Her father, who lives in a medieval town outside Rome, works with the farmers. She travels between Italy and the U.S. for work, taking time to visit her mom in Arlington.

“It’s like bringing together the best of both worlds: the Italian love for food and community and appreciation for culture and nature.. and the American desire to to seek those out,” she said. “I think there is no one like an American that can like pragmatically get stuff done, right?”

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BlerDCon, an annual convention with cosplay, gaming, anime and sci-fi events, is returning to Arlington this weekend.

The summer tradition for nerds, and particularly the event’s namesake Black nerds, or “blerds,” kicks off in Crystal City today (Friday). It will run from noon today until 3 p.m. on Sunday. Expect to see costumed crowds around the neighborhood throughout the weekend.

Tickets can be purchased online for the event, held at the Hyatt Regency at 2799 Richmond Hwy.

Actress Rachel True, who has appeared in “Beverly Hills 90210” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” will return to BlerDCon, after her last appearance at the convention in 2019. Voice actor and actress Cree Summer, who has spent a majority of her career working in animation, will also appear at this year’s BlerDCon, along with several other notable guests and cosplayers.

The event this year will honor art, literature, cosplay and media genres with its “Fae’d to Black” theme, the event’s website says.

The schedule includes everything from 2000s Disney Channel trivia to mental health discussions, highlighting common struggles shared among people of color.

While open to all, the convention aims to highlight sci-fi and fantasy fans in the LGBTQ and disability communities, as well as women, people of color and immigrants.

Last year’s convention drew a local headline after police were called for a man with a weapon, which turned out to be a cosplayer with a prop. Organizers have published policies regarding faux weaponry and cosplay that attendees are expected to follow for safety purposes.

Ticket reservations for a full weekend badge cost $70. There is also an option to purchase a badge valid for Saturday and Sunday for $55 as well as a badge available for Sunday only listed at $30. Children ages 10 and under can attend the event for free, accompanied by an adult.

Badges to get selfies, autographs, voice and video recordings from featured guests are available to purchase as well. Ticket reservations range from $10, for selfies or autographs, to $200 for a VIP ticket that includes giveaways, early access to BlerDCon 2024 events, free show entries and front row seats at qualifying events throughout the weekend.

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The annual furry convention Fur the ‘More is celebrating its 10-year anniversary with a time travel-themed extravaganza in Crystal City.

Fur the ‘More is scheduled to run from Friday, March 10 to Sunday, March 12, at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City at 2799 Richmond Hwy.

The convention features a vendor marketplace, a gaming room, dance competition, an art show, a parade and more — all based around the subculture of anthropomorphic animal characters. Each year, the convention has a theme, and the time travel theme celebrates the convention’s 10-year anniversary.

Like many conventions, Fur the ‘More often prominently features elaborate, full-body animal costumes, though many attendees in past years opt for more low-key animal themes like kigurumis or cat ears.

The convention also features an auction every year that raises money for a charity. This year it is raising money for The Frederick Center, an LGBTQ+ support and advocacy organization.

The basic tickets are $70, though those are prorated at $50 for Saturday and $35 for just Sunday.

For those staying at the hotel, it’s offering both a standard room block and a “noisy hotel block” for “you late night room partiers.”

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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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