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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

File photo

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The legacy of Arlington’s Fire Station No. 8, and how to honor it, will be the subject of a community discussion this weekend.

The event is scheduled from 3-4:45 p.m. on Saturday (April 14) at the Arlington Central Library auditorium (1015 N. Quincy Street).

During segregation Fire Station No. 8 was the only Arlington station staffed by African Americans.

The Fire Station 8 History and Legacy working group is hosting the discussion, “to share memories, perspectives and ideas on how to recognize, emphasize and honor the history and legacy of the Hall’s Hill/High View Park Volunteer Fire Department and Fire Station No. 8,” according to an Eventbrite page.

The group is due to submit recommendations for ways to honor the fire station’s legacy by late May.

A new, four-bay station is set to be built at 4845 Lee Highway, where the existing Fire Station No. 8 stands. The design process is scheduled to begin this summer.

Photo via Arlington County 

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For the first time in its decade-long history, the National Chamber Ensemble will play concerts at venues other than Rosslyn’s Spectrum Theatre (1611 N. Kent Street), starting next month.

Arlington Cultural Affairs Division director Michelle Isabelle-Stark said the county’s lease on the theater expired in July, and they took “immediate steps” to help find new spaces in which the group can perform.

So instead of performing at the theater, which it has done since its founding in 2007, the NCE will perform its five 2017-2018 season concerts at the Gunston Arts Center (2700 S. Lang Street) and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington (4444 Arlington Blvd).

The ensemble performs chamber music — classical music composed for a small group of instruments in a more intimate setting.

NCE’s season of concerts begins on Saturday, October 14 at Gunston Arts Center with a program called, “Night in the Garden of Spain” featuring a celebration of Spanish classical music and dance.

For NCE leaders, finding space similar to the Spectrum proved challenging.

“It was hard to find a space comparable to the Spectrum, because the Spectrum is a perfect size for chamber music,” said NCE artistic director Leo Sushansky. “Most of the other auditoriums in Arlington, they’re very large school auditoriums. So the Gunston Arts Center is probably the closest to the Spectrum in size, but it was only available for two concerts.”

The Spectrum Theatre is set to be torn down during the first phase of the Rosslyn Plaza Project along with two apartment buildings and four office buildings.

In its place would be 2.5 million square feet of space across five buildings, including 1.8 million square feet of office, 550 residential units, 200 hotel rooms and 45,000 square feet of retail space. And the space once occupied by Artisphere in the same building is set to be a co-working space, opening this fall.

But Sushansky said while having to play in new venues incurs extra costs from rentals, transporting instruments and the like, it will help them show off their talents to more people.

“I’m hoping it’ll bring us into different neighborhoods, bring attention to a different audience,” he said. “It will help bring about some interesting collaborations.”

But the closure of the Spectrum left Sushansky to bemoan the lack of dedicated performance spaces in Arlington outside of the county’s schools.

“The county has been very supportive all these years, and they continue to be so,” he said. “It’s just there’s a problem in Arlington with not enough performance spaces. There’s really no concert hall in Arlington. The Spectrum was the only one. Now that has gone and all that are left are school auditoriums.”

Isabelle-Stark said that such groups can be creative with their venue choices, as it gives them different environments to perform in and introduces their work to more people.

“As they say when one door closes another one opens,” she said. “[Alternative] venues for performance, such as churches, shopping malls, and airports, to name a few, provide opportunities for performers to stretch creatively and cultivate new audiences.”

Photo No. 1: courtesy photo. Photo No. 3 via Google Maps.

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Back in the 1970s, Clarendon was known as Little Saigon, a hotbed of Vietnamese businesses. Now, only a few holdovers remain.

Reminders of Clarendon’s Little Saigon past continues to fade. Minh’s Vietnamese Restaurant, a favorite of some foodies, closed last month. While newer Vietnamese restaurants have opened recently — Four Sisters Grill in Clarendon, Pho Deluxe in Courthouse — there’s no denying that the character of Clarendon has changed significantly over the past decade.

The original reason for the disappearance of most of the original Vietnamese businesses in Clarendon was the construction of Metro’s Orange Line up Wilson Blvd. After the Clarendon station opened in 1979, the neighborhood started to be redeveloped and rent prices skyrocketed. Before the Metro expansion, real estate rental costs were as low as $1.50-$5.00 per square foot. After its opening, prices rose as high as $25-$30 per square foot in some buildings.

The construction of Metro was another contributor. Many businesses fled Clarendon because they thought the construction would deter potential customers. By the 1990s, much of the Vietnamese community had left Clarendon en masse for Falls Church and the Eden Center.

Out of the dozens of Vietnamese businesses that once existed in Clarendon, one restaurant has remained over the past few decades: Nam-Viet. The restaurant has been family owned and operated since the 1980s and it continues to attract loyal customers to its slightly off-the-beaten path location on N. Hudson Street, not far from the CVS Pharmacy and Don Tito.

The restaurant has hosted well-known public figures like Bill Clinton and for years, it hosted an annual Tet dinner honoring American prisoners of war from the Vietnam War.

The restaurant’s new manager, Richard Nguyen, has witnessed a lot of changes after growing up in the area helping to run the Nam-Viet with his parents.

“Clarendon has gone through many metamorphoses,” he said. “It used to be a general collection of small businesses to newer commercial shops opening. I remember growing up there was a flea market where Northside Social is. It’s gotten younger, but  at the same time the residents have gotten older and aged with us. Regardless of the change they’ve embraced Arlington as home especially the natives of Arlington.”

Richard remains optimistic for the future Vietnamese restaurants.

“I think Vietnamese restaurants are here to stay they just have to stick to traditions and keep to culture as much as they can,” he said.

Video by Omar DeBrew. Some photos in the video were sourced from Arlington’s Echoes of Little Saigon Project.

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