Three years ago this month, Amazon started setting the stage for construction of the first phase of its second headquarters.
Since then, construction work has continued on-pace, with banners across the Pentagon City site, located at the corner of 13th Street S. and S. Eads Street, heralding a 2023 arrival.
Now that 2023 is here, an Amazon spokeswoman says work on the Metropolitan Park or “Met Park” phase of HQ2 — comprised of two office towers and a $14 million public park renovation — will wrap up in time to open this summer.
“Construction is well underway and nearing completion at Met Park,” says Hayley Richard. “We’re excited to open Met Park and start welcoming employees, neighbors, and visitors to our offices and public park spaces this summer. We will share a formal date and more updates in the coming months.”
In this phase, a block of warehouses were torn down and two LEED Platinum towers totalling 2.1 million square feet are being built in its place.
“Inside both towers, crews are working their way up the building installing signage, furniture, and floor paint,” Clark Construction said in an email last week.
Several local businesses will be moving into the 65,000 square feet of street-level retail: a daycare and a spa, Arlington’s second Conte’s Bike Shop, a slew of restaurants and cafés, and District Dogs. It’s unclear if RĀKO Coffee will still be moving in after the company’s first location closed and its goods were auctioned off.
Nearby, Amazon is also turning a large patch of grass south of 12th Street S. into a park with lush, meandering paths, dog areas and public art. The art installation — “Queen City” by Nekisha Durrett — pays tribute to the former Black community by the same name, which was located nearby before it was razed by the federal government to make way for the Pentagon. The structure’s reclaimed brick façade will highlight the area’s past as a hub for brick production.
“We have started placing exterior brick on the Nekisha art sculpture, and have added fencing and lighting around the daycare center, and begun laying stone pathways,” said Clark Construction, which also filmed a tour of the under-construction park.
The number of current HQ2 employees working from home or from leased office space in Crystal City remains somewhere above the 5,000 mark. In September this year, the tech company told ARLnow that it had assigned more than 5,000 employees to HQ2, after it was first announced in April that it had hired its 5,000th HQ2 employee. Some 28 jobs are currently posted on its job board for Arlington.
That puts Amazon one-fifth of its way toward its promise to bring 25,000 jobs to its second headquarters, in divisions ranging from web services to retail to Alexa.
Amazon and other tech companies such as ride-sharing platform Lyft are seeing their upward trajectory falter after years of accelerated growth during the pandemic. Like other companies, Amazon intends to lay off workers and pare back on spending. Some 18,000 employees could be let go in a cost-cutting effort targeting its corporate ranks, human resources, Alexa and retail.
When asked if these economic conditions were impacting hiring at HQ2, Richard demurred.
“Regarding your other questions, while I don’t have anything to share on that story, what I can tell you is that our long-term intention and commitment to the communities where we have a presence, like HQ2, remains unchanged,” she said.
An art installation in the shadow of the under-construction first phase of Amazon’s HQ2 is getting taller.
Last month, crews began laying the groundwork to build “Queen City” by Nekisha Durrett, per Clark Construction, the group building out the first phase, dubbed “Met Park” and located at the corner of 13th Street S. and S. Eads Street.
The tower, situated in the park south of 12th Street S., will pay tribute to the former Black community by the same name, which was located nearby before it was razed by the federal government to make way for the Pentagon.
“We are excited to give you a closer look at our progress over the last few weeks,” Clark Construction said in an email on Friday. “The structure is starting to take shape. The installation will stand approximately thirty-five feet tall, when complete.”
The structure’s reclaimed brick façade will highlight the area’s past as a hub for brick production, while park-goers will be able to explore its decorative interior.
Construction of “Queen City” is expected to deliver with the rest of Met Park in 2023, Richard said.
When asked about a timeline for completing the first phase of Amazon’s HQ2, Richard said, “We’ll share more information [about the opening] in the coming months.”
The structure will be located in Met Park’s forthcoming green space. There is disagreement, however, over what it should be named.
Survey respondents, area civic associations and the National Landing Business Improvement District voted to name the 2.5-acre green space “Met Park” — the old name for the grassy patch that Amazon is paying $14 million to revamp.
They voted for the name “Pen Place” for the park in the second phase of Amazon’s HQ2, also dubbed Pen Place.
A majority of members of the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board, however, recommend naming Met Park’s green space Elm Park and Pen Place’s, Fern Park.
The least popular options, both in the survey and in the HALRB meeting in August, were Goldfinch and Chickadee Park.
Meanwhile, Clark Construction reported that crews made “a lot of progress” on the park and surrounding buildings last month. In an update from Sept. 16, the company said crews poured concrete on the “overlook,” which is the highest walkable point inside the park.
“Rubber surfacing is being installed under playground equipment,” the email said. “Additionally, we recently received the first stone shipment for seat walls that will be featured along pathways throughout the park.”
This time last year, workers placed the timber first beam in Met Park’s event center and began pouring the 10th floor of concrete.
This summer, Amazon announced four additional local businesses, including two restaurants, to open at Amazon HQ2. The tech company celebrated the “topping out” of Met Park in March.
The tech giant has, at this point, assigned “more than 5,000 employees” to its HQ2, Amazon spokeswoman Hayley Richard told ARLnow yesterday (Monday). It was first announced in April that Amazon had hired its 5,000th HQ2 employee.
To kick off the new school year, Amazon donated more than $250,000 to Arlington Public Schools and two D.C.-area nonprofits addressing food insecurity, to open food pantries at a handful of public schools in Arlington.
The @ACHS_Key_Club members helping to restock the classroom bins of food from @FoodForNeighbor and @AmazonFresh @ACHSmavericks #serviceprojects pic.twitter.com/ZkjpdyIKGO
— Lara Macdonald (@LaraMacAPS) September 29, 2022
To address food insecurity in the @APSVirginia community, @AmazonFresh and @FoodForNeighbor are supporting our families by donating food and other essentials to brand new pantries in some of our schools. #APSisAwesome pic.twitter.com/rN7v6Q9VPu
— Arlington Public Schools (@APSVirginia) September 20, 2022
A towering remembrance of the former Black community of Queen City is slated to be included in an Amazon-funded park next to HQ2.
Arlington’s Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB) is set to review the proposed public art installation, from D.C. artist Nekisha Durrett, at its meeting tonight.
A presentation prepared for the meeting shows a 30 foot tall brick chimney stack, with the words “Queen City” written in brick, along the footpaths of the new Met Park in Pentagon City. The park is currently under construction after the County Board approved a $14 million, Amazon-funded renovation project two years ago.
The revamped park is expected to re-open at some point next year.
The proposed red brick structure, harkening back to the area’s past as a hub for brick production, will also include a decorative interior that park-goers will be able to freely enter.
Made with reclaimed bricks and illuminated by LED uplighting, the tower will seek to carry forward the legacy of the Black enclaves of Freedman’s Village and, more specifically, Queen City — two of several that dotted Arlington a century or more ago.
Freedman’s Village, founded on the former estate of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee during the Civil War, was closed by the federal government in 1900 and became part of Arlington National Cemetery. Queen City was founded nearby in response to the closure of Freedman’s Village.
But Queen City, too, would eventually be razed by the federal government — in 1942, to make way for the freeway network built around the newly-constructed Pentagon.
From the doctoral dissertation of Lindsey Bestebreurtje, Ph.D., a curator in the National Museum of African American History and Culture:
Together with the adjacent community of East Arlington, Queen City was located in south-eastern Arlington on flat land, prone to flooding from the nearby Potomac River, near several factories and along the Washington, Alexandria, and Mt. Vernon trolley line. Queen City was built around the Mt. Olive Baptist Church which had roots in Freedman’s Village. Saving one-fourth of an acre for the church, the remaining land was parceled into forty lots to be sold to church members leaving the Village. With small plots of 20 feet by 92 feet, this subdivision transformed the former farm land into a more dense and suburban environment. Many of the homes constructed by former residents of Freedman’s Village at this time were reminiscent of the simple clap-board houses they called home in the Village, making housing type another product of the Village’s diaspora.
By 1942 more than 200 working class families lived in modest but well-kept frame houses. Just as was the case in Freedman’s Village, where residents saw a thriving community, outsiders saw the black neighborhood as a ghetto. In January of 1942 construction began for the Pentagon’s road networks in the path of the communities. Properties were seized through [eminent] domain laws with modest payments. With this loss some community members left the area entirely, while other residents and institutions relocated to Arlington’s remaining black communities of Hall’s Hill, Johnson’s Hill, or Green Valley.
The dissertation notes that the destruction of the Queen City community was personally approved by the president at the time.
The Pike, a large-scale work of public art, is finally being installed this week at the southwest corner of Columbia Pike and S. Jefferson Street, near the county line bordering Fairfax.
On Wednesday morning, ARLnow saw the 50-foot-tall reclaimed wind turbine wing lying horizontally while waiting for a crane to raise it on an already-installed steel base dotted with thousands of coins from around the world.
Installation of "The Pike" by artist Donald Lipski has begun! The base of the sculpture is studded with thousands of coins from all over the world collected from Arlington County residents
Learn more: https://t.co/KSCYco8eli@columbiapikeva @StayArlington #arlingtonarts pic.twitter.com/CRaYAnoQ2a
— ArlingtonVA Arts (@ARL_Arts) May 24, 2022
The physical raising of the wind turbine onto the base is scheduled for later in the afternoon, said Jim Byers of Arlington Arts. The sculpture will be fully installed by the end of the week, Byers said, with no impact on traffic and “minimal” impact to pedestrian access. It will have “a slight ‘intrusion’ upon part of the sidewalk,” he noted.
An official ribbon cutting ceremony is set for the fall.
The intent of the artwork is to conjure images of a medieval spear known as a pike being repurposed into a toll gate, in a nod to Columbia Pike’s history as a toll road.
Embedded in the base is nearly 5,000 coins from 117 countries collected from county residents. The international currency is meant to reinforce Columbia Pike’s reputation for being a “world in a zip code.” The sculpture’s location near the border of the two counties is also supposed to serve as a symbolic “gateway.”
The concept was first conceived about a decade ago and construction began back in November.
The work of art was designed by Donald Lipski. He wanted to create something that stood out and united both ends of the county’s portion of Columbia Pike.
“I knew that I wanted to make something that was really vertical that you could see from far away,” he told ARLnow today, standing in front of the two pieces of the sculpture. “I also thought about book-ending the Air Force Memorial at the other end.”
He used wind turbines not simply because of their “beautiful shape” but because it’s a reminder of how we as a society need to shift over to more renewable resources. Using collected coins as decoration on the base was something Lipski has done before, but says it takes on special meaning here in Arlington due to the county’s international population.
“People could walk by here 20 years from now and say to their child, ‘Look, there are coins from Bolivia that I gave when you were just a little baby,’ Lipski says. “I love that.”
Back in 2017, when Lipski first debuted his design, there were some concerns around the public engagement process and the design. The Arlington Mill Civic Association expressed disappointment that they weren’t given ample opportunity to provide input into the design, despite assurances. Douglas Park Civic Association members said that tolls, gates, and blades didn’t make for proper neighborhood symbols.
“Recognizing Arlington Mill is the county’s most impoverished neighborhood, we firmly object to the implementation of any form of blade as representative of our community,” leaders wrote in a letter. “Further, turnpike gates are never welcoming. Their purpose and design is to stop traffic. They disrupt the flow. Surely this is not how Arlington County’s Southwestern Gateway should be depicted.”
The project also took close to a decade to come to fruition, a timeline that was “really long” compared to Lipski’s other projects.
Much of the delay had to do with the sculpture’s construction and installation being included as part of the Columbia Pike Multimodal Improvement Project, a multi-year series of street improvements and utility upgrades along the roadway that extends from the Fairfax County border to just before the Pentagon.
The total project cost for The Pike is about $360,000, according to a county public art budget document. That includes a developer contribution of about $60,000.
Lipski hopes that his art will become something of a county landmark.
“I love it when a piece of mine becomes something that’s part of people’s lives,” he says. “I know there will be people who live in Arlington and.. they’re coming home and they’ll see it and [say], ‘Oh, here we are. We’re home.'”
Planning for Fmr. Inner Ear Site — “Arlington Cultural Affairs is working with public art and placemaking firm Graham Projects to design a future arts space at 2700 S. Nelson Street/2701 S. Oakland Street in Green Valley, and we are looking for your inspiration and input. A flexible, outdoor open space is planned for the site, which will be designed following the planned demolition of the existing building this fall. In the meantime, we want YOUR thoughts and ideas!” [Arlington County]
Big Money for Growing Local Company — “Arlington’s Federated Wireless Inc. has raised an additional $14 million in a second closing of its latest round of funding — bringing the raise’s total to $72 million — as it looks to augment the private wireless market.” [Washington Business Journal]
Refugee Wins Reprieve in Court — “In a brief ruling from the bench that surprised both sides with its speed, Circuit Court Judge William T. Newman Jr. in December declared Khoy’s plea vacated. Khoy reached for her lawyer’s arm in disbelief. Was the nightmare really over?” [Washington Post]
Events to Mark Civic Association Anniversary — “The John M. Langston Citizens Association will celebrate the 85th Anniversary of the organization with a series of events during the weekend of May 13th through 15th. The Opening Program on Friday, May 13th at the Langston-Brown Community Center will feature recognition of the 28 plaintiffs from the Thompson v. Arlington School Board 1958 court case who were denied entrance to white schools, when the Stratford Four… were admitted on February 2, 1959.” [HallsHill.com]
SoberRide for Cinco de Mayo — “Offered by the nonprofit Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP), the 2022 Cinco de Mayo SoberRide® program will be in operation beginning at 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 5th (Cinco de Mayo) and operate until 4:00 a.m. on Friday, May 6th as a way to keep local roads safe from impaired drivers during this traditionally high-risk period.” [WRAP]
Circulator Strike Planned — “Fed up with a lack of progress in contract talks and unfair labor practices, the bus drivers for the DC Circulator, employed by RATP Dev, will be on strike tomorrow morning, Tuesday, May 3rd and will stay out until an agreement is reached.” [ATU Local 689]
It’s Tuesday — Partly sunny during the day, then a chance of showers and thunderstorms, mainly after 8 p.m. High of 75 and low of 56. Sunrise at 6:09 am and sunset at 8:04 pm. [Weather.gov]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
After nearly two decades and plenty of delays, the John Robinson, Jr. Town Square in Green Valley is finally ready for its grand opening next weekend.
The event to unveil the $5 million town square is set to take place on Saturday, May 7 at 2400 S. Shirlington Road. It will include a proclamation, remarks, and live entertainment, county spokesperson Ryan Hudson tells ARLnow.
The event will include a proclamation from the Arlington County Board, remarks from Green Valley residents and clergy from nearby places of worship, spoken word by local resident Velator, and ribbon cutting. Additionally, the day will feature live entertainment from DC Face and soloist Pat Brawley, food trucks (including BBQ At Its Best and Kona Ice), a make-and-take art project for kids, lawn games, and more.
The grand opening will also pay tribute to the town square’s namesake, John Robinson, Jr. A long-time organizer and civic leader, Robinson was known as the “Mayor of Green Valley.” He was also the publisher of a free neighborhood newspaper that circulated for 40 years.
“During his lifetime, John Robinson was the heart of the town square. He headquartered his activities to help the community — children, families and senior citizens — right in this spot,” Green Valley Civic Association president Portia Clark tells ARLnow. “It is only fitting that the opening ceremony celebrates John and what he meant to Green Valley.”
The public space was originally set to be named Nauck Town Square, but in 2020, the county approved the renaming in remembrance of Robinson, who died in 2012.
The square was designed by Walter Hood and will feature a plaza, open space, an outdoor stage, diagonal sidewalks, seating, tables, historical markers, and a work of public art.
The FREED sculpture is a 30-foot golden beacon that incorporates the name of a Green Valley subdivision and a Ghanaian Adinkra symbol.
The work of art “pays homage to the notion of freedom, whether experienced as a historical or contemporary and personal or collective condition,” according to the county website.
The town square’s layout and design was the topic of much discussion in the community. It was first approved way back in 2004.
It might now be an empty grassy space off of Columbia Pike, but in a few months this site will be home to a giant white spike that serves as a gateway to Arlington County.
Construction is set to begin at the southwest corner of Columbia Pike and S. Jefferson Street on The Pike, a large-scale piece of public art first commissioned nearly a decade ago. The sculpture is expected to be completed by the spring.
Foundation work is first up, beginning with surveying and site utility checks, Jim Byers of Arlington Cultural Affairs tells ARLnow.
Construction starts this week on foundation for @ARL_arts public art sculpture at Columbia Pike and S Jefferson. Most work will be 9am-4pm weekdays. Expect intermittent lane sidewalk closures. "The Pike" will be installed by spring. https://t.co/eNz0cKsC8Z pic.twitter.com/nsRqfagRhN
— Arlington Department of Environmental Services (@ArlingtonDES) November 15, 2021
To facilitate the work, there will be intermittent lane and sidewalk closures on both Columbia Pike and S. Jefferson Street. Construction will “generally” be between 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“Weather permitting, construction of the foundation is anticipated to be complete in December,” writes Byers.
After the completion of the foundation and a month-long concrete curing process, the sculpture itself will be installed. That’s expected to happen in early 2022.
The Pike will become part of the Arlington Public Arts’ permanent collection.
The sculpture is being made from a “reclaimed 50-foot tall wind turbine wing” and is supposed to represent a toll gate, in homage to when Columbia Pike was a toll road. The artwork’s location near the border of Arlington and Fairfax counties serves as a representative “gateway,” the county says.
The base of the sculpture will be studded with nearly 5,000 coins from all over the world, collected from county residents. The coins are another nod to Columbia Pike’s history as a toll road.
The Pike will also have lights around its base to illuminate it at night.
The sculpture was designed by Donald Lipski, who in 2017 explained he was inspired by wind turbines, toll gates, and the pike as a spear-like weapon.
“It’s just put up as this big beautiful thing. It’s a found object, it’s recycled, it’s emblematic of wind energy, it’s emblematic of a Pike, but one that’s vertical, one that’s in the open position and says, ‘Come on in. Everybody is welcome. You don’t have to pay a toll even though it used to be a Pike’,” Lipski said at a talk at the Columbia Pike Library at the time.
Back then, there were some objections to the process and design. The Arlington Mill Civic Association criticized the lack of public input and the Douglas Park Civic Association president noted that a blade and a toll gate were not great community representations.
Columbia Pike resident and ARLnow opinion columnist Chris Slatt, meanwhile, opined on Twitter that The Pike follows what appears to be the county’s preference for spikey, vertical sculptures which “would hurt King Kong if he stepped on it.”
See also: pic.twitter.com/7BItiHaq2F
— Chris Slatt (@alongthepike) November 15, 2021
The sculpture construction and installation has been included as part of the Columbia Pike Multimodal Improvement Project, a multi-year series of street improvements and utility upgrades along the entire stretch of roadway from the Fairfax border to just before the Pentagon.
The design, fabrication, and installation of The Pike is expected to cost about $250,000, writes Byers, “which is less than 1% of the total construction budget of $37 million for this portion of the Columbia Pike Multimodal Improvement Project.”
When the sculpture is completed next year, an celebration will be planned in coordination with the Columbia Pike Partnership.
Fundraiser for Man Killed in Crash — An online fundraiser for Stevan Zikic, the 26-year-old Alexandria man killed when he collided with a school bus while riding a motorcycle in Arlington’s Green Valley neighborhood, has raised nearly $35,000 for “overseas transportation and funeral costs.” [GoFundMe]
County Board Approved Pike Plan — “The County Board voted 5 to 0 to approve zoning updates that will help realize the vision of Columbia Pike as a walkable ‘Main Street’ by providing greater flexibility for commercial, office, light industrial, and agricultural uses–including animal boarding and craft beverage production — on ground floors along the Pike.” [Arlington County]
Public Art Plan OKed — “The Arlington County Board voted 5 to 0 today” — despite some last-minute opposition — “to approve an update to the Public Art Master Plan (PAMP) that will better serve placemaking efforts and improve the quality of public spaces around the County. The update, which is part of the County’s overall Comprehensive Plan, details the vision and guiding principles of public art in Arlington and sets priorities and themes centered around goals to integrate, expand, connect and engage through public art installations around the County.” [Arlington County]
Unhoused Taking Up Residence Under Bridge — “Eight months after the W&OD bicycle-pedestrian bridge opened at the Arlington-Falls Church border, members of our homeless population have gravitated there… I’m told by Kurt Larrick, assistant director of the Human Services Department. ‘Our outreach teams,’ which include PathForward volunteers, ‘are making regular visits.’ On Oct. 15, they spoke to two men sleeping at the base of a footing for the bridge. They didn’t seem interested in services now but agreed to discuss the possibility when reminded of the location’s vulnerabilities.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Beyer ‘Falling Short’ in Fundraising — “Let’s say you’re independently wealthy, well-regarded by most constituents (even from the opposition party) and occupy a district so reliably Democratic that the only way an incumbent could possibly lose the seat is via a scandal… What would you be doing? If you were U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th), you’d still be asking supporters to send you money.” [Sun Gazette]
Two Men Beaten in Crystal City Area — “Victim One was inside the business in line at the register behind the suspect, when the suspect allegedly turned around, struck him in the face, exited the business and verbally threatened him from outside. A short while later, Victim Two attempted to enter the business when the suspect, who was still standing outside, allegedly struck the victim in the back of the head with a blunt object before fleeing the scene on foot. Arriving officers located Victim Two outside of the business with a large laceration on the back of his head and administered aid until medics arrived on scene.” [ACPD]
Here Comes the Flu — From Virginia Hospital Center ER chief Mike Silverman’s latest social media post: “Our COVID isolation numbers in the ED have been pretty stable over the last 3 weeks. We’re better than a month ago but we continue to have a steady number of patients who require our COVID isolation protocol. Hospital wide, our inpatient census is up a touch from last week and our overall percent positive rate for the hospital is also up a bit. We are starting to see just a sprinkling of flu cases over the last month. It’s not too late to get your flu shot.” [Facebook]
It’s Monday — Today will be breezy and mostly sunny, with a high near 51. West wind 9 to 16 mph, with gusts as high as 32 mph. Sunrise at 6:51 a.m. and sunset at 4:54 p.m. Tomorrow will be mostly sunny, with a high near 53.
(Updated at 4:10 p.m.) A public art plan slated for consideration this weekend has angered some Green Valley residents, who say it essentially erases a portion of the historically Black community.
After multiple years of community engagement and study, county arts staff have drafted an update to the Arlington’s Public Art Master Plan (PAMP) — first adopted in 2004 — to reflect changing county values, such as equity and sustainability, and more modern public art practices. The updated strategy for bringing art into public spaces is slated for a County Board vote this Saturday.
“Public art will continue to be a timely and timeless resource, responding to current community priorities while creating a legacy of artworks and places that are socially inclusive and aesthetically diverse features of Arlington’s public realm,” the county wrote in a report about the updated plan.
But members of the Green Valley Civic Association are urging County Board members not to approve the updated plan without wording changes to the various references to their community.
“This master plan aims to nullify a historically Black community in Arlington,” they said in a letter to the County Board dated Nov. 1. “It is a painful and blatant attempt to suppress the Green Valley community and rewrite our historical narrative.”
Settled by free African-Americans in 1844, Green Valley — formerly known as Nauck — is one of Arlington’s oldest Black communities. Its borders are S. Arlington Mill Drive to the south, the Douglas Park neighborhood (and S. Walter Reed Drive) to the west, I-395 and Army-Navy Country Club to the east, and the Columbia Heights neighborhood to the north.
Geography and names comprise two chief concerns for residents, who take issue with the document’s use of the monicker “Four Mile Run Valley” to refer to an area north of Four Mile Run near Shirlington — much of which is actually part of the historic Black community.
The name “Four Mile Run Valley” started being used widely by the county in connection with a planning study that discussed the proposed creation of an “arts and industry district” in the area. But Green Valley residents are taking exception to the term being used instead of their neighborhood’s actual name.
“This is wholly incorrect and offensive,” the civic association said.
More from the letter:
The report defines a fictitious community of “Four Mile Run Valley.” This heretofore non-existent community is defined as running from the “north bank of the stream where the lower and upper reaches meet.”
It further, incorrectly states, that Shirlington Village is “on the south bank of Four Mile Run.” It is not. The northern border of Shirlington Village begins in the middle of Arlington Mill Drive.
The report states, “Green Valley is a historically African-American neighborhood to the north of Four Mile Run Valley.” This is wholly incorrect and offensive. Again, “Four Mile Run Valley” is a fictitious name created by county staff. It is not a location. The southern border to Green Valley begins in the middle of Arlington Mill Drive. To try to push the historic boundary of our community up the hill is unconscionable and disrespectful of what Green Valley means to Arlington.
Civic association president Portia Clark says this turn of phrase is part of a pattern of erasure.
“This isn’t the first time the county has tried to paper over Green Valley. Green Valley established in 1844 was rebranded Nauck in 1874, after a confederate soldier purchased land in our freed Black community,” Clark said. “We finally got our name back in 2019, only to find the county trying to discard us again. This time the county tried to hide the deed in the middle of a 200-page arts report.”
Just after publication of this article, county staff told ARLnow that some of the changes suggested by the civic association have been made.
The cement spheres of “Dark Star Park” in Rosslyn, the electric blue ribbon of “Dressed Up and Pinned” in Courthouse and the twin striped monoliths of “Echo” in the park at Penrose Square.
These are some of the roughly 70 permanent public art projects in Arlington, commissioned for county capital improvement projects, sponsored by developers or initiated by communities.
Made with cement, steel and stone, these permanent projects are built to last, such as “Dark Star Park,” installed in 1984. The focus on permanent art installations — in particular those integrated into large capital projects — is intentional, according to Arlington’s Public Art program, a subdivision of Arlington Economic Development’s Cultural Affairs division.
“For as long as you have me leading the program for Arlington County, you’re going to have someone fighting for the very difficult work of integrating public art into larger county capital projects,” Public Art Administrator Angela Adams said in a recent Planning Commission meeting. “It’s not the easy thing to do. Temporary public art is the easy thing to do. Murals are the easy thing to do. We don’t do murals: we assist the community to do their own murals.”
The county considers murals, which can last a few decades if maintained well, temporary public art. Most recently, the program provided assistance for the creation of the John M. Langston mural at Sport Fair by KaliQ Crosby.
The county’s emphasis on sculptures over murals and other temporary works received some pushback from Planning Commission members during a discussion about the county’s Public Art Master Plan, which is being updated to reflect modern times.
After multiple years of community engagement and study, arts staff drafted an update to the plan — first adopted in 2004 — that reached the County Board last Saturday. Members approved a request to advertise a public hearing on the updated document next month, ahead of a vote on whether to adopt it.
“It’s a strategy for how public art will improve the quality of our public spaces,” Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said during the meeting. “We each got briefed on this. I think it’s important.”
The Public Art program’s current emphasis on sculptures and other installations, like the lighted bridge over Route 50 near Courthouse and Corridor of Light in Rosslyn, prioritizes the permanent over the ephemeral, quality over quantity. But it also comes at a cost, often requiring significant funding and years of planning. Plus the artists with the reputation and know-how to create such art in many cases come from out of town.
By contrast, the public art one more commonly sees posted on social media these days are of the more temporary variety: Instagrammable murals and community-created installations. Cheaper and impermanent, such art has the possibility of being more ubiquitous around town and more reflective of the current moment and the local flavor. Such is the case with a mural unveiled over the summer in the Town of Vienna, a set of painted, social-media-ready butterfly wings designed by a graduate of a local high school.
Public art by the numbers
Since the 1970s, Arlington County and private developers have completed more than 100 permanent and temporary works of public art. But it wasn’t until 2004 that a systematic approach, called the Public Art Master Plan (PAMP), was codified.
More than 25 permanent projects have been completed or are in progress, while more than 30 temporary works have been commissioned or supported since the PAMP was adopted, the updated plan says. These are funded by county capital improvement funds and developer contributions to the Public Art Fund.
Developers have completed and commissioned more than 25 works to adorn their sites, Public Art program spokesman Jim Byers, Jr. said. Most developers (65%) contribute to the Public Art Fund, which has received 59 contributions since 2004 and today maintains a balance of $3 million, he said.
Their coffers go a long way, Byers said, as “developer and partner funding leverages the county Public Art funding by nearly 25:1.”
Out with the old, in with the new
Despite its successes, the PAMP update says the county’s public art approach needed a fresh coat of paint “to support the County’s civic engagement, planning, economic development and placemaking.”
Among other new priorities, the new plan emphasizes audience development and engagement and equity, and identifies two new priority corridors: Langston Blvd and the Potomac Riverfront. The existing priority corridors are Rosslyn-Ballston, Richmond Highway, Columbia Pike and Four Mile Run.
Audience engagement is a priority because residents seem to know little about the program, the plan admits. It calls for more programming to engage folks and more accessible information about projects.
“One of the things the research showed is that the Arlington community is not fully aware of the breadth of the County’s public art resources,” the PAMP continues. “It is important not only to commission new works, but also to find ways to keep existing artworks fresh in people’s minds.”
(Updated 9:20 a.m.) A Dominion Energy substation under renovation near Crystal City is set to electrify the neighborhood with an artistic façade.
The energy provider is expanding and remodeling its substation at the intersection of S. Hayes Street and S. Fern Street to meet the increasing demand for electricity as the population in the National Landing area — and Amazon’s nearby HQ2 — grows. It obtained the extra land needed for the expansion a year ago through an agreement with the County Board.
As part of the renovation, Dominion will be adding public art to one building face — “inVisible” by California-based artist Elena Manferdini — and building a public plaza.
Manferdini’s energetic design features vibrant ceramic tiles interacting with grayscale panels that extend toward the sky. But it’s a big departure from the “cloud concept” Dominion chose last year in response to community feedback.
Her livelier proposal proved polarizing. While well-received by Dominion — and approved by the Arlington County Public Art Committee in March — reactions during last month’s Arlington Ridge Civic Association meeting were negatively charged for two reasons, says one attendee.
“1) Although the good intention to keep the building from being bland was well understood by the attendees, the artwork seemed too ‘busy’ for them, and 2) the artwork is being done by a non-local artist,” Tina Ghiladi said in an email. “At best, some reactions were neutral, because the substation is not in Arlington Ridge nor within our line of sight.”
Dominion Energy spokeswoman Peggy Fox says Manferdini, an award-winning artist with two decades of experience, was chosen on the strength of her proposal.
“We were hopeful to find a local artist for this project,” Fox said. “However, Elena proved to be the superior candidate by listening to both the desires of the community and representing the function of a substation and its ‘invisible’ importance in the community. It was clear she did her homework and drew inspiration from both angles. Elena (and her design ‘inVisible’) was chosen because she was the best candidate for this job.”
Manferdini describes her project as a representation of the unseen force of electricity and an invitation to the audience to question their relationship to it.
“Every day, we are surrounded by one of the most important innovations of all time, electricity,” she said in a March meeting. “Its energy powers every area of our modern lives. And yet we can’t see it. Like gravity, electricity is an invisible force we only recognize when it acts upon other objects.”
Ghiladi says some negative reaction softened when Dominion explained her vision and that she was selected “because of her experience in, and passion for, the subject.” Overall, neighbors like the other changes, she says.
“The members were positive/supportive about all other aspects of the project, namely improving our power network, as well as the removal of the lattice roof,” she said.