Arlington arts organizations may have lost as much as $10 million in 2020 due to the pandemic, but they were able to get by with help from friends of the arts.
Many arts groups in the county reported losing 41-60% of their expected income, according to Embracing Arlington Arts, a group of local residents who work toward bolstering the arts in the county. But the arts organizations survived on a combination of government and private grants, generous locals and virtual performances.
“Most arts groups had no earned revenue,” said Janet Kopenhaver, the founder of Embracing Arlington Arts. “While they were offering these virtual things, you can’t charge what you would normally charge for a ticket. You had to depend on your donors and the donors came through.”
The National Chamber Ensemble, which sold season tickets for virtual concerts, said Zoom and donations from patrons helped the group stay in tune.
“We had wine and cheese receptions over Zoom with the audience,” said the ensemble’s artistic director and first violinist Leo Sushansky. “Everything balanced each other out because virtually a whole family could watch with one ticket, but people who didn’t live nearby like in England or New York could attend performances also.”
Arlington-based Synetic Theatre’s Managing Director Jason Najjoum said the theater also received generous donations.
“Our individual donors continued or increased their support, which says as much about the work we do as the Northern Virginia/Greater Washington community we call home,” Najjoum said. “We were able to keep our staff fully employed, and even added a couple of team members.”
Groups accessed the county’s annual arts grant program, small business grants from the county, and the more-competitive state and federal arts grants funding, Kopenhaver said. Arts groups could also cash in on federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans.
Najjoum said Synetic relied heavily on PPP funding to create a custom streaming website and app.
“None of this would have been possible without significant government support,” he said. “It was hard won by countless lobbyists and advocates, but the local, state and federal government really stepped up and provided the support we needed.”
Amazon contributed too, donating to several area arts organizations, including Synetic.
“We were able to support the acutely affected freelance arts worker class through an artist relief program that provided $60,000 in support to 32 arts workers,” noted Najjoum.
But artists are still uncertain about what the future holds for them in Arlington.
“The question remains: with government support ending, will ticket sales come back strong enough to replace it, especially given that our upfront production expenses will also be up? Producing theater has always been very expensive,” he said. “This will only work at the bottom line if audiences and donors increase their support going forward.”
Although many arts organizations weathered the shutdowns, a perennial issue facing these groups has resurfaced: space.
“We need a cultural center — a vibrant, busy venue. It would be a game changer,” said Kopenhaver. “We are losing arts groups because of lack of venue. It’s a critical issue.”
A few have already left because they cannot perform in middle schools, which she said is where most perform — away from transit, restaurants and other walkable amenities.
Embracing Arlington Arts is working with developers to create a flexible space in an area with more amenities that can accommodate arts audiences.
“We fear, if the venues keep dwindling, there will be nowhere to perform,” Kopenhaver said. “At a middle school you can’t have receptions, you can’t have alcohol, you can’t have talk backs, which are becoming popular, because the janitors are kicking you out.”
On top of that, the child-sized restrooms are uncomfortable for the patrons, many of whom are retirees, she said.
Synetic’s venue in Crystal City has been in high demand during the pandemic, and has been used for church services, film shoots and pageants, said Najjoum. But with more performances, Synetic needs its space back.
Meanwhile, the National Chamber Ensemble has been out of a concert hall for four years, after the county-run Rosslyn Spectrum (part of the now-defunct Artisphere) was closed to the public. The ensemble now performs at Gunston Arts Center or the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, along with other performing arts organizations.
When the pandemic hit, and those venues shut down, Sushansky said patrons opened up their homes.
“We went to the private homes of our patrons and these people had marvelous instruments,” he said. Still, he added, “it would certainly be nice to have our own space. It has to be a collaboration of the county.”
And COVID-19 remains a persistent threat.
Following the lead of Broadway theaters and other local D.C. arts venues, Synetic will require proof of full vaccination, either physically or digitally, or a negative PCR test, for the rest of the year. Audiences will have to wear masks at all times, except while eating or drinking. It will continue streaming its performances.
The National Chamber Ensemble is waiting to see the guidance closer to the start of the season on Nov. 6. Sushansky said he delayed the opening in hopes that coronavirus cases will go down. He says he’s eager to resume in person concerts again, but will retain the virtual option for those who are still not comfortable coming out.
“I wanted to create something for my community, so I can’t wait for communication in-person to resume,” he said. “It’s really special performing for the Arlington audience.”
The following is a round-up of upcoming shows from local arts organizations, organized by the type of performance.
YHS Lax, Other Teams Cap off Stellar Seasons — “The spring sports season was a busy and successful time, maybe the most accomplished ever, for high-school varsity teams and individuals in Arlington County, with many winning various championships. That spring campaign ended this weekend with some Virginia High School League Class 6 state championship games. One contest included the undefeated Yorktown Patriots in the boys lacrosse title match, which they won.” [Sun Gazette, Washington Post]
Neighborhood Leaders Don’t Like Route 1 Plan — “A coalition of civic associations representing surrounding neighborhoods suggests that a pending Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) report on improvements in the Route 1 corridor could turn out to be an ‘epic fail’ that does not address key issues. As a result, leaders of the organizations are urging the Arlington County Board to ask VDOT to go back to the drawing board and consider their concerns.” [Sun Gazette]
A Bro Ode to Whitlow’s — “It’s the final few nights for Whitlow’s on Wilson, the venerable Clarendon bar where, for 26 years, 20-somethings have come to drink cheap beer and try to get lucky. This is concentrated Clarendon. Pure, unadulterated, un-adult Clarendon, a teeming room of recent grads absolutely wilding out after a year of epidemiological confinement.” [Washington Post, YouTube]
Long-Time Whitlow’s Patrons Bid Farewell — “As the days dwindled to hours before the closure of Whitlow’s on Wilson, some of those who had been patrons and boosters of the iconic Clarendon restaurant and watering hole gathered June 25 for one last hurrah.” [Sun Gazette]
ACFD Now Publishing Response Stats — “Check in each Monday to see our #Weekly Incident Summary, highlighting the total emergency incidents #ACFD responded to overall as well as by category. Last week our members handled over 600 calls for service!” [Twitter]
Amazon Funds Synetic Theater Initiative — “This spring, Isaac’s school gave students art kits through an Amazon.com Inc.-funded program called smARTies Art-in-a-Box, designed to jump the digital access gap. The box included a flat piece of cardboard student artists could fold to make a stage and blank puppet characters for decoration. The idea came from Synetic Theater, an arts and theater organization based in Crystal City.” [Washington Business Journal]
County Launching Race Conversations — “Today, Arlington County launched a new effort to address racial equity and disparities in our community. Called Dialogues on Race and Equity (DRE), the effort is part of the County’s broader commitment to racial equity… DRE will include a series of virtual community conversations with individuals, nonprofit organizations, civic associations, faith organizations, and businesses.” [Arlington County]
Local Nurses Hold Food Drive — “Nurses at the Virginia [Hospital] Center are going above and beyond to give back to the local community… Nurses launched the ‘Together We Can’ campaign where they collected canned goods. All together, they collected 10,000 cans and donated them directly to the food assistance center.” [WJLA]
Virtual 5K for Local Nonprofits — “A coalition of three homeless-outreach organizations – Community Lodgings, Bridges to Independence and Homestretch – will be hosting their third annual 5K “Home Run for the Homeless” in a different format this year. Rather than running as a group on the Washington & Old Dominion Regional Trail this year, participants will be able to run where they choose anytime from Oct. 10 (which is designated World Homeless Day) to Oct. 31.” [InsideNova]
Penthouse Sold in New Rosslyn Tower — “The sales team for Pierce announced strong early sales for The Highlands‘ luxury condominium tower… Strong early interest in Pierce has resulted in over $18.7 million in sales by The Mayhood Company since launching sales in August, including the sale of one of two top-of-the-market penthouse residences.” [Press Release]
Theater Holding Virtual Halloween Event — “Synetic Theater will hold its annual ‘Vampire Ball’ in a ‘virtual’ setting this year, with participants enjoying the festivities ‘from the comfort of your own crypt.’ The event will be held on Friday, Oct. 30 from 8 to 10 p.m.” [InsideNova]
This column is written and sponsored by Arlington Arts/Arlington Cultural Affairs, a division of Arlington Economic Development.
The COVID-19 pandemic has required almost every industry to reassess, revamp and reset.
This is especially true of the performing arts, historically predicated on both an artistic and economic transaction between artist and audience. As Arlington Arts has been documenting, Arlington’s cultural community has responded quickly and energetically.
Arlington’s Synetic Theater presents a digital adaptation of Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron, a collection of novellas written in Italy in response to The Black Plague of 1347-1351. For each day through July 20, short filmed vignettes were released in groups of three. All content will remain available to stream through the end of July. Watch at your own pace, with a range of affordable pay-what-you-can ticket options.
The Decameron is a collection of novellas that celebrates the human impulse to connect through storytelling in a time of despair and isolation. The book is structured as a collection of 100 tales told by a group of young people sheltering in a secluded villa just outside Florence to escape the epidemic. The tales the group tells each other in The Decameron range from life lessons and tongue-in-cheek commentary, to erotic and tragic love stories.
Have more questions? That’s understandable in this new paradigm, so Synetic has created a page of FAQ to guide you through this virtual theater experience. For tickets and information, visit the Synetic Theater website!
Fox News in Arlington — “An apparently news-starved fox has taken matters into its own paws and has been spotted stealing copies of the Post from the porches of unsuspecting Arlington residents.” [Washingtonian]
In-Person Census Visits Starting — “To achieve a complete count, Census Takers will begin conducting home interviews. Starting the week of July 20 — nearly three weeks before the nationwide August 11 launch date — Census Takers will be visiting homes in Arlington, including an estimated 27,000 households that have not yet responded to the 2020 Census.” [Arlington County]
Longtime Local Mail Carrier Dies — Jesus and Luz Collazos “immigrated to the United States and settled in Arlington, Va., where he spent 25 years as a postal worker. They raised a family in a home he bought after admiring it on his delivery route. On June 6, about a year into his retirement, he died of covid-19 at 67.” [Washington Post]
Should Route 29 Become John Lewis Highway? — One idea for the renaming of Lee Highway: name it after Rep. John Lewis, who died Friday. The civil rights leader grew up in Troy, Alabama, for which U.S. Route 29 is the main street. The highway also runs through his congressional district in Georgia. [Twitter]
Deer Rescued from Church Basement — “A huge thank you to Animal Services officers Schindler and D’Eramo from Humane Rescue Alliance for jumping in late last night to help our AWLA officers Ballena and Rose rescue a young deer.” [Facebook]
Synetic’s ‘The Decameron’ Project — “The Decameron, a series of 14th century Italian novellas about surviving the Black Death, is enjoying a surprising renaissance during the current coronavirus crisis… Now, Crystal City’s Synetic Theater, a physical theater troupe that specializes in literary adaptations, usually relying on music and movement to tell stories rather than spoken dialogue, has created a Decameron of its own.” [Washington City Paper]
Flickr pool photo by Michael Coffman
Special Election Voting Today — Voting is underway in the three-way special election to fill the late Erik Gutshall’s County Board seat. Polls are open from 6 a.m.-7 p.m. The candidates are Takis Karantonis, Susan Cunningham and Bob Cambridge. “Don’t forget your photo ID, ballpoint pen, and face mask,” Arlington’s election office said this morning in a tweet. [Twitter]
No Incentive Payments for Amazon This Year — “Amazon.com Inc. won’t receive any direct cash payments from Arlington County, this year at least, for its HQ2 office leases… because Amazon’s incentive payments are tied to Arlington’s tourism industry. And many rooms remain empty to this day.” [Washington Business Journal]
APS Working to Offer Free Internet Service — “In May, the Arlington County Board allocated $500,000 of funding for a joint County/School Internet Essentials Grant Program to provide broadband internet access to APS students in need. The grant, allocated as part of the federal [CARES] Act, will provide free, high-speed internet access to low-income families who qualify for Internet Essentials from Comcast. Arlington is the first community in Virginia to partner with Comcast to offer free broadband services to students and their families.” [Arlington Public Schools]
Flying Squirrel Rescued from Chimney — From the Animal Welfare League of Arlington: “This little flying squirrel had been stuck in a local resident’s chimney since Saturday, but thankfully, Sgt Ballena was able to remove him and release him safely nearby!” [Twitter]
Synetic Organizing Joint Fundraiser — “Synetic Theater has partnered with the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) to raise $20,000 during the month of July to be split evenly between the organizations. This partnership was initiated by Synetic Theater to help fulfil the company’s desire to invest in their local community while they are unable to host live performances at their Crystal City/National Landing theater space.” [Press Release]
Interview With New Poet Laureate — “When Hollynd Karapetkova learned that she had been selected as Arlington County’s poet laureate, she saw it as a wonderful piece of good news and positive recognition at a time when everything in the world seemed so chaotic. ‘I’m really grateful that Arlington has gone ahead with this program in spite of all the chaos that’s unfolding,’ she said.” [Patch]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman
Ballston Macy’s Property for Sale — “The Macy’s department store in Ballston is being offered for sale and possible redevelopment as the national retailer moves forward with plans to close underperforming locations across the country. Cushman & Wakefield recently began marketing the store at 685-701 N. Glebe Road to buyers on the company’s behalf.” [Washington Business Journal]
Arlington Firms in Fortune List — Five Arlington-based companies are in the latest Fortune 1000 list of the largest companies in the U.S., including: AES (#310), CACI International (#549), E*Trade Financial (#755), Graham Holdings (#795) and AvalonBay Communities (#912). Amazon, which is building its second headquarters in Arlington, is #2. [Fortune]
More Millions for Snag — “Snag Holdings Inc., the Arlington parent company of hourly jobs board Snag, has raised $8 million in new funding, according to a new Securities and Exchange Commission filing… The company had raised about $10 million in debt funding in February 2019 and has raised a total of about $141 million over its lifetime.” [Washington Business Journal]
Synetic Pivots to Plague Play — “Synetic Theater’s final production of the 2019-20 season will feature a work that may be more than 650 years old, but has a certain resonance in the modern day… Written in Italy in response to The Black Plague of 1347-51, ‘The Decameron’ is structured as a collection of 100 tales told by a group of young people sheltering in a secluded villa just outside Florence to escape the pandemic.” [InsideNova]
Pentagon Officer Back Home After COVID Battle — “Patrick Bright is one of the most grateful people in the D.C. region tonight. He’s home from the hospital after a grueling six weeks fighting COVID-19… Friday’s homecoming was enough to inspire a hearty greeting from a convoy of Pentagon police officers who welcomed Bright — one of their own — home.” [Fox 5]
Emergency Power Proclamation Modified — “County Board members this week are expected to adopt an updated proclamation of a community emergency.” The new proclamation removes “a provision that potentially would have shunted aside the county government’s Long Range Planning Committee and various review committees that consider the implications of new development.” [InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by Mrs. Gemstone
The theater signed a lease extension for its space at 1800 S. Bell Street through “late 2022,” according to a press release from property owner JBG Smith.
The building is one of several in the neighborhood that will likely become home to Amazon’s new headquarters in Arlington, and JBG told the theater’s staff last summer that this season would be its last in the 12,000-square-foot underground space. The developer is planning a host of renovations to the building ahead of Amazon’s arrival, and could even redevelop it entirely once Amazon’s employees move to office space that the company plans to build in Pentagon City.
But it seems JBG and the theater were able to work out an arrangement for Synetic to stay put, at least temporarily. The theater has called the space home since 2010.
“Synetic Theater has been one of National Landing’s leading cultural organizations for nearly a decade, and this agreement ensures that the theater’s work will continue to enrich and inspire the community for years to come,” JBG Smith Executive Vice President Andrew VanHorn said in a statement.
Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili founded Synetic in 1996, but the S. Bell Street space was the theater’s first permanent home. It’s one of a dwindling number of performing arts space left in the county, and arts advocates had initially been quite concerned that the rising real estate prices driven by Amazon’s arrival would force Synetic to go elsewhere.
“We are excited for Synetic Theater’s role in the future of National Landing,” Paata Tsikurishvili said in a statement, using the moniker crafted for the Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard area. “As we continue to captivate audiences from our long-time home at 1800 S. Bell Street, our hope is to be a source of enjoyment to both current residents and those who will be joining National Landing.”
The fate of other businesses in the underground Crystal City Shops is a bit unclear — previous reports have suggested that many have fled the development recently, and others have seen business stagnate.
But the entire area is set to see a host of changes in the coming months, from JBG’s new “Central District” redevelopment project to its efforts to transform an empty office building at 1900 Crystal Drive into new mixed-use space.
Arlington’s Former Row House Ban — Responding to complaints from community leaders who “hoped to preserve Arlington’s then-suburban character,” Arlington County changed its zoning ordinance to ban row houses in 1938. That decision is one factor in the area’s “dramatic undersupply of missing middle housing.” [Greater Greater Washington]
Police Still Searching for Sex Assault Suspect — Arlington County Police are still looking for a man who posed as a maintenance worker and sexually assaulted a woman in her Rosslyn condominium on May 7. “This investigation remains a top priority of the department and detectives continue to follow-up on significant investigative leads,” ACPD said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “Police continue to ask that anyone with information on the identity of the suspect or details surrounding this investigation call 703-228-5050.” [Arlington County]
Review of Synetic’s ‘Hunchback’ — “‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’ gives a hyper-creative Washington group a source for one of its most beautifully realized productions,” theater critic Peter Marks writes of the new Synetic Theater production in Crystal City, which runs through June 11. [Washington Post]
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
Four of the five candidates for County Board argued that county government must be easier for small businesses to navigate in order to better encourage economic growth.
With less than two weeks to go until the start of the local Democratic Party’s caucus to determine its nominee, tax relief and helping new businesses were high on the agenda at a forum hosted last night by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce at Synetic Theater in Crystal City.
Peter Fallon said county staff must be less “zealous” in enforcing rules and become more focused on customer service, while Erik Gutshall argued for a wider culture change in county government.
“When you’re that zealous, you don’t have the flexibility of thinking about what you’re trying to do,” Fallon said.
“The culture of ‘get to yes’ doesn’t exist because it doesn’t have a champion,” said Gutshall. “And I want to be that champion.”
Independent Audrey Clement, on the campaign trail ahead of November’s general election in the race to replace retiring Board chair Jay Fisette, said the best way to help small business is to cut taxes.
She criticized the recent 1.5-cent hike in property taxes, and accused the County Board of “basically hoarding money” by keeping tens of millions of dollars in cash reserves.
Clement added that the Board was “bamboozled” on raising taxes by County Manager Mark Schwartz, who was directed to provide a series of budget cuts to halve his proposed tax rate increase from two cents to one.
The cuts to a variety of neighborhood and other programs brought out droves of local residents to oppose them, and the County Board backed off.
Kim Klingler, a Democratic candidate, said putting those 24 projects on the table for cuts was a mistake given their direct impacts on the community.
“That makes it really hard when you have 24 lightning-rods on the table, and then have to talk about cutting taxes,” she said.
Candidates also said that the County Board should do a better job of ensuring residents’ concerns about development are heard, and that decisions on new projects are not, as Gutshall put it, “baked in.”
“If residents are going to participate in the ‘Arlington Way,’ we need to make sure they are heard, and they have clear expectations set for them,” said Klingler.
In Vivek Patil’s absence, his campaign manager Nathan Saxman read a prepared statement arguing for a “green and clean tech economy” focused on innovation and new industries.
“This is an economic model that places Arlington at the epicenter of job creation in the commonwealth,” said Saxman.
The four Democratic candidates will debate next Wednesday at the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s monthly meeting, ahead of May’s caucus.
Sun Gazette Moving HQ to Falls Church — The Sun Gazette newspaper is moving its headquarters from McLean to the city of Falls Church. The paper, which has an Arlington edition and a McLean/Great Falls/Vienna/Oakton edition, has previously, under its current editor, had its headquarters in Dunn Loring, Alexandria and Springfield. [InsideNova]
Review of Synetic’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’ — Crystal City-based physical theater company Synetic is performing its unique take on “Sleeping Beauty” through Jan. 8. It has received a laudatory review from Broadway World. “Every mimed motion, from a butterfly alighting on a hand to that fated spinning wheel wound, is flawlessly executed and transports audiences to a place beyond imagination,” the publication wrote. [Broadway World]
Children of Inmates Receive Gifts — The annual “Project Christmas Angel” initiative has distributed more than 1,100 gifts this year to nearly 400 children whose parents will be locked up in the Arlington County jail or in state prisons over the holidays. The project also supports kids who have a parent that was recently released from incarceration. [InsideNova]
Final ‘Around Arlington’ of 2016 — The final episode of the county-produced Around Arlington television segment features updates on the Four Mile Run Valley initiative, humanitarian award winners and plans for 2017. [YouTube]