Press Club

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.”

Challenges ahead 

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.

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Morning Notes

Park Upgrades Approved — At its meeting last night, the Arlington County Board approved contracts that will “upgrade the playgrounds and picnic shelter at Oakgrove Park and add a restroom/picnic pavilion and futsal court at Tyrol Hills Park.” The contracts total around $1.7 million. [Arlington County]

TJ Construction to Take Away Theater Parking — Construction of a new elementary school next to the Thomas Jefferson community center and middle school will mean a loss of parking for the community theater used by a number of local performing arts troupes. Those troupes, including The Arlington Players and Ballet Nova, will now have to decide whether to relocate to another community theater or stay and deal with the lack of parking. [InsideNova]

New Location for Children’s School Approved — Last night the Arlington County Board unanimously approved a site plan amendment allowing the Children’s School, a co-op child care center for Arlington Public School employees, to occupy two floors of a Ballston office building. The center is moving from an APS-owned building in Westover to make way for what’s expected to be a new elementary school. Some Ballston condominium residents expressed concerns about the child care center, primarily related to traffic; County Board member Christian Dorsey pointed out that the space it’s moving into was formerly used by a for-profit college. [Arlington County]

Ballston Profiled by WaPo — “With an array of amenities, it’s easy to see why Ballston is one of the area’s hottest markets,” says a real estate-focused profile of the neighborhood. [Washington Post]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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Morning Notes

Glencarlyn forest (Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick)

Report: Toddler Left in Car Suffered Burns — The Annandale man charged in the death of his girlfriend’s two-year-old daughter was watching TV and drinking beer as the child sat forgotten in his car, NBC 4 reports. He was also driving on a revoked license. The girl had a body temperature of 107 when she was rushed to the hospital and had second-degree burns from the car seat. [NBC Washington]

Park Aides Get Banning Powers — Park ranger aides in Arlington now have the legal authority to ban people from parks. The County Board voted earlier this month to add aides to the list of county personnel with powers of attorney for the “Park Safe” program. Offenders who violate the ban — which is typically levied on those who repeatedly violate park rules — can be charged with criminal trespassing. [InsideNova]

Moon Bounce Opportunity — Arlington County will be holding a “Fitness Day in the Park” at Alcova Heights Park on Saturday. The event will include games, nutrition and fitness demos, an inflatable rock wall and a moon bounce. [Arlington County]

Festival Argentino in Arlington — The 2016 Argentine Festival will be held at the Thomas Jefferson Community Theater (125 S. Old Glebe Road) on Saturday, May 14. The event will feature traditional food, exhibitions, music and dance. Tickets are $20 in advance. [Festival Argentino USA]

Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick

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BalletNova Nutcracker (Ruth Judson)It may seem way too early, but it’s time to start making plans for the holidays, starting with BalletNova’s annual production of The Nutcracker over first weekend of December.

Tickets for the show are now on sale.

Members of the dance school will put on six full-length productions of the ballet at the Thomas Jefferson Community Theater (125 S. Old Glebe Road). The show is approximately an hour and a half long, plus one 15-minute intermission.

Tickets cost between $13 to $35, depending on the show date and location of the seats. There are also discounts available for groups, students under 18 and seniors over 65.

The studio encourages patrons to reserve seats early, as all the performances have sold out in the past. Performance dates and times are:

  • Thursday, Dec. 3 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Friday, Dec. 4 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, Dec. 5 at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.
  • Sunday, Dec. 6 at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased online.

There is also a Nutcracker Tea and mini-performance scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 13, at the Ritz Carlton in Pentagon City.

Photo via BalletNova Center for Dance/by Ruth Judson

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Morning Notes

TJ Theater to Reopen — The county parks department is hoping to reopen the Thomas Jefferson Community Theater next month. The theater closed for repairs late last summer after damage was found from the Aug. 23 earthquake that shook the region. [Sun Gazette]

Arlington to Host ‘Green Games’ Ceremony — Arlington County is hosting an awards ceremony for its Green Games business sustainability competition. The ceremony will honor achievement in a number of green categories, including energy efficiency, water use, waste diversion and recycling, and transportation choices. “During the year-long competition, more than 100 offices and buildings — representing about 15 million square feet of office space, or one-third of Arlington’s total office space — raced to reduce energy use, waste, and water and set other environmental goals,” the county said in a press release. The ceremony will be held tomorrow morning at Artisphere in Rosslyn. [Arlington County]

W-L Junior Wins National Writing Award — Washington-Lee High School junior Luisa Banchoff has been named a 2012 National Gold Medalist in the annual Scholastic Writing Awards. [Arlington Public Schools]

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Arlington Public Schools announced today that the Thomas Jefferson Community Theater (125 Old Glebe Road) will be closed for the next 4-5 months due to earthquake damage.

The stage area of the theater was damaged during the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that shook the D.C. area on Aug. 23, school officials say. The theater is expected to remain closed to all school and cultural events until Feb. 2012, while the damage is repaired

Numerous plays and other cultural events will be disrupted as a result of the closure. Among the scheduled events at the theater this fall are The Arlington Players production of Nine and the Encore Stage production of Robinhood.

“We sincerely regret the impact that this situation is having on the school and community including the Arlington County Cultural Resources programs, but the safety and well-being of everyone in our schools and community are our first priority,” Assistant Superintendent for Facilities and Operations Clarence Stukes said in a statement.

See the rest of the school system’s press release, after the jump.

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