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FairfaxNewsFairfax arts groups try to put on a happy face despite challenges

Fairfax arts groups try to put on a happy face despite challenges

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Fairfax County’s art scene is under-funded, under-capacity and still weathering the pandemic, but several upcoming projects will bring it closer to its potential, the president of ArtsFairfax said.

The county’s prospects are changing more quickly than at any other point in her 12 years with the organization, Linda Sullivan told the Greater Tysons Citizens Coalition during a Sept. 9 roundtable moderated by the organization’s chairman, Sally Horn.

“It’s not just a COVID situation, but things really are on the cusp of a lot of growth, which is exciting,” Sullivan said.

Among the bright spots on the county’s arts horizon:

• Capital One Hall in Tysons, which will open Oct. 1 and have a nearly 1,600-seat auditorium, 250-seat “black box” theater, classrooms, rooftop performance space and public art.

• The View development project, which will have a 200-seat theater dedicated to 1st Stage and an outdoor performance space.

• An 1,800-square-foot arts facility in the town of Herndon.

• Floris Academy in western Fairfax, a private development featuring a 50,000-square-foot facility for arts education and a 300-seat recital hall.

• A proposed McLean Project for the Arts facility at Clemyjontri Park in McLean, which would be built in conjunction with the Fairfax County Park Authority.

• A planned second theater in Reston.

• The future renovation of old Mount Vernon High School as a community center, possibly with a theater.

• Theater and arts centers being planned by the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church.

Compared with the District of Columbia and some other nearby jurisdictions, Fairfax County has been “somewhat under-built” as far as cultural infrastructure, Sullivan said.

Jonathan Griffith, managing director of Capital One Center, said Capital One Hall will be operated by ASM Global and have more than 75,000 square feet of event space.

Under a public-private partnership with Fairfax County, Capital One each year will allow county-based arts groups the opportunity to use the main theater for 25 to 30 days and the black-box theater for 57 to 70 days, as well as hold up to 220 events in the classrooms. The bank will charge the groups “substantially reduced” costs for those services and offer support assistance as well.

Capital One also commissioned local and Virginia artists to create works for the new hall.

“We’re trying to keep it as local as much as we can [and] elevate some of the fantastic artists that we have right here in the community,” Griffith said.

The non-profit ArtsFairfax since 1964 has distributed county funds for the arts, promoted the arts within the county and helped local arts groups expand their management and programmatic capabilities, Sullivan said.

The group, which has a $1.5 million yearly budget, typically distributes about $500,000 annually to between 50 and 60 arts organizations, using a competitive, peer-reviewed process. The result is the production of about 20,000 arts programs per year that draw more than 800,000 participants, she said.

(By comparison, the arts organization of Montgomery County, Md., has a $6 million annual budget and hands out $5 million in grants each year, Sullivan said.)

Fairfax County has more than 230 small, non-profit arts groups, which Sullivan defined as having annual budgets of less than $1 million.

The county also is home to major cultural and arts venues with budgets of $10 million per year or more: Mount Vernon, Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy annex, the Center for the Arts at George Mason University, Ernst Theatre at Northern Virginia Community College, Workhouse Arts Center, Center Stage Reston and Capital One Hall.

“What’s been missing is that middle tier,” Sullivan said, attributing the deficiency to lack of funding and available facilities.

According to the latest once-every-five-years national report from Americans for the Arts, which included data concerning Fairfax County and the cities of Falls Church and Fairfax, arts expenditures amounted to $173.4 million in Fairfax County in 2017 and ancillary audience spending (for restaurants, parking, hotels, etc.) added up to $98 million.

The arts in 2017 employed 6,220 full-time workers in Fairfax County and generated $9.27 million in tax revenues for the county and $10.03 million for the state.

The pandemic’s impacts were devastating. Ninety-eight percent of local arts groups initially shuttered because of the crisis and 83 percent have not reopened, Sullivan said. Instead, 84 percent of the organizations put their offerings online and 60 percent intend to remain that way. The pandemic caused about $4.5 million in annual financial losses, but also reduced personnel costs by 28 percent, Sullivan said.

ArtsFairfax will present an arts master plan to the Board of Supervisors in December or January. The county needs performance venues that can seat 450 to 900 people; art galleries, incubator spaces, rehearsal areas, scene and costume shops, and storage areas for arts groups, she said.

ArtsFairfax leaders also back federally approved low-income housing for artists and affordable temporary, short-term and pop-up spaces for events.

Other priorities include more diverse and geographically equitable arts programming and funding; capacity-building grants to help some arts groups reach the middle tier with annual budgets between $1 million and $10 million, investment in arts promotion and marketing, and inclusion of arts in new developments and redevelopment zones.

These goals could be accomplished through development proffers, enterprise zones and business-improvement districts, public-private partnerships, dedicated taxes, low-cost leasing and other methods, she said.

“There’s a lot of room for growth here,” Sullivan said. “We’re gratified to see progress, but we know we have so much more to do.”

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