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Can Arlington's Artisphere Survive Without County Funding?

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The Artisphere, in the former Newseum building in Rosslyn, has not been the success many had hoped.
Michael Pope
The Artisphere, in the former Newseum building in Rosslyn, has not been the success many had hoped.

With potential belt-tightening in the future, leaders in Arlington, Va., are considering the future of the Artisphere art center in Rosslyn.

When one walks into Artisphere, it's easy to forget that it's a government facility. After the Newseum left Rosslyn for the District years ago, the space laid vacant. Arlington County government officials eventually decided to transform the space into a venue for art and culture.

High hopes for arts in Rosslyn

When it opened in 2010, the expectations were sky high. The center has four performance venues, three galleries and a 4,000-square-foot ballroom that is rented out for events. Programming includes visual art, threater, music, film, dance, conferences and private events.

"They felt as though we open Artisphere and that we would welcome thousands and thousands of people on the first day of operation," says Karen Vasquez, director of cultural affairs for Arlington County.

Vasquez says the original plan for Artisphere was for the county to create it, then have a nonprofit take over the operation when it became financially viable. That plan didn't work out.

"What we found was that, although initially there was quite a bit of popularity, there wasn't as many people coming into the building as the original idea had laid out," Vasquez says.

Diminished expectations, budget size

Now county leaders have a new plan to reduce the county's financial commitment to the facility. Instead of $1.8 million from Arlington taxpayers, next year's budget may only cover half that amount.

County leaders say they plan on having a future financial commitment of some kind to Artisphere, even when it transfers operation to a newly created nonprofit organization. With budget cuts expected to hit both local governments as well as the large number of federal employees in the region, that level of funding has yet to be determined.

That means the arts center will have to raise more of its own money in the not-too-distant future, but whether they'll be able to do that remains an unanswered question.

"We're continuing to combat a perception of what we were going to be in terms of dollars," says Annalisa Meyer, marketing director for Artisphere. "We continue to be measured to something that honestly I say I think was unattainable."

Fairfax County resident Angela Kasey says that she's a huge fan of Artisphere, and like many local residents, she is concerned about what might happen if the Arlington County cuts funding.

"I would encourage them to continue the funding," Kasey says. "I understand there are many other things they need to pay for, but I do believe that pulling funding would pull the plug on Artisphere."

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Michael Pope is also a reporter with the Connection Newspapers who provides special coverage of Northern Virginia for WAMU 88.5. His story for the Connection can be found at ArlingtonConnection.com.

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