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Arlogance: Alive and Well in Rosslyn

This week’s City Paper asks whether Arlington County’s “Artispheric Ambitions” expected too much. City Paper adds: “it was supposed to be a Kennedy Center for young people. And the night before it officially opened, at a boozy art party staged by Brightest Young Things and the Pink Line Project, you almost could’ve sworn that’s what it was.”

The article, reported by City Paper's Alex Baca, explains:

“But eight months later, as Artisphere approaches the end of its fiscal year, the resident arts center doesn’t look quite as magnetic as its administrators first expected.

“It’s only attracted 48,169* visitors since October, well short of the 250,000 initially projected by Arlington Cultural Affairs, the agency that oversees Artisphere. And by the end of June it looks like it will only have brought in $174,202 in revenue from ticket sales and rental fees—less than a quarter of the initially expected $789,912.Compare those numbers to what Arlington is spending on the place. Artisphere—which occupies the space that once housed the Newseum—cost $6.7 million to renovate, and it has an annual operating budget of $3 million. Even with grants from the Rosslyn Business Improvement District and a cushy rent-free arrangement with the property owner, taxpayers are picking up a large chunk of Artisphere’s tab.

“And so the county is taking a hard look at its investment. As first reported by ARLNow.com, by the end of this summer Artisphere’s staff and county officials will have crafted a revamped business plan they say they’ll implement immediately . . . .”

An April 7, 2011 staff document (requires Adobe) responds to County Board questions during an earlier budget work session. The Board questions related to “the originally approved FY 2011 Artisphere budget and what changed in the FY 2011 revised budget and the FY 2011 budget after mid-year as well as what changed between the FY 2012 proposed budget and the revised FY 2012 budget based on the new funds requested in the County Manager’s recommended add- back list.”

Although City Paper says Artispere has been a “dream” for a decade, the April 7 staff document shows the Artisphere has received formal Board action at least 15 times between September 8, 2007 and January 22, 2011. Nor does the “list does not include actions related to the procurement of various capital contracts or the amendments of those contracts.” A more significant item from the staff report, however, is what this growing arts boondoggle is costing Arlington taxpayers. The staff report says:

"Artisphere budget actions are shown in the table below; the revised FY 2012 County Manager recommendation row reflects the additional $500,000 in net tax support included in the County Manager’s priority add-back list.  Note that the allocations of expense and revenue may need to be adjusted upon completion of the revised business plan." (the table is on the second page of the staff document)

Art in the capable hands of county staff, not to mention Board micromanagement? Wrong! Goes to show that you can never have too much oversight.

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