Embracing Arlington Arts Fights Proposed Arlington Budget Cuts

Embracing Arlington Arts seeks support for its efforts to oppose proposed extreme arts cuts in Arlington, VA.

Over the weekend, County Manager Mark Schwartz submitted his recommended 2020 budget to the Arlington County Board. If implemented, it will prove to be devastating to the Arlington arts community. He includes a 1.5 percent increase in real estate taxes, but also proposes the following cuts to the Cultural Affairs division:

  • Closure of the Scene Shop. Theater groups would have to hire expensive contractors and/or find another (non-existent) venue in Arlington in which to build their sets. The Scene Shop facilitators monitor construction safety and mentor students on technical theater arts.
  • Closure of the Costume Lab. Theater groups would have to rent their costumes in more expensive places.
  • Elimination of the Facilities Manager, who manages the day-to-day scheduling of the theaters and rehearsal spaces, like the Gunston Theaters, Thomas Jefferson Theater, and Theater on the Run, used by Arlington Arts groups.
  • Elimination, in one year, of the Facilities Technology Services Director, who oversees the scheduling and safety of these shared theater spaces.
  • Elimination of the Audio Production Specialist, who assists groups with their productions and oversees community events.
  • Elimination of Supervisor of the After-Hours Building Engineers position, who oversees the staff that assists arts organizations which use school-based facilities after hours and on weekends – the vast majority of organizations since they cannot use the facilities when school is in session.
  • Elimination of the Mobile Stage, which is used by folk and heritage groups for their festivals, further displacing Arlington as a culturally rich and diverse arts destination.

Should the County Board opt for the lower 1 percent increase in real estate taxes, then the County Manager is further recommending a $70,000 (1/3 of the total grant budget) cut to the already very low arts grant budget. This will likely make Arlington’s arts grant budget the lowest in the region. This directly contrasts with our neighboring counties (Fairfax, Herndon, Falls Church and Alexandria), who are actually investing in the arts by building new black box theaters, arts districts arts centers.

The Manager’s proposed budget will essentially eliminate the Space and Services Grant program that has taken decades to refine. The additional proposed cut to the grants fund will decrease the already dismal financial grant program to pre-2006 levels.

The County Board has not yet approved this budget, so we can still make a difference. However, it will take a lot of arts patrons and supporters to fight these draconian cuts. Here is how you can help:

  • Embracing Arlington Arts is organizing a meeting on Monday, March 11th starting at 7:30 PM. Arts groups, artists, arts supporters, and anyone interested in helping the fight are invited. The meeting will be held at the office of Encore Stage and Studio at 4000 Lorcom Lane (the St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church). There is plenty of parking outside. Please RSVP to janetk@embracing-arlington-arts.org.
  • Email or call the County Board (countyboard@arlingtonva.us – 703-228-3130) to tell them these draconian proposed cuts will devastate the arts organizations in Arlington.

Some of the points you can make:

  • We recognize that Arlington County has to exercise fiscal responsibility, but an unfair portion of the cuts falls on the performing arts.
  • This is more than budget cuts and job layoffs. This is about the survival of irreplaceable institutions in our community. Once these resources are eliminated, there is no going back.
  • According to a report from the Americans for the Arts entitled “The Creative Industries: Business & Employment,” Arlington County arts entities employs 6,124 people in 658 arts-related businesses. This represents 5.1 percent of the total number of businesses located in Arlington County. According to another economic study, over $18 million of economic activity in Arlington is derived from audience expenditures associated with arts events, including eating at restaurants, parking, ticket sales and other purchases made during their night out. These monies coming into the County go away when arts organizations fold or move to more “arts friendly” counties.
  • Space and Services for performing arts was one of the most unique grant programs in the nation and was the only area in which Arlington rose above neighboring counties to help the arts.
  • To say that arts organizations can go elsewhere to build a set and/or to hire a contractor is disingenuous. There is no other venue, and budgets are already extremely tight for these arts organizations, and will be made even worse if their grants are cut by 1/3.
  • Include your personal story. Detail how the arts in Arlington helped you personally, your family, your friends, etc. Anecdotes are the best advocacy tools.
  • Speak at the County Board FY20 Budget Work Session on April 2nd at 7:00 pm (NOTE: You must sign up in advance). When you sign up, be creative in the title of your remarks. The County Board has been known at times to not let people speak if they all say they want to speak in support of the arts. Instead say things like “How Dance Helped Me” or “Painting Alleviates Stress” or “Theater Helped My Child Thrive in School,” etc.
  • Share this information widely! These proposed cuts are being made because there is not a lot of vocal support for the arts. We need to raise the volume enormously to prove there is vast appreciation for the arts in Arlington, and we vote!

Questions? Email janetk@embracing-arlington-arts.org.