Editorial: Fairfax can learn from others’ mistakes on venues

Neighboring Arlington shows how not to do it when planning arts and performance spaces

Last week, the GazetteLeader covered two seemingly unrelated topics:

• The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors directed staff to evaluate the possibility of partnering with the McLean Project for the Arts on an additional gallery in McLean.

• The same supervisors initiated a process that could (emphasis on “could”) lead to the establishment of an independent body to oversee the development, financing and construction of future recreation and entertainment venues throughout the county.

Though unrelated, the two articles seem to indicate that the supervisors are interested in improving county management when it comes to those purpose-built spaces. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but tax-burdened Fairfax County residents should be vigilant to make sure things don’t get out of hand.

Residents of neighboring Arlington County have one word for their fellow Fairfax residents: “Artisphere.” That was Arlington’s government’s attempt to create a major performance and arts space, utilizing the former Newseum space in Arlington.

Fueled by an overly simplistic, overly optimistic, and poorly vetted business plan, the government-owned arts emporium opened to great fanfare and then proceeded to bleed taxpayers dry until a subsequent county administrator mercifully put it — and those taxpayers — out of their collective misery by closing it.

The same could happen in Fairfax – on a larger scale, as everything in Fairfax is on a larger scale – if there is not strict oversight of the proposals that might be coming. Modest subsidies for such spaces are one thing; endless rivers of red ink are quite another.

Artisphere, Artisphere, Artisphere. Say it so often, Fairfax leaders, that it rings in your ears so you don’t repeat the mistake.