Image: RTKL Assocs.
The new director of cultural affairs says the county is planning its new Black Box theater “with eyes wide open.”
Karen Vasquez says that she is leading the group of county staff and arts commissioners to plan operational funding for the theater in Virginia Square. It was approved in January as part of mixed-use office and retail building on the block at the northeast corner of N. Fairfax Drive and N. Quincy Street.
The near-death experience with the county-owned Artisphere in Rosslyn is forcing them to be very, very careful, she said.
“[The Artisphere] was presented with, ‘It’s going to be amazing and don’t worry about the details, and it’s not going to cost you any money, and just let us do it’ and off we go,” she said during an interview in Ballston.
But a bad economy that slowed development in Rosslyn, a business plan that over-estimated revenue and ticket sales, and hours that ran from morning until late evening, all conspired to put the Artisphere $800,000 in the hole just months into its operation. The county was forced to accept a new business plan last November or shutter the arts venue after just a year of operation.
“There were a lot of lessons learned there [at the Artisphere] that we can apply here” at the Black Box theater, she said.
Her group is considering three options which they will present to the county manager and county board by early fall.
The first looks at the cost to the county if it were to fund the operations alone. Most likely this scenario would not come to pass.
Given the experience with the Artisphere, the political will is just not there. When the theater was approved, county board member Jay Fissette said he would not vote to put a dime of funding into the theater’s operation. In an interview afterward he said that he would vote to continue supporting arts groups that might operate the theatre, but he would not vote to increase their funding in order to pay for that theater.
Vasquez knows this, so the reason her group is looking at full county funding is that it establishes the baseline for the “what ifs” in the other two options.
The second option looks at whether three or four artistic companies could join together and foot the bill themselves. None of the “supported groups” in the county, groups such as Teatro de Luna which performs in Gunston Arts Center, has the money to handle operations alone.