The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors got a first look last week at a new plan that it hopes can help turn the county into a hub for the arts.
At an economic initiatives committee meeting on March 14, Fairfax County Arts Committee Chair Leila Gordon said the new Master Arts Plan shows that some of the county’s revitalization zones — like the one in the works for downtown McLean — need to do more to prioritize the arts and add more supporting facilities.
“Beyond what are traditionally characterized as ‘major arts venues,’ the County needs multiple other support facilities and spaces to complement existing arts venues,” a presentation on the plan said.
Those arts-supporting uses include creating residential zoning for live/work studios, more small-scale venues, and better temporary use of vacant facilities.
Supervisors at the meeting shared positive feedback on the plan, but many had individual areas they wanted to see more fully explored.
“We’re not doing public art well in this county at all, regardless of how many times we’ve tried to do it,” said Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross. “On Richmond Highway they’ve had some success with some murals, but trying to get permits for murals and trying to explain to the planning and development department that this is not a sign…that’s a wonderful way to grab people really quickly.”
Gross said as the process goes on, she’d like to see more public art worked into the plan.
Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik expressed hope to see more descriptions of how art uses should be managed and governed.
“We can build the spaces, we can permit the spaces, we can transform the spaces, but I think the question is…place-based governance,” Palchik said. “We are a large county. We have a lot of initiatives as well as priorities. We can build all the spaces we want, but they have to be run, they have to be activated, they have to be managed.”
Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay said the arts across Fairfax County are currently plagued by waste and unequal distribution, two topics he hopes to see the plan tackle.
“There’s also a lot of waste in the arts,” McKay said. “When props are done, they’re trashed. When costumes are done, they don’t get stored. I know there are a lot of private arts organizations — dance schools are familiar with this — that spend a lot of money on props, a lot of money on costumes, and when the show is over, they go in the trash.”
McKay said the Master Arts Plan is a chance to organize the local arts community and get organizations on the same page when it comes to sharing resources. McKay said he hoped to see a “huge inventory” of items that can be recycled across multiple shows. From the county leadership side, that may involve financing storage space.
“One thing we should be looking at in terms of facilities [is] if the county can provide a centralized warehouse of arts materials,” McKay said. “There is quite a bit of waste in the arts and it doesn’t need to be that way. A lot of high school theater groups do the same rotating shows but a lot of times, they’re starting from scratch for props, and finding out they’re discarded from another school that did the same show. That can be very costly.”
McKay also said part of the plan should focus on distributing arts venues around Fairfax County, noting that many arts spaces are being built where there is already an abundance of facilities.
According to a draft plan, there are several potential venues in the works, including proposed arts centers at Reston Town Center and in downtown Herndon, but a lack of funding is cited as an obstacle in multiple cases.
“Unfortunately where [there’s] the greatest art advocacy is where there are already facilities,” McKay said. “There are parts of the county that just don’t have the same access. Looking at that through gap analysis is going to be really important.”
The plan also notes that cost and availability limitations lead many organizations in Fairfax County to use venues not intended for arts programming, like schools or churches, or to go outside the county.
The Master Arts Plan for cultural facilities is under review and will be fully released sometime this spring. A broader Public Art Master Plan is scheduled for completion in early 2024.
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