Arlington County is planning to start scaling back the funding it has been providing to Artisphere over the last three years, and officials say the arts center must become financially self-sufficient or close.
Artisphere is expected to receive $1.8 million from the county's 2014 budget, but County Manager Barbara Donnellan said at least half of that money is one-time funding, meaning the museum will have to raise more of its own money after next year. The center's operating expenses have hovered around $2 million since it revamped its business plan in 2012, but Donnellan said she plans to give it no more than $900,000 after next year.
Donnellan said Artisphere must be weaned off of taxpayer funding at a time when she is calling for a tax increase and spending cuts to cover a $35 million shortfall in next year's budget.
"There's a lot of uncertainty in the county," said Arlington County Board Chairman J. Walter Tejada. "It's important to take a fresh look at how we're doing things."
The $6.7 million, 62,000-square-foot Artisphere opened in 2010, after the Newseum moved out of a building at 1101 Wilson Blvd. It features art galleries, a ballroom, three theaters and a two-story video wall for additional video screenings.
But since its opening, Artisphere has struggled to meet county expectations. In 2011, Arlington paid $2.1 million to keep the arts center afloat, $1.14 million more than originally budgeted, because of low admission and ticket income. The next year, Artisphere took in just $1.2 million, about $2.3 million less than it spent.
Tejada said he was hopeful the facility would see improved profits next year, calling it "the centerpiece of Arlington County's art scene." He said county officials have "always intended the Artisphere to be an entity of its own one day."
Artisphere spokeswoman Annalisa Meyer said the center will continue to "present the wide array of visual art and performing arts programming that has and continues to garner critical acclaim and visitors from across Arlington and the region." She declined to comment on the fiscal 2014 budget until it is approved.
"I do understand the need to make investments," said County Board member Libby Garvey. "But I need more information that will indicate that there is a good possibility that Arlington will get a good, positive return on this investment."
The County Board is expected to vote on its 2014 budget on April 20.