Arlington's Artisphere over budget for third straight year

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Local,Virginia,Taylor Holland

The Artisphere in Arlington County has busted its budget for a third straight year and needs an extra $800,000 from the county to stay afloat.

Arlington County officials gave the arts center $1.6 million to start the year, but now County Manager Barbara Donnellan expects it to need as much as $2.4 million to cover its expenses.

Artisphere spokeswoman Annalisa Meyer attributed the shortfall to low attendance, poor concession sales and underfunded salaries for the center's temporary employees. Still, Meyer said she's confident the center is "heading in the right direction."

But many Arlington residents and organizations say they have lost faith in the center and are urging county leaders to shut it down.

"I think it's really a part of a larger pattern of launching projects in the county without carefully studying them," said resident Peter Rousselot. "We have this, the aquatics center, the streetcar. They're all examples of excessive spending that is hurting our ability to fund core services."

Even the Arlington County Civic Federation passed a resolution urging the County Board to "direct the County Manager to proceed to close the facility and negotiate a lease termination with the owner of the facility" because of its high costs.

The embattled arts center has been busting its budgets ever since opening in 2010. Arlington County paid $2.1 million to keep the arts center open in 2011, $1.14 million more than originally budgeted. The next year, the Artisphere took in just $1.2 million, about $2.3 million less than it spent.

Donnellan's 2014 budget proposal would give the Artisphere $1.8 million next year, but it would also require that the museum either become self-sustaining or close.

County Board member Libby Garvey said she was going to closely monitor the Artisphere's funding situation next year, noting it has "great potential" to energize the county and its art enthusiasts.

The $6.7 million, 62,000-square-foot Artisphere opened in 2010 after the Newseum moved out of the building at 1101 Wilson Blvd. In addition to several art galleries, the facility boasts a ballroom, three theaters and a two-story video wall for film screenings.

tholland@washingtonexaminer.com

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