Arlington County’s budget reflects its main priority, which is to promote economic growth by satisficing developers at the expense of basic needs. There’s nothing inherently wrong with economic growth or developers for that matter, but there are limits to growth. Nowhere are those limits more in evidence than Artisphere, a widely touted but poorly attended cultural arts center in Rosslyn that is currently running a $800,000 deficit.
Construction of Artisphere on the ashes of the Arlington Newseum that went belly up in 2002 was a priority with County Board, which saw it as a draw for the yuppies that populate Arlington’s gentrified neighborhoods. But it hasn’t happened. Arlington County’s March 30 report on Artisphere blames the current shortfall on delays in opening the facility’s restaurant and setting up its website, both expensive operations. It could also be that due to usurious rents—average rent in the county is over $1,700 per month–Arlington residents have less disposable income to pay for a night on the town at Artisphere.
This is not to say that Artisphere has to be sacrificed to meet basic needs. Rather someone else ought to pay for it. Traditionally foundations and philanthropists have subsidized the arts, not taxpayers. And there’s a good reason for that. The benefits provided by the arts are generally recognized as intangible. Thus they ought to be financed through discretionary income. Since the arts are also expensive, those with a lot of discretionary income ought to shell out for them. Government services on the other hand, are generally considered essential and ought to be paid for by ordinary taxpayers, who therefore should not to be burdened with expensive projects with risky returns, i.e. white elephants.
So what Arlington needs to do is locate a foundation/philanthropist to assume its interest in Artisphere and offload it from the budget. Arlington Green Party Convener John Reeder estimates that with the money saved, Arlington could fund a year round homeless shelter for $300,000 or open six (6) branch libraries two additional days per week–6 branches x 2 librarian aides x $20/hour x 8 hours per day x 2 days per week x 52 weeks = $200,000, plus $100,000 annually for HVAC.