Arts Desk

Artisphere’s First Birthday, and What It Means for Rosslyn

Last year's opening-weekend "Burst" party at Artisphere

Happy birthday, Artisphere. You've made it—maybe.

A year ago, City Paper staffer Erin Petty wrote about who and what, exactly, the brand-new Artisphere would cater to, given its existence in a business district. Four months ago, I wrote about the various troubles plaguing its young life: Key staff hadn’t signed on until after the space’s opening; Busboys & Poets—whose cachet many Arlington County officials had been counting on to make Artisphere feel like a real “third place”—chose not to open an outpost in the first-floor café area; and attendance numbers were way lower than projected.

Then, Artisphere and the county were working on a new business plan that spokeswoman Annalisa Meyer told me would be a “course correct.” Things weren’t necessarily bleak, but by most measures, Artisphere didn’t quite hit the ground running.

Tomorrow night, Artisphere will host “The 1 Party,” its first birthday bash. As I wrote in a City Lights pick for this week’s dead-tree edition, the party’s entertainment—most notably, a site-specific video work by local artist Brian Stansfield—continues Artisphere’s theme of palatably weird content. Sponsored by Brightest Young Things, it should be a good time.

Artisphere, I think, deserves to succeed. Its programming nicely walks the line between avant-garde and accessible, and varies from film to installation art to performances. It’s a punch in the gut to Wilson Boulevard’s otherwise un-fun corporate landscape. It’s got free wi-fi, a place to eat (the HERE Café), many corners in which to hang out, and meeting space suitable for public forums. Best of all, most of what it offers is free to the public.

But Artisphere can’t turn Rosslyn into 14th Street NW, or H Street NE, alone. It’ll need people living, hanging out, and spending money in the area during non-9-to-5 hours to really be what its creators—the Arlington Arts Commission, in partnership with the Rosslyn Business Improvement District—envisioned. Though Monday Properties and JBG Properties each have condominium projects coming online in the next few years, that won’t happen overnight. It’s a bit ridiculous to expect a start-up, which Artisphere essentially is, to have its cake and eat it, too, even a year in.

But two or three years from now? It’s very likely that someone will be able to credit Artisphere for the third-place-ification of Wilson Boulevard. Artisphere might not be Rosslyn’s panacea, but it very well might be its catalyst.

"The 1 Party" takes place Saturday at 8 p.m. at Artisphere, 1101 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington. $15-$30.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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