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Artisphere and Jim Byers

What lies in Artisphere’s future? If you want to take an educated guess, try looking at its past. A history of the Rosslyn arts center, from its anticipated first steps to its troubling present:

October 2010
Following a $6.7 million renovation and an aggressive publicity campaign, Artisphere opens to the public with a buzzy party co-produced by Brightest Young Things. The county expects Artisphere to take in nearly $2 million in annual revenue and draw 250,000 visitors each year. Yet Artisphere still lacks a fully functional website, a restaurant, an online box office, and an executive director.

January 2011
Three months after Artisphere opens, Executive Director José Ortiz comes on board.

March 2011
Artisphere reports that its “ramp-up period” has gone on too long and it’s not on track to meet revenue projections. It says that forcing Artisphere to open in October caused the space to operate without basic necessities in place. Artisphere estimates that it’s running $800,000 shy of expected income.

April 2011
Arlington County reports that Artisphere’s admission and ticket income falls short by three-quarters of expected revenue, forcing the arts center to ask for an additional $800,000 from the county. On the plus side, its long-awaited in-house restaurant, Here Café + Bar, officially opens on April 5.

October 2011
Artisphere hires a new programming director, former Lisner Auditorium director Rosanna Ruscetti, and hosts a youthy, well-attended first anniversary party.

November 2011
Bad news and a dramatic redirection: Artisphere’s in-house restaurant declines to renew its contract after seven months in the space. Meanwhile, the facility unveils a new business plan that cuts hours, attempts to boost its rental business, implements a resident caterer in lieu of a restaurant, and plans for only a $1.6 million county investment in Artisphere during fiscal year 2013 (down from $2.67 million in 2012 and $2.1 million in 2011). The plan also makes a case for keeping Artisphere open, rather than shutting it down and starting over: A slideshow presentation says revenue opportunities still exist, the original business plan established unrealistic expectations, “critical acclaim [is] already established,” and it’s “too early to judge [its] true potential.”

February 2012
Artisphere hosts its first smash-hit event: a month-long exhibit of photos from the collection of Mexican surrealist Frida Kahlo. Between February and March, it draws more than 13,000 visitors, nearly three-quarters of whom are new to Artisphere.

April 2012
Programming Director Rosanna Ruscetti leaves Artisphere after only six months on the job. Delegates to Arlington County’s Civic Federation tell county officials to shape up Artisphere or shut it down.

May 2012
A third-quarter report shows Artisphere’s revenues still aren’t meeting expectations. Programming and rental income remains stubbornly low.

August 2012
Artisphere hires Josh Stoltzfus, former programming manager for the Columbia Festival of the Arts, as its new programming director.

October 2012
After a reduction in programming, Artisphere cuts expenses and manages to meet its budget, according to its FY 2012 report. But revenues still aren’t where they should be. The arts center attributes its 18 percent ticket-income shortfall to the lack of a programming director for much of 2012.

December 2012
Artisphere ejects its in-house theater company, WSC Avant Bard, citing its need to free up more space for rentals. The theater troupe is left scrambling for a new home.

February 2013
Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan says she’s “forcing” Artisphere to “reevaluate how they operate,” ARLnow.com reports.

March 2013
Donnellan says Arlington County will only commit to dedicating $1.8 million to Artisphere in 2014 and $900,000 after next year. Yet the beleaguered arts center marches on, announcing a promising slate of programming through June, including an innovative festival dedicated to performance art.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

This post appeared in Washington City Paper‘s March 15 print edition. See the dead-tree version below.