When Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan presented in late November a new business plan for the financially troubled Artisphere that included closing the building on Mondays and Tuesdays, I wondered what would become of the arts center’s “Salsa Tuesdays” events. While tonight’s Cuban salsa and timba event with DJ Reyna is being billed by dance instructor and promoter Eileen Torres in emails as “the final Salsa Tuesday at Artisphere,” Artisphere’s new director of programming, Rosanna Ruscetti, says that the Rosslyn complex will continue to feature salsa dances, but in a more “targeted” manner in order to attract larger crowds. The business plan calls for “reducing operating hours and frequency of programs to stimulate demand.” Ruscetti says that while she had no part in the decision to close Artisphere on certain nights, she says she recognizes the need for the venue to find new ways to establish an audience. She says she is “working with the [Artisphere’s] salsa and zydeco partners to strategize on building audiences.” Ruscetti notes that despite the general “no Monday and Tuesday” mandate planned for after tonight, on Tuesday, Jan. 10, Artisphere will host a dance with the highly touted local record spinner DJ Bruno “El Unico” called “Salsa, Have You Heard This?”
Artisphere’s struggle to draw larger crowds isn’t just the fault of too many weekly weekday programs. As previously reported on Arts Desk, the arts center is located in a drab business area, its restaurant area was vacant for many months (and is now vacant again), and its largest performance space only has 220 seats. Artisphere’s promotional efforts need to be addressed, as well. With lots of salsa dance nights around the Washington area, Artisphere will have to find new ways, within its red-inked budget, to market its targeted events if it wishes to establish a larger audience for couples dancing to the clave beat. It might be wise of Artisphere to look elsewhere in Arlington for ideas.
The Salsa Room (formerly Cecelia’s), on Columbia Pike in Arlington, has 5,000 plus Facebook friends compared to the 3,717 who like the Artisphere page. The separate Salsa at Artisphere Facebook group, which is maintained by Artisphere’s salsa promoters, has only 103 members. While promoter and dance instructor Eileen Torres regularly publicizes the dances via her email list, Artisphere’s “Salsa Tuesdays” haven’t gotten much attention from local websites, radio stations, and newspapers. While local editorial coverage of salsa music is limited, and advertising is pricey, there are ways to reach out. But tonight’s timba event, for example, is not mentioned in the monthly Kesta Happening Latin music newspaper/magazine, nor is it included in Kesta’s music event website calendar that allows free submissions by anyone. The event isn’t in the listings in last Friday’s Washington Post Weekend section, nor in this week’s Washington Hispanic or El Tiempo Latino newspapers.
The lack of attention is a shame. Artisphere’s well-programmed salsa nights deserve acclaim for including more than just helpful dance lessons and creative DJs. They have featured bands such as Cuba’s Sierra Maestra and films chosen by promoter Eileen Torres. Interestingly, The Salsa Room, which also promotes via postcards and other methods aimed more directly at the region’s Hispanic population, just had a Cuban dance night this past Sunday, with DJ Reyna, local Cuban band Timba Street, and others. It remains to be seen how tonight’s final “regular” Salsa Tuesday at Artisphere will do audience-wise two nights after a similar event, or if next year’s less frequent salsa events will draw more Latin-music hipshakers.
Tonight’s “Salsa Tuesday” features a dance class with Eileen Torres from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. and DJ Reyna playing Cuban sounds from 8:30 to 11 p.m. at Artisphere, 1101 Wilson Blvd Arlington. $6. (703) 875-1100