- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 28, 2001

The home of the Arlington [Va.] Arts Center, a former school building, leaks during rainstorms. It lacks air conditioning to keep the summer's sweltering heat at bay. It's old.
Still, the rickety structure has remained a part of the Arlington arts scene for 25 years.
Finally, the antiquated building is getting a facelift, thanks to an aggressive capital campaign that netted a half-million dollars in two years.
Carole C. Sullivan, executive director of the Arlington Arts Center, says the 91-year-old building's condition demanded action.
"We had reached the point when something had to be done," Miss Sullivan says of the county-owned building, formerly the Maury School.
As it stands, the building doesn't provide adequate amenities for Arlington's handicapped residents. "We can't be a public building unless it's accessible to everyone," she says.
The groundbreaking for the renovation and expansion of the building, one block from the Virginia Square Metro stop on Wilson Boulevard, is set for next March. The grand opening for the newly christened Arlington Arts Center at the Historic Maury School is set for October 2003.
The project's price tag amounts to $3 million, with Arlington County picking up the rest of the tab. The building will close on March 1, 2002, when the work begins, and reopen in the fall of 2003. During renovation, the center will offer a limited number of events and exhibitions at area galleries, coffee shops and other meeting places in order to remain active. The center's administrative offices will move across the street to 1 Virginia Square during construction.
The renovation and expansion will allow the center to add programs, provide more gallery space and give residents a comfortable environment in which to explore their creative side.
Among the proposed programs are open-mike nights, poetry readings, film series, career-building workshops, life drawing classes and guest artist residencies.
The expanded space will include two large classrooms, community and library conference rooms — and air conditioning.
Outside, the building will be restored to simulate its original look. Workers will remove the window wells along the basement level, re-create the slate roof and restore as much of the brick exterior as possible.
But what thrills Miss Sullivan is the addition of a flexible multipurpose room, which she hopes will enhance the center's standing in the community.
The center may be "a place for emerging art and emerging artists," she says, but "outside the arts community it wasn't known."
She envisions the multipurpose room as the cornerstone of the updated center.
Miss Sullivan explains the center's fund-raising approach: "You have to divide it up into small enough pieces to digest it. Then, it wasn't quite so terrible."
The two-year campaign leaned on the connections of its leaders, Mike and Audrey Wyatt of Arlington, whose ties to the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the local arts community helped stoke their efforts.
A subsequent coup of $100,000 in historic preservation funds from the state of Virginia brought legitimacy to their efforts, Miss Sullivan says.
The capital campaign team also increased the center's existing programs to remind people what they might miss if the donations dried up.
"We opened the place up and said, 'We're here for you,'" she says.
The center has strong community ties, including a long-standing relationship with Elizabeth Campbell, founder and vice president for community affairs of WETA public television. Miss Campbell, a former center board member, produces the "Children's Calendar Art Program," a former WETA program, and arranges for the art to be displayed at the center. Miss Campbell will have a studio named after her in the new center, as will Margaret Fisher, an Arlington artist for a half-century.
It's natural for Arlington residents to need a place to ply their talent for the visual arts, given the county's strong reputation with other art forms, such as the theater, Miss Fisher says.
"We need an arts center in Arlington County. There is no doubt about that," she says.
"It's a place everybody would like to exhibit and compete. It's very hard to get into a show [now]," says Miss Fisher, who regularly sits on juries for Arlington Arts Center shows.
The fund raising isn't over, though. Miss Sullivan says money must be collected to support the new programming scheduled for the revamped building.
The results of all the labor, Miss Fisher says, will be worth it.
"Artists will have a place that's attractive and more comfortable," she predicts. Up until now, "it hasn't been ideal."

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