Fairfax County is a community that values the arts. Art reflects the county’s diversity and is valued as integral to its quality of life. But art is not included in the county’s Comprehensive Plan in any formal way.
That absence was the impetus for my motion at Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting to include new policy plan text for the arts in the Comprehensive Plan. The proposal would develop language in the plan that supports opportunities to display art in public places, private developments, and public-private ventures. A second objective would use optional proffers, contributions, and land dedication for existing and new arts facilities. Included in the proposal is language to develop a countywide cultural arts master plan that addresses current and future needs for performance venues and exhibition space.
In 2008, the board-sponsored Commission on the Future of the Arts in Fairfax County released its final report about the current state of the visual and performing arts, as well as recommendations for strengthening the arts as an important component in the overall quality of life and economic vitality of the county. Commission members included representatives from local arts organizations, George Mason University, the business community, and county staff. Planning for the future of the arts must be viewed within the changing character and demographics of Fairfax County, and in relationship to existing arts venues within the county and the region. It is not just about creating new places to perform, or new exhibit halls, although we certainly need more outlets for creative expression. It also is about incorporating art into new and renovated structures, and development of locations for placement of arts and artistic landmarks. Building architecture can be art; even parking garages can be interesting and artistic, depending on the form, façade, features, and use of textures, color, and plantings. At present, the Comprehensive Plan does not address such elements.
Discussion at the board was interesting. Some areas of the county, like Reston and Kingstowne, were developed within an arts context. Bravo! Most of the county, however, does not have that benefit, and so plan text is needed to encourage a similar context in new development and redevelopment. At least one board member expressed concern that putting arts into the Comprehensive Plan would cost homeowners and taxpayers, and cause additional burdens on staff time. I noted that the implementation language is proposed to be optional, not mandatory. Developers should be encouraged to incorporate potential arts venues and public art into their plans. If an office building is designed with a multi-story atrium lobby, why not design some of that glorious space for a rotating art exhibit or sculpture garden? Likewise, a corporate meeting space could be built with a stage that accommodates choral, dance, or community plays for smaller audiences. Not every facility needs to seat 1000 people! Smaller, multi-use venues will quickly gain a following.
Although my proposal to authorize a plan amendment passed, it did not receive a single affirmative vote from the Republican members of the board. Is art a pARTisan issue? I thought it came from the heART.