New Center Could Be 'Focal Point' for Arts

New Center Could Be 'Focal Point' for Arts

The Springfield Cultural Center has the support of local businesses, residents, and artists; now it needs a home.

Founded two years ago, the center, a non-profit corporation, is seen by its members as a potential umbrella organization for all local arts groups.

"There's no real focal point" for the arts, said Anita Gardiner, president of the Springfield Community Theater. "A cultural or arts center has been talked about for the past 20-30 years," she said.

"One of the biggest problems in Springfield is space for the arts — any arts," said Gardiner. After losing its home at St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, the Springfield Community Theater now relies on donated stage and auditorium space. "There's a waiting list for artists to use space in the Torpedo Factory," said artist and lawyer Lee Ruck, referring to an Alexandria art center. Gardiner indicated that censorship and security become issues when using donated space.

THE CENTER MAY SOON find a home through the creation of a Commercial Revitalization District in Springfield's commercial business center, initiated by C-SPARC, the Central Springfield Area Revitalization Council. A recent amendment to Springfield's Comprehensive Plan by the county's Board of Supervisors includes "a public amenity building for performing, visual arts, and cultural use." However, housing the center in a new, rather than renovated, structure would take much longer. "From the ground up, 5-10 years," Manney estimated. Preliminary plans for the center include a theater, rehearsal space, art gallery, studio space, sales area or gift shop, tearoom or restaurant, meeting space, and office space for non-profit organizations.

Current support for the center is strong, said Nancy-jo Manney, executive director of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce. The SCC's board includes "representatives from the business community and local elected officials … you need that kind of support." Manney said if the center facility was built, the business community would benefit from supplying both the center's startup and ongoing needs.

Linda Waller, aide to Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman, credits the increased support to changing demographics. Springfield used to be more of a "bedroom community," with residents commuting into D.C. for work and entertainment, said Waller, but that local growth and development has changed that.

THE CENTER WOULD BE a multipurpose facility serving many audiences. "There's a real need for children's theater in this area … shows the whole family can come see," said Gardiner. "It could be for arts as well as meeting or function space." Ruck said the center could even "pay for itself" by renting out space.

Ruck also conceived the Beaux Arts Ball, a masked ball and fund-raiser that would allow the center's members and community to network and get to know each other. "It's a 120- or so year-old Paris tradition … with a Mardi Gras theme," said Ruck. The event is to be held at the Greenspring Village Retirement facility Nov. 2. Ruck believes the center's presence will contribute "something to drum up activity in the evening" to the revitalization effort.

The center has sponsored several events during its short existence. "Mobile Museum" shows held in various locations, such as the Franconia Governmental Center, exhibit the work of local artists. The SCC also organized the sidewalk art show at Springfield Days and sponsored several concerts at the Lee District Nights summer concert series. Their latest project is the Art After School program, which would serve the children of Crestwood and Garfield Elementary Schools in Springfield.

IN ADDITION to the enjoyment one derives, exposure to the arts may actually increase one's chances of success in life. "Eighty percent of all Fortune 500 CEOs have had music in their education," said Gary Rathke, president of the symphonic Kings Park Concert Band. "It's spatial, it's physical, and it's mathematical," he said, expounding on the demands of playing an instrument.

The center's Board of Directors includes President Mahvash Keshmiri, senior manager with Washington Gas; Vice President of Performing Arts Anita Gardiner; Vice President of Visual Arts Elizabeth "Skeeter" Schied, member of C-SPARC; Secretary Lee Ruck, retired Fairfax County attorney and an executive at COG, the Council of Governments; and Treasurer Bob Gray, chairman of C-SPARC, member of Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce (GSCC), and executive at Prosperity Bank. Board members include Philip Fick, a local attorney; Tammy Shapiro, president-elect of the GSCC and owner of Talk of The Town Gourmet Gifts; Ed Frye, GSCC member and owner of PakMail; Mark Sickles, member and former chair of the Fairfax County Library Board; Steve Titunik, communications director for the VDOT Springfield Interchange Project; Ulysses James, music director of the Mount Vernon Orchestra; and Linda Waller.

For more information on the Springfield Cultural Center, visit the center's web site at