New Leadership at ArtsFairfax Grapples With New Challenges

As Deirdre Johnson and Maurice “Mo” B. Springer join the Board of Directors at ArtsFairfax, they join an organization in the middle of transforming to adapt to the art scene changing to survive the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

ArtsFairfax, founded in 1964 as a nonprofit supporting local arts and artists, is embroiled in an overhaul of its programming to support a community reeling from the health and financial impact of COVID-19. All funding has been reallocated to emergency relief and raising funds for grants to local artists. With the pandemic leaving many businesses closed, the organization has also started to look at more opportunities to use empty storefronts as temporary art centers.

Johnson, the vice president and asset manager of Federal Realty Investment Trust, has worked in real estate since 1992. Johnson pointed to the McLean Project for the Arts moving into 1446 Chain Bridge Road, a strip mall, as an example of how ArtsFairfax can adapt to utilize existing, vacant spaces.

“A more recent example is Traveling Players space in Tysons Corner Center which opened before COVID,” Johnson said. “From the mall’s perspective, TPE is attracting customers – teens and their families – and they are activating an unused space. Both of these are interim uses, and the term impacts the type of use. We have also seen pop-up/weekend uses for art exhibits and theatre performances.”

Johnson also highlighted the symbiotic nature of art and local businesses.

“For Federal Realty, art has never been more important than it is today for shopping centers,” Johnson said. “Integrating art, design and performance touches people’s lives, increases educational opportunities and provides economic impact. Vacant spaces are a fabulous opportunity to showcase art right in the heart of a community which is its neighborhood shopping center.”

Springer is the President and CEO at Cardinal Insurance and Financial Inc., where he provides expertise in insurance and retirement options for his customers. Springer said the recovery from the pandemic has shown that ArtsFairfax can adapt and change as the situation requires.

“I don’t view ArtsFairfax as a static and myopic organization and as such I see the recovery from the pandemic given the initiatives in place particularly the strategies focused on engaging the community and the artist at large as a demonstration of the agility of the organization to satisfy the insatiable need of the arts community,” Springer said. “Its online programs, fund raising efforts to support the arts and the institution of viable programs to accommodate and support the new normal artist are facing are benefactors coming out of [COVID-19].”

Part of the changes coming up for ArtsFairfax is an expansion of the artist residency program, which now includes six residencies for virtual activities and supporting a pair of artists whose program with Fairfax County Public Schools had been cut short due to COVID.

“The FY21 artist residency program was originally planned to train the teaching artists to work with the [Fairfax County Public Schools] after school program,” Johnson said. “As we met with the artists during COVID, FCPS, and our partners for the residencies for seniors we realized that the in-person residencies are uncertain and artists needed support in this adaption to online participation.”

Johnson said combining general training and instruction geared towards FCPS and the virtual center opened up opportunities for artists and a growing pool of those who work with both the schools and senior community.

“Our vision is to offer artists residencies throughout our community for all residents to engage in the artistic process through these intimate, long term experiences,” Johnson said.

Emerging from COVID-19, Springer said it will be crucial to provide legal and business assistance to young artists getting started in an uncertain economic situation — helping to ensure that artists can stay in business by keeping their programming and ownership.

As ArtsFairfax looks towards the future, Johnson said the organization is starting to update their five-year plan to reflect changes from the last few months.

“Challenges and constraints are a catalyst for positive change, creative responses and effective action plans for organizations whose core values embrace evolving with the communities that they serve,” Johnson said. “ArtsFairfax has that DNA at its core. It is evident by its actions to provide funding, education and community interaction during COVID. We are just starting the process of updating the 5-Year Strategic Plan. Updates to this plan will be born out of a very thoughtful process with near and long term changes appropriately balanced with a focus on building on our existing strengths. We are positive about the future. We are excited to work with the Board of Supervisors which include two new Supervisors, Supervisor Lusk and Palchik, as well as the Chairman McKay.”

Image courtesy ArtsFairfax


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