Falls Church City Council codifies commitment to public art

The Falls Church City Council has set in stone its commitment to public art in the Little City.

City council members voted unanimously on Monday (April 12) to amend Falls Church’s comprehensive plan by adding a section supporting public art and establishing a public arts district. Now, staff will turn their attention to hammering out the details needed to carry out this committment.

The vote culminates about a year of work that involved various city groups that reviewed the policy and consultants from the University of Virginia who helped craft it, city planner Emily Bazemore said.

The proposed arts and cultural district will include commercial areas, public facilities, parks, and houses of worship, but it will not apply to residences. The map below shows where permanent and temporary art installations could be located.

Funding remains an open question for now.

Falls Church City already has a Arts & Humanities Grant Program that receives $44,000 in contributions from the city and $4,500 from the Virginia Commission for the Arts.

The program mostly funds operational expenses and programming, but nonprofit groups can apply for grants, city spokeswoman Susan Finarelli says. The grants are capped at $5,000 and conferred with the understanding that projects must be completed within the fiscal year.

“This is probably too small an amount for public art projects,” Finarelli said, adding that one fiscal year is “a quick turnaround time for public art.”

Councilmember Letty Hardi, who sits on the Arts and Humanities Council of Falls Church, said the city should consider whether it wants to use this grant program or seek out a different funding source. The program has not contributed to many installations, according to Hardi, who has raised questions about funding mechanisms in the past.

“If we want to implement these recommendations, we’re going to have to think about dollars against it too,” she said.

The comprehensive plan amendment recommends that the city devote annual funding from its operating or capital improvements budget to commissioning art or paying for arts-related festivals and events. It also has language for working with the private sector to include public art in development projects or provide monetary contributions to a public art fund.

“The funding will be considered later,” Finarelli said. “That may come in the form of a new grant program, or perhaps change the existing Arts and Humanities grant program. City staff will consider options and make a proposal to City Council. We do not yet have a timeline on that.”

In the meantime, projects like the West Falls development have committed to supporting public art in those spaces.

As part of the new public arts policy, the city will also launch a registry of local artists. This yet-t0-exist registry could live on the Arts and Humanities Council website, which would be responsible for updating it, Bazemore suggested.

“It’s a long-term strategy,” the city planner said. “It would track different artists who submit interest in working with the city from Northern Virginia or the D.C. area.”

Councilmember Marybeth Connelly had a number of questions about the registry and how it would be maintained but indicated an interest in the concept.

“I do appreciate the direction this is going, and I’m glad that we are going to move forward and be able to identify this arts and cultural district,” she said.

Images via City of Falls Church

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