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Idylwood Plaza is home to to a new international gallery.

The pop-up Dara Global Arts offers paintings, furniture, ceramics, and gifts at a wide range of price points, and is a gallery driven by social consciousness with particular attention to women’s empowerment. Many of the artists represented are Iraqi: while most Americans only see Iraq as a battleground on the news, Dara Global Arts provides an opportunity to see firsthand the country’s importance as a source of contemporary art.

On a recent visit by Tysons Reporter to the gallery, the directors, Nawara Omary Elliott and Maysoon Al Gbari, were busy setting up. Over the smell of slow-burning incense, freely mixing Arabic and English, the pair revealed more about the gallery, the artists and the challenges and opportunities of opening a pop-up in Tysons.

Omary Elliott has been running Dara out of her basement for years, hosting exhibitions that often filled the space to its capacity. She is motivated by her belief that “art is a peaceful language that can bring awareness” and her dedication to social justice.  That dedication to justice has driven her to collaborate many times with a variety of charities, including Bringing Resources to Aid Womens Shelters, the Iraqi Childrens’ Foundation, and the Downs Syndrome Association of Northern Virginia.

Al Gbari is a professional artist who, upon arriving to the United States, faced a problem shared by many international artists: a lack of opportunities for gallery representation. Many artists come to this country but, lacking a community and behind a language barrier, struggle to make a living selling their work.

Al Gbari and Omary Elliott both grew up in the secular, intellectual, artistic climate of pre-war Iraq and the pair met in Virginia in 2016. They became fast friends, and Omary Elliott’s work as a gallerist blossomed. After a year and a half searching for a suitable space, they are excited to announce the opening of Dara’s first storefront location.

The idea for a pop-up came from Omary Elliott’s frequent visits to New York City, where the practice is popular among gallery directors. When she first brought the idea back to Tysons, it was hard to find support, and property owners often weren’t even familiar with the concept. Over the past 18 months alone, though, she’s witnessed substantial change.

“As Tysons is growing, I noticed that the pop-up term has become more popular,” she said. Even so, it took patience and a very helpful realtor to find a suitable location. Omary Elliott encourages others to consider a similar approach, but cautions them that they’ll need a lot of patience and flexibility.

The Washington Post has previously suggested that pop-up retail could be catalytic for Tysons’ development.

The gallery showcases work by a half-dozen artists, about half of them Iraqi. Omary Elliott didn’t set out to represent Iraqis specifically; in fact, she is constantly searching for new artists to represent, saying “we don’t close the door to anyone who wants to participate.” Rather, the strong showing of Iraqi artists is testament to Iraq’s millenia-long tradition of visual art and Baghdad’s stature before the 2003 invasion as home to the greatest artistic institutions of the Arab world.

Al Gbari’s own art fills much of the exhibition space. Working in several media and several artistic styles, she seems to give us several artists’ worth of paintings and household objects.

“I love to work,” she said. “To be honest, I find myself, my soul, through my work.”

Al Gbari’s art blends figuration, often of women and cities, with a rich symbolic language and bold expanses of color. Some paintings draw deeply upon Arab legends and Judeo-Christian-Islamic religious traditions, connecting them to modern-day social issues. Others literally pop into the third dimension as the shapes of faces jut from the canvas. Yet more speak through simple figures to universal themes of motherhood, love and loss.

Al Gbari’s “Shahrazad’s Tales” is an elegy to Baghdad that draws on the Arabic classic “One Thousand and One Nights.”

That classic relates the stories of a woman, Shahrazad, who must spin a new tale every night to avoid the wrath of a vengeful king. She is a symbol of self-expression, literary beauty and cunning femininity. In Al Gbari’s painting, Shahrazad lies fallen against a field of symbols rich with meaning, struck against the skyline of medieval Baghdad with its churches and mosques — a scene which, Al Gbari tells me, truly was as colorful as it appears. But here, Shahrazad has fallen silent, mourning a city wounded by 21st-century bombs.

Bahir Al Badry’s work is more abstract and is highly textured with shining colors and tight detail. Though his art can be endlessly analyzed for its symbolic content, often drawing upon visual motifs from ancient Mesopotamia, it is also invigorating to the eye. In Omary Elliott ‘s words, it “brings happiness and hope.”

Oliver De La Via is a young Bolivian-American artist whose most recent series, “Numbed Contours,” deals specifically with sexual assault and sexualization on American college campuses. His works are unrestrained, honest and, at times, startlingly ambiguous.

Baha Omary Kikhia has exhibited her work, which is “based upon her concept of the woman as a powerful and inspiring figure,” internationally. Her abstracted, curved figures are highly emotive. They call upon her personal experiences, like her struggle to raise two children as a single mother in 1970s New York City, and international issues, like ISIS’s destruction of precious cultural heritage in her home country of Syria.

Other artists featured in the gallery include Ahmed Ghareeb, a sculptor and painter with a bright, chaotic, abstract style that tends toward expressionism, and Haydar al-Yasiry.

The gallery carries a variety of decorative arts in addition to paintings. The collection includes lamps, wooden boxes, chairs, and large and small tables, as well as a variety of gift-appropriate objects at all price points. The Dubai-based brand Mishmashi makes an appearance with lively, one-of-a-kind cushions from their Flip collection. Al Gbari, a Muslim, hand-paints Christmas ornaments, echoing the secular Iraq of her childhood.

Dara Global Arts accepts commission orders to custom-decorate furniture or to paint a canvas at a specific size and using a specific color palette to match any room. Committed to social good, they are also eager to work with charities of all kinds, and will happily host private charity events and offer 20 percent of proceeds from art sold directly to the charity.

Dara will also host a series of special events, like a solo exhibition reception on Feb. 5. and a Valentine’s Day event on Feb. 15.

On one recent afternoon at the gallery, an interested couple happened to stroll in to view the art on display. One commented that the works were “extremely colorful and vibrant — and for a good cost,” and added, “I love the message that’s attached to it, too!”

Dara Global Arts will be open at in Idylwood Plaza next to the Starbucks 7501 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, until the end of March and possibly beyond. Hours from 10am-7pm daily. Contact 702-582-0804 or [email protected] with inquiries, or see the online store at daraglobalarts.com.

D. Taylor Reich is a freelance journalist who writes about urbanism and development. They are a Fulbright scholar, a 2017 graduate of Brown University and a proud alum of Arlington Public Schools.

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(Updated at 12:20 a.m.) 1st Stage may be a little theater in Tysons, but it’s drawing some big attention from the regional theater world.

The play “The Brothers Size” by Tarell Alvin McCraney will open on Thursday (Jan. 31). The play will be directed by José Carrasquillo, the director of artistic programming at Ford’s Theatre in D.C.

The play follows two brothers, as a hardworking man in the Louisiana bayou struggles to reform his brother, who was recently released from prison.

Currently the chair of playwriting at Yale School of Drama, McCraney achieved widespread acclaim after “Moonlight,” a movie he co-wrote and that was based on one of his plays, won the Academy Award for Best Picture last year.

“It’s a really stunningly beautiful, very tight three-person drama,” said Alex Levy, artistic director at 1st Stage. “It’s poetic and gripping and very funny. It’s a wonderful introduction to his world if folks are unfamiliar.”

Carrasquillo said he connects with the play on a very personal level. Like many of the characters, and like McCraney, Carrasquillo is a gay man and an artist of color. Like much of McCraney’s work, “The Brothers Size” tackles themes of machismo and differing views of manhood and sexuality in black communities.

“It’s been quite an exhilarating journey for me,” Carrasquillo said. “I’m a huge fan of the cultural spirituality that is inherent in everything he writes. I’m from Puerto Rico and can relate to a lot of that kind of religious and structure and deities… There’s a lot of feelings you have to keep to yourself, so in a way you have to live a double life because it’s seen as a sign of weakness.”

Carrasquillo said he’d been wanting to make the trip out to Tysons to work on a play for some time, and when Levy proposed directing “The Brothers Size” it seemed like a perfect fit. While Tysonians are predominately white and affluent, Carrasquillo notes that the region as a whole is diverse

“How do we bridge this? Because this community for this theater, they have embraced [Levy] and the work they do, but this feels like something really different than what they’ve seen,” Carrasquillo said. “I’m really hoping to have that dialogue with this community.”

“Theaters largely attract people that can afford that kind of ticket, but this is a very affordable theater,” said Carrasquillo. “This is a professional, young, hip community that come and support the work [at 1st Stage]. Those are people that will challenge you as a director because they really know their pop culture and they expect you to rise to their level of interest.”

Levy said the play is particularly important in light of current national conversations about black identity in America and the criminal justice system.

“I think theater is one of the last places where we’ve really come together and celebrate empathy and living in the lives of the people who are not like us,” said Levy. “It becomes a really important opportunity for those who are not part of the African-American community and important in our diversifying community that we celebrate voices and experiences of all of our community.”

The 1st Stage Theatre is a black box theater with very little distance between the audience and the stage, which Levy says is ideal for this type of play.

“It’s inherently a very intimate show,” said Levy. “I love the way it fits into our space. It’s a show where all three actors are on the stage throughout the show and are very connected to the audience. Having a space where the performance is so close to the audience is what really attracted me to the play.”

The play stars Gary-Kayi Fletcher as Ogun Size, Thony Mena as Elgba, and Clayton Pelham Jr. as Oshoosi Size.

The play will run until Feb. 24. Performances for “The Brothers” Size are:

  • Thursdays — 7:30 p.m.
  • Fridays — 8 p.m.
  • Saturdays — 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
  • Sundays — 2 p.m.

General admission tickets are $39, or $36 for seniors over 65. Students and military tickets are $15.

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Tysons is far from the cultural wasteland it once was, but there are still challenges ahead as the area develops a creative arts scene.

If Tysons truly hopes to become “America’s Next Great City,” it must become a cultural hub as well as a technological and financial one.

Urban planners across the country use arts districts to bring reinvestment to neighborhoods, and cultural amenities can be a powerful draw to the creative class. However, there are still many obstacles in the way of local artists.

Arts in the area are served by public programs like the $500,000-a-year ARTSFAIRFAX grants, but ARTSFAIRFAX is a county-wide program and its budget is relatively modest for such a large jurisdiction.

High property values can be a major obstacle to those who would rent studio or gallery space. The Katibeh Art Center, which featured works by the Iranian artist Ebrahim Emad, recently closed.

Emad told Tysons Reporter that he’d had to close the gallery in part because of difficulty physically advertising its presence, as he was unable to hang promotional signs — and because his location in a mid-rise office building offered very little pedestrian traffic.

While the Katibeh Art Center has closed, here are some other art galleries open around the area:

  • McLean Project for the Arts (1446 Chain Bridge Rd, McLean) — The McLean Project for the Arts hosts exhibitions, classes for all ages, and special events. The upcoming exhibition, Intention/Invention, will run from January 10 until March 2, with an opening reception on January 12 and an artist talk on January 26, featuring abstract works by two contemporary artists. The Project’s classes cover a wide range of media, and include many classes meant for adults with some artistic background as well as both classes and summer camps for children.
  • MK Gallery (1952 Gallows Rd, Tysons) — This gallery, a Tysons establishment for over 15 years, primarily features artists of Korean nationality or heritage. The current exhibition, on show until January 11, is a double, featuring two exciting artists. The first, B. G. Muhn, a professor of art at Georgetown, organized the first-ever exhibition of North Korean art in the United States. The other, Suh Yongsun, is based in Seoul and uses strong color to depict themes of modern social and political life.
  • Dara Global Arts (7501 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church) — Dara is a small pop-up gallery focused on painters from Syria and other Levantine countries. Featuring “a highly curated collection of original art that reflects the empowerment of artists and their freedom of expression,” it particularly features the work of women.
  • LIK Fine Art (Tysons Galleria, 2001 International Drive) — Peter Lik’s latest of seventeen luxury galleries offers large-format landscape photography.
  • Wentworth Gallery (Tysons Galleria,‎ 1807 International Drive) — This gallery brings the work of internationally-recognized artists to Tysons. A wide variety of painters are represented, from neo-impressionists to pop artists. Wentworth rotates their gallery frequently, bringing a new artist every month for a show and a reception so that patrons have a chance to meet the artist. Every month brings something “new and different.”
  • The Hermitage Gallery (6831 Tennyson Drive, McLean) — Offering both fine art framing and an exhibition gallery, the Hermitage represents a variety of local and international artists.
  • YMM Art Space (8216 Old Courthouse Rd C, Vienna) — YMM is not a gallery, but rather a space of creation and education “dedicated to stimulating the imagination and enhancing the creativity of each and every student.” They “offer classes like fashion design, comics design and origami to students as young as 8, so kids have the opportunity to develop their interests in pretty specific areas,” and there are also classes for younger children and for adults.
  • Tysons Art and Learning (8343 Greensboro Dr, Tysons) — This space offers a wide range of art courses for a variety of ages. Their courses extend to digital arts and to writing, and registration and schedules are flexible.

D. Taylor Reich is a freelance journalist who writes about urbanism and development. They are a Fulbright scholar, a 2017 graduate of Brown University and a proud alum of Arlington Public Schools.

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(Updated 2:30 p.m.) If you’re looking for a last minute holiday gift, the Torpedo Factory Artists’ Association’s location in the Mosaic District will be offering (relatively) affordable art until this coming Sunday, Dec. 23.

The ≤500 exhibit features a range of art types with a focus on affordability, all items being priced at or below $500. The artwork in the gallery includes painting, photography, and glass mosaics.

The gallery is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m.-7 p.m.

After the ≤500 exhibit closes on Sunday, a new exhibit called “Voyages” will run from Dec. 26 through Jan. 27 and “MicroResidencies” from Jan. 30 through March 3.

The Mosaic gallery is managed by the Torpedo Factory Artists’ Association. The Mosaic gallery opened at 105 District Ave in April this year, on a one-year lease, after a short run in November 2017 as a pop-up gallery.

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After 18 months of renovation, the McLean Community Center’s arts venue will be returning in January.

The Alden Theatre is reopening early next month with a full season of all-ages theatrical performances. Tickers are currently on sale.

“We’re looking forward to being back in the community’s beloved venue,” Performing Arts Director Sarah Schallern said in a press release. “The inside of the theater hasn’t been renovated; however, the rest of MCC will have amenities that will make the audience experience so much nicer.”

A schedule of performances is below.

  • Jan. 5: The Capitol Steps — SOLD OUT
  • Jan. 20: Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration — a musical blend of jazz and hip-hop. Tickets are $25 or $15 for McLean residents.
  • Feb. 2: The Wizard of Oz — A children’s theater production of the classic story. Tickets are $15 or $10 for McLean residents.
  • Feb. 23: The Okee Dokee Brothers — The Grammy Award Winning folk musicians will perform a concert for children and parents. Tickets are $20 or $15 for McLean residents.
  • Feb. 24: Perspectives Speaker Series — Crime novelist Walter Mosley will host a free lecture and book signing.
  • March 23: The Joshua Show — A puppet show take on Mr. Rogers with live music and “hipster appeal”. Tickets are $15 or $10 for McLean residents.
  • March 30, 31: American Shakespeare Center — The travelling theater show will perform Antigone, The Comedy of Errors, and The Winter’s Tale over two days. Tickets are $40 or $30 for McLean residents.
  • May 4: New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players — A performance mixing rewritten Gilbert and Sullivan songs as well as the original versions. Tickets are $40 or $30 for McLean residents.
  • May 11: All the Way Live — An interactive show where hip-hop artists remix various dances, rhymes and music. Tickets are $15 or $10 for McLean residents.

Photo via Facebook

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If you didn’t know it was there, it would be easy to miss the 1st Stage Theater.

The entrance is at the end of a long walkway over a garage and a new salsa/bachatta nightclub at 1524 Spring Hill Rd. But despite the humble appearance, for the last ten years has held the distinction of being Tysons’ only professional theater and one of the few arts venues in an area that can sometimes seem like a cultural vacuum.

Like the rest of Tysons, 1st Stage Theater has been finding an identity and working through growing pains.

The theater’s director, Alex Levy, took over the company four years ago. From the moment he walked in, Levy said he was in love with the location. Levy said the black box theater offers a large enough stage to produce shows of a grand scale, but is also close enough to its audience for a level of intimacy. But for the region, Tysons is still the frontier when it comes to arts and culture.

“It’s great being part of the [Washington D.C.] theater community, but it’s a challenge being at the edge of that,” said Levy.

Levy, who had previously worked in theater in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago, said that before he moved here, there were people who tried to warn him away.

“People tried to warn me that it was a suburban community,” said Levy. “There’s this idea that art can only exist in the urban centers. But I think this shows that that’s not the case. I don’t think there’s anything we can’t do here.”

According to Levy, the theater has been growing in attendance by 15 percent year after year, but that’s starting to have its own challenges as well.

“We’re in a position where we’re starting to feel the limitations of our capacity here,” said Levy. “We have conversations all the time about what the next home might look like. We’re not leaving Tysons, and while we want to expand, we want to maintain that intimacy. But here, there’s a lot of things behind the stage we need to expand. “

Some of those constraints have become most palpable with the theater’s most recent production. Last week, “A Civil War Christmas”, directed by Deidra LaWan Starnes, opened at the theater. With a cast of 12 actors playing 48 characters, the play is ambitious for a black-box theater without any wings and a dining-room sized green room.

“We need better rehearsal rooms, we need more bathrooms, and we would love to be in a more high visibility area,” said Levy.

The theater has made some expansions, like a new rehearsal space they moved into next door to the black-box theater that allows the company to rehearse the next play while one is still being performed. There’s also costuming and storage space, but these are short term fixes for what Levy recognizes is a longer term challenge of the theater’s location.

But Levy said the script, written by Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogel, about disparate people coming together in a time of strife, was a message he thought was very relevant. Despite the challenges the scope of the play presented, Levy said he felt it was important for the theater to attempt.

“One thing that we always ask is ‘What does it mean to do this show at this time and this place?'” said Levy.

Next year, the 1st Stage Theater’s season is scheduled to continue in the spring with “The Brothers Size,” a play by life on the bayou by Tarell Alvin McCraney, the writer of “Moonlight.” Later that year, the company is scheduled to perform “columbinus,” a play about the Columbine High School shooting.

A “Civil War Christmas” also faced another challenge the week before its opening. Markus Williams, the musical director for production, died on Monday the week before opening night. The cause of his death is still being determined.

“Markus came to the theater as a musician,” said Levy. “This was his second time directing music for a play. He was always excited, and since it was all new there were no rules for him. He would play around with choral parts and he has a very staid personality that allowed for some exciting improvisation.”

There’s a photograph of Williams with a plaque honoring him in the lobby.

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Morning Notes

Home Prices Up, Building Permits Down — The latest Fairfax County economic indicators show that home prices are up 5.8 percent year-over-year, but single-family building permits are down 25.9 percent. [Fairfax County]

Dental Office Celebrating 15 Year Anniversary — “While The Boro and other developments are in progress nearby, Nicole Van’s dental office has become a mainstay in the community.” [Patch]

Local Teen Performing at Kennedy Center — Fourteen-year-old Falls Church resident Makenzie Hymes “will have the opportunity to perform on the biggest stage of her still-young dancing career so far as Clara in Ballet West’s new production of The Nutcracker, which will have its Washington, D.C., premiere at the Kennedy Center Opera House on Dec. 5.” [Fairfax Times]

The Changing Face of Fairfax County — “We have a greater diversity of racial and ethnic population than we did two decades ago. Compared to 2000, Asian and Pacific Islanders made up the highest increase, from 13.1 to 19.5 percent in 2018.  Our Hispanic population increased from 11 to 16.2 percent.” [Fairfax County]

FCPD Social Media Star Retiring — “In bittersweet news, our beloved K9 Moose is retiring! On more than 250 posts, Moose has earned over 40,000 combined likes across all of our social media platforms.” [Facebook]

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