Behind the Scenes with BMD: Arlington’s Director of Cultural Affairs, Karen Vasquez, Discusses the State of the Arts and Lucy’s Role in Business

The Arts and Economic Prosperity Study, recently released by Americans for the Arts, shows that communities that invest in the arts reap the additional benefits of jobs, economic growth, quality of life, that positions communities to compete in the 21st century creative economy. Nationally the arts and culture industry generated $166.2 billion in economic activity — a 24 percent increase in just five years — and $30 billion in state, local and federal government revenues. In Arlington, the arts generate $7.1 million in local and state revenue, and support 2,545 full time jobs.

We talked with Karen Vasquez, Director of Cultural Affairs, Director for Arlington County, about the state of arts in the county and the role BMD Artistic Director Lucy Bowen McCauley plays in successfully bridging the arts and business worlds in Arlington.

Q: Karen, tell us about the role the arts has played in Arlington.
Arlington has been at the forefront of support for the arts since it launched its art incubator program in 1990. It was a groundbreaking model that suggested that in addition to financial support, arts groups need space and supportive services to thrive. It allowed for arts organizations to take root in Arlington and grow. Now we have fertile ground with organizations such as BMD, Signature Theatre, Synetic Theatre, and Washington Shakespeare Theatre that have had, not only longevity as institutions, but also were able to be supported in a single community.

Q: Arlington’s Cultural Affairs Program recently moved to economic development from parks and recreation and you were named director of cultural affairs. What are your goals?

The first focus is artistic sustainability. In other words, what do we need to do to help local arts organizations to grow and stabilize? How do we help them create functional and effective boards of directors? How do we help them make ties to the business community and develop better fundraising and development capacity? If we can help them here, they can focus their energies on their artistic enterprises.

Then, I hope to help integrate the arts through our Arlington neighborhoods and communities. We want businesses and individuals to say, “I want to live here. I want my business to locate here.”

Q: What’s the economic climate like in 2013?

These are tough times and it’s a tight budget year with significant budget gaps to fill. The arts tend to have a target on their back; however, Arlington has consistently supported the arts. We hope our leadership and community continue to support the arts, and recognize that even if you don’t go to an arts performance regularly, you understand why it is important to our community and our economy — locally and regionally.

Q: Lucy has been active in Arlington business as well as the arts. How important is that?

I used to serve on the board for BMD and during my tenure there I saw Lucy “take off” in embracing Arlington as a community. BMD does not have a home theatre, and in some ways that has helped them tour and build audiences. While BMD has office space in Ballston (thanks to the relationship Lucy developed with John Shooshan of the Shooshan Companies who owns the building), they don’t have a physical space to call home.

Lucy lives in Arlington and loves the community. She took key steps to show BMD’s commitment to Arlington and developed a strategy to remind businesses what an asset BMD is to the community. She is a graduate of Leadership Arlington; she and Executive Director, Ricki Marion, recruited more board members from the business community; and Lucy developed relationships with the local real estate development community. Recently Lucy was appointed to both the Arlington Economic Development Commission and the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.

“Lucy is willing to go out of the comfort zone of a lot of artistic directors. She is very practically minded and smart. I give her tremendous kudos. I watched her outreach to the business community strengthen her company and allow her to do even more interesting work artistically. Lucy is held up as a model and a role model for arts organizations in Arlington, and that’s absolutely well-deserved.”Karen Vasquez, Director of Cultural Affairs, Arlington County