The two-story building on Little River Turnpike in Fairfax began as a house in the 1800s. Later it was a school and then became what is now the Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia. After the center built its modern facility 31 years ago, the old house sat unused.
But last month, after a renovation and addition, it became The Smith-Kogod Cultural Arts Center.
“The feeling of the building was still kept in mind,” said Arts and Ideas Director Sarah Berry. “They wanted to keep the look and the feel of what that old house was.”
With its large glass windows and gray and white paneling, it has a contemporary look while maintaining the feel of a house. The renovations have altered the way people will see the JCC, said Laura Adler, the center’s marketing and communications director.
“Having that now as a face sitting on Little River Turnpike, as opposed to that dilapidated building — it’s really a moment of pride to be able to show our face to 45,000 people driving by every day,” she said. “We look contemporary. It just better represents who we are.”
Walking into the two-story space, the hardwood floors and natural light make it feel inviting and modern. The building includes a classroom, hardwood floor dance studio, large performance space and a greenroom with couches and candles that performers can use to prepare before events.
The performance space’s ceiling triangulates upward — it used to be the attic of the old house. Judaica and works by Jewish artists decorate the walls, and a statue that was commissioned when the main building was built sits outside the new center.
“A lot of thought went into the detail of even adorning the space,” said Berry. “It’s just celebrating the Jewish arts.”
Executive Director Jeff Dannick, who has a theater background, helped plans become a reality.
“He was familiar with the arts and what the need is, so I think that’s [what helped drive that],” Adler said. Adler said the JCC could not provide specific numbers on the cost of renovating the building.
The arts center is a “blank canvas,” Berry said, so it can be adapted to any type of event, class or performance. Depending on the size of the performance ensemble, the upstairs performance space can host an audience of 100. There’s professional lighting and sound equipment, and furniture can be brought in for other events.
The dance studio has the exact footprint of the stage in the main building’s auditorium, Berry said. That way, staging and rehearsals can easily move between locations. Dance and yoga classes, which had been meeting in the main building, used the arts center for the first time last week.
School-age kids are kicking off Youth Theater Programming, which took a hiatus for a
number of years. Berry said the main building had gotten so busy that there wasn’t room for the youth theater to meet. The spring performance of “Peter Pan, Jr.” will show in the
But there can be other uses for the space, too. Shy Ashkenazi, the JCC’s shaliach, hosted a Chanukah party in the new building with the Israeli American Council in December. He said it was great to have a fresh, elegant space to host an event.
“We served wine in actual wine glasses, and the atmosphere was more of that with nice lighting, putting the shades a little bit down so you don’t see the road necessarily, but you get enough of the light outside,” Ashkenazi said. “So it was it was a fun atmosphere in a new building in a new kind of space that’s not the gym or the auditorium here.”
He can imagine lectures and discussions happening in the intimate setting, and said being in a new place that doesn’t feel like a JCC “brings a different atmosphere to it.”
“First time I saw it, I loved it. I looked and saw there’s so much potential,” Ashkenazi said. “Seeing the potential of freshening up things … the crowd is used to having the adults lounge [in the main building, and] everything’s very JCC. And [the arts center] is very
different than this building.”
The arts do get first dibs for using space in the new building. Berry, who oversees arts programming, wants artists of all kinds and levels of ability to get value from the new center. She foresees that the Northern Virginia Jewish Film Festival and other festivals will take place in the arts center.
“I really want to see that we’re creating art here,” she said, “that we’re incubating the arts [in Northern Virginia].”
Ashkenazi, who is a musician himself, says he wants to take advantage of the space and use it to create.
“I have a session that tells about my personal story and the story of Israel in my
life, through music, my music and others,” he said. “So I would love to perform that