NoVa arts venues find young adults a tough audience

New Signature Exterior
The exterior of Signature Theater in Shirlington

This month’s talk by author Mathew Klickstein, who discussed his book Slimed! about the history of Nickelodeon, was exactly the type of event that the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia’s cultural arts director, Dan Kirsch, wants to produce to attract Jewish young adults.

But the small crowd that showed up at Angelika Film Center in Fairfax’s Mosaic District was a reminder of how difficult it can be to bring young people out to an artistic event.

“It’s a really hard market to capture,” says Kirsch.

Kirsch says attracting young Jewish professionals is a work in progress and that other departments at the JCCNV are also trying to figure out the way forward.

“We’re all trying to find ways to connect – where is the population? What are the interesting themes? Is it through cultural events or does each cultural event have to have a central aspect such as food and drink?” says Kirsch, who is seeking partners and Metro-accessible locations to reach young adults,  many of whom live and work off the Metro line in places like Clarendon and Crystal City.

But even in more urban centers where young people congregate, the arts in general appear to be struggling in Northern Virginia. The Arlington County Board voted Dec. 17 to close the Artisphere cultural center in Rosslyn and approve a life-saving loan for the Signature Theater in Shirlington.

“In many cases, the people living in those areas face east when they are thinking about what to do for social life, for arts and culture,” says JCCNV Executive Director Jeff Dannick. “They look to D.C. So developing programming here in Northern Virginia, making people aware of the programming and then enticing them to come and experience the programming is challenging.”

Dannick says he is saddened but not surprised by the closing of Artisphere. The JCCNV has had programs there, and Dannick calls it a “great space.” Before Dannick became involved in Jewish communal work, he worked in professional theater, managing the business end of regional theaters, so he has a keen awareness of how challenging it can be to draw audiences and financial support.

But he is still bullish on the arts in Northern Virginia and JCCNV’s arts and cultural programming.

“In Northern Virginia, particularly in Fairfax County, there is a lot of grassroots arts happening, and it’s a pretty vibrant scene for a suburban community. So I’m encouraged by that,” says Dannick. “I think that the arts are going to become even more important [as the population increases and ages] and probably will thrive as long as we can maintain our momentum and keep fighting the fight to draw people in and do good work.”

Kirsch says he is excited about a couple of upcoming events that he thinks Jewish young adults will enjoy – QuinTango, a tango performance, on Jan. 10, and the Northern Virginia Jewish Film Festival March 19-29.

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