#31: Public-private partnerships and creative expression with Joshua Stoltzfus, Arlington Economic Development

This is a special episode brought to you by Arlington Economic Development in Arlington, Virginia. Today we’re going to talk about Public/Private partnerships and how they are essential to the visibility of creative and cultural expression in Arlington. The uniqueness of these initiatives is key to attracting and retaining businesses of all sizes to an area, and today we’re going to talk about this with someone who is directly involved in this. To help me discuss this topic, I’d like to welcome Josh Stoltzfus Deputy Director, Arlington County Cultural Affairs Division.


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Note: This was generated by AI and lightly edited

Greg Kihlström:
This is a special episode brought to you by Arlington Economic Development in Arlington, Virginia. Today we’re going to talk about public-private partnerships and how they’re essential to the visibility of creative and cultural expression in Arlington and beyond. The uniqueness of these initiatives is key to attracting and retaining businesses of all sizes to an area. And today we’re going to talk about this with someone who is directly involved in this in Arlington County. To help me discuss this topic, I’d like to welcome Josh Stoltzfus, Deputy Director, Arlington County Cultural Affairs Division. Josh, welcome to the show. Hey, Greg, thanks for having me on.

Josh Stoltzfus: Yeah, so I mean, my origin story, if you will, is I’m a musician by training. That’s how I got into this work. And for years, I was playing music and working in more commercial music field, festivals, independent record companies, booking agencies, and the like. And I got really interested in doing arts programming, which brought me into the non-profit arts field, which ultimately is what led me here to Arlington County. And so I am still acting in that capacity for cultural affairs in terms of developing and producing original arts programming, but also working as deputy director in capacity around strategy and operational issues here for the division. So for someone who started out as a song and dance man, if you will, I’m kind of an accidental public servant now going on almost 12 years.

Greg Kihlström: Nice, nice. Awesome. Well, yeah, let’s jump in here and let’s start by talking about partnerships and cultural affairs has built some strong relationships with businesses and business improvement districts or bids. What are some of the ways that cultural affairs division has connected with these organizations to align aspects of their mission?

Josh Stoltzfus: Sure, so two of our major placemaking anchors here in Arlington are the Columbia Pike Blues Festival and the Roslyn Jazz Festival. These are partnerships with the Columbia Pike Partnership and the Roslyn Business Improvement District, respectively. Longstanding relationships, these events are now in their 27th and 32nd years, respectively. Naturally, that relationship has evolved over the years as the events have evolved. But at this stage, we are involved in almost every aspect of those programs from curatorial to marketing, logistics, and sort of soup to nuts. It’s a really strong partnership with both organizations for these real large place-making events. I’d say one of the things that has been our greatest strength in this partnership is helping to, for these events to evolve and stay current and contemporary in terms of their programming, so that we can bring new audiences, constantly developing, refreshing that audience, both to highlight all that these communities have to offer, but also for the residents and for the businesses in the areas, but also as a spotlight for the wider region, for all that’s happening here in Arlington. And we operate in a similar capacity with some of the other bids and partnerships at different scales. But those two events that kind of bookend the summer, and I’ll take a minute to plug that, Blues Festival is June 15th this year, and Jazz Festival is September 7th. Those are the two big ones that start and end our summer here in Arlington.

Greg Kihlström: Nice, nice. Yeah. And so for those listening that are maybe a little less familiar with the term bid or business improvement district, just wondering if you could dive a little deeper on that. There’s probably some obvious Benefits that that people could imagine but you know, what what is it like to you know? What is Arlington County doing? What what are the bids doing in you know in in one or both of these vessels? I mean obviously something’s working really well if they’re going on 30 years here So sounds like it’s been it’s been mutually beneficial, but could you talk a little bit about that? You know who does what kind of?

Josh Stoltzfus: Well, so, I mean, in the way that we partner, it tends to be around, or I will say cultural affairs partners tends to be around events. You know, the bids and the partnerships are involved in many different capacities in terms of supporting businesses, and in some cases, residents, depending on how they’re structured in their neighborhoods. The way that we intersect mostly is through events and programming. And what I think is, you know, the way that they’re structured as such is that in some ways they’re kind of quasi-government agencies. They have the ability to either receive funds directly from local government or sort of a de facto tax that allows them to collect money through that stream. But what is interesting is that they’re able to do things that because they’re embedded directly in the community that say we can’t necessarily do within the structure of the government. But there are so they’re able to support and partner in that way. But there are also things that they can’t do. And those are the spaces that I think that we’re able to step into, at least in terms of arts and cultural programming to help support them, because they don’t have that kind of programming staff typically. as part of their organization. So we’re able to shore that up with these types of partnerships around these events.

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Greg Kihlström: So one thing that I know Arlington’s gotten a lot of great press around and a lot of notice around is developments like companies like Amazon moving HQ2 to Arlington, Virginia. What are some of the ways that cultural affairs can help and augment projects like these?

Josh Stoltzfus: Yeah, so that’s a great example. You know, creative placemaking is a major focus for Arlington Economic Development, of which Cultural Affairs is a division. And within Cultural Affairs, the Public Art Unit plays a key role in that effort, as they manage 80 permanent works in the collection and stewarding all the new projects that come online, both county-initiated and developer-funded projects. For a major development like HQ2, public art is one of the five county benefits negotiated as part of the developer site plan. So Amazon chose to make public art central to the identity of their HQ2 Metropolitan Park, which contains several notable additions, including Queen City, which is the artist Nikisha Durrett. There are a number of ways that we supported that effort, including coordinating with the artists in Arlington Historical Society, Arlington Public Library, the Black Heritage Museum as well, to aid the artists in their research. And a number of the artists that contributed ceramic work to that also were in residence at the county-owned and operated LAC Studios here in Arlington as well. So, there are a lot of different ways that we can support a project like that. And that’s just one example. Queen City, of course, is, for those who haven’t seen it, it’s a 35-foot tall structure, and the interior of it contains 903 ceramic vessels that represent the African-American residents that were displaced in 1941 from the Queen City neighborhood that was raised to build the Pentagon. A little bit of a hidden history for some, for others very familiar with this story, but a division like, or rather a unit like Public Art within Cultural Affairs plays an integral role in supporting Amazon’s effort in a project like that.

Greg Kihlström: Yeah, I mean, that’s some powerful, some powerful ways of, of communicating things. And, you know, some, some great ways to, to support those stories being told and captured and shared. And, you know, by being such a big public benefit, how can businesses and their employees as well as residents experience some more of these cultural offerings that Cultural Affairs has to offer?

Josh Stoltzfus: Well, so I would be remiss if I didn’t mention in this conversation that they can go to ArlingtonArts.org and learn about all that, sign up for our newsletter and learn more about all of the programming that’s happening here in Arlington. We make a really strong effort to not only promote the programs that we’re directly involved in or supporting through financial matters, but also trying to sweep up everything that’s happening in this area to provide an opportunity to see the full continuum of expressions that are available here, from public art to free public programming, ticketed events that are going on throughout the county. A couple of anchors for us in terms of free events, which is a big part of what we do, the Love Will Run Summer Concert Series. We do 24 summer shows a year in the Arlington Forest neighborhood, and those are all free Friday and Saturday and Sunday. We’re running programs, other partnerships like the Clarendon Alliance for their Music by the Metro Series, which is free music out at the Clarendon Metro Station every Thursday in May. And then programs like the Arlington Art Truck, which are out in about 30 to 40 different activations from April to October, bringing artists in residence and free public interactions with arts programming throughout the county.

Greg Kihlström: Well, and, you know, it sounds like there’s a lot of There’s a lot of programs, there’s a lot of diversity in the programs. You know, how do you look at innovating in this area? You know, how does Arlington Cultural Affairs look at potential of a program and weigh that and decide kind of what to invest the time and effort into?

Josh Stoltzfus: Sure. So, I mean, we talk a lot about the idea of placemaking and its role within economic development. But at the end of the day, this is a cultural affairs division, and so we are primarily concerned, as far as the issue of diversity goes, that we want to be able to put out a public program that represents diversity across a number of different factors. Now, that includes artistic discipline, I think there are very few that we are not involved in, in some capacity. Culture and expression within those disciplines, factors of gender and age, we want to see all of those represented so that the community that we’re serving has the opportunity to see themselves in these programs. that you might not necessarily like every single thing we’re producing, and I certainly wouldn’t expect anyone to, but there is an entry point across every age, I think, and experience in Arlington to find themselves within one of these programs. And if we can reach the community and be able to communicate all that we do, I’m certain that people can find something that they would find a value and enjoy experiencing here in Arlington.

Greg Kihlström: Yeah, yeah. And, you know, I think I would have my own answer to this to this question. But just while I have you here, you know, what is there seems like there’s a lot of benefits to the residents and the individuals to take part in these programs and experience them. How should businesses be thinking about access to these programs, you know, like Arlington is a very diverse place. There’s, there’s a lot of opportunities there. How should businesses be thinking about that in terms of, you know, those companies that might be thinking about moving headquarters or opening up another, um, another location or even, you know, small businesses starting, you know, how should they think about the way that a place is, you know, treating these, these public, uh, private partnerships.

Josh Stoltzfus: I think it really depends on the business, but one of the things that I emphasize here within our own team is that the idea of placemaking is one of these terms that is a little bit of a misnomer. We’re trying to bring out a place that exists already. We’re not making anything. Rather, we’re just accentuating and bringing forth that which is already here. And some of those stories are hidden and not obvious at first glance. And in some cases, they’re very on the nose. We’re going to produce a program that has a very direct correlation and obvious to the space that that business or that community is occupying. But the idea that investing in those stories and being true to that is, for me, the way to think about it. And I think that Having those conversations with businesses and being able to outline all the different ways that they can get involved, besides maybe what they’re seeing on the surface, is really where to find those opportunities. Because those are the resources that we have, those are the kinds of stories that we can bring forward. And those happen through, you know, deeper level engagements with our businesses. You know, partnerships are kind of like friends, right? Like you, you, you put the work in and then the language sort of becomes shorthand and, and you understand each other and, and where that, that natural overlap is in that sort of Venn diagram between, you know, arts and business and really leaning into that. And that takes a level of commitment and engagement, right? These things don’t just happen overnight. There’s opportunities to do this work, but it takes time, right? And that sort of speaks to the nature of partnerships. There are obvious ways that these things make sense, but when you put in the deeper work, you get to see all these other benefits in the ways that you might not necessarily think about them.

Greg Kihlström: Well, Josh, thanks so much for joining. One last question, kind of building on what you were just talking about. But one last question before we wrap up here. You know, if you had one piece of advice to give about creating more mutually beneficial public private partnerships, what would it be?

Josh Stoltzfus: Well, so building on what I was just saying, I think just from a tactical standpoint, just sort of getting on the same page, it’s just, it’s always clearly defining roles and responsibilities, right? So one, building that level of trust, and that’s sort of like an ongoing process on both sides, you know, obviously not just going to your partner when you need something, and vice versa, right? But, you know, once you have that relationship built and that trust that is established, you’re really leaning into, okay, what is it that you do well and where can we shore you up and vice versa, right? So that it is truly a partnership where everyone is getting something out of it. I mean, that seems obvious, but I’ve seen in so many times in practice how it doesn’t actually work that