Twenty-five years ago Arlington County had a modest cultural scene. Today it is a hotbed of music, theater, visual arts, dance and ethnic heritage groups.
Watching this growth has been Norma Kaplan, the division chief of Arlington Cultural Affairs for the last 25 years.
Next month Kaplan is transferring the lessons from Arlington to New Brunswick, N.J., where she will be the executive director of the New Brunswick Cultural Center.
“I was considering retiring,” said Kaplan, 61, who has been commuting between West Virginia and Northern Virginia for many years. But she said she couldn’t abandon the arts entirely, especially at a time when so many organizations are looking for a new direction and financial resources.
“Because of the financial situation across the country, arts organizations are taking a step back, along with the National Endowment for the Arts and others, and asking how do you support the arts in the future. My work here was looking at ways artists and arts organizations could share resources,” Kaplan said. In Arlington in fiscal 2011 all arts groups were hit with an 11 percent reduction in funds from the county.
Under the award-winning innovation of an Arts Incubator, Arlington encouraged groups to use county facilities and to combine many of its backstage operations, including the costume collections and scene shops.These initiatives brought the programs national attention when it won awards from the Ford Foundation and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard in 1996.
Kaplan wants to take many of the ideas that encouraged Arlington’s growth to her new job. In addition to the cultural center, she will be managing director of the George Street Playhouse, one of three theaters in the complex.
In New Brunswick, Kaplan hopes to try something news: bringing the management under one umbrella. But with a strong caveat. “The question is how do you keep your artistic integrity intact.”