MPA outlines vision for use of Clemyjontri Park property

Lori Carbonneau, executive director of the McLean Project for the Arts, describes a proposal for a new arts center at Clemyjontri Park during a Feb. 24, 2020, meeting at the McLean Community Center. (Photo by Brian Trompeter)

McLean Project for the Arts (MPA) and the Fairfax County Park Authority on Feb. 24 publicly unveiled a proposal for a new arts center with galleries, indoor and outdoor classroom spaces, artist studios and a tennis-court-sized “central green” at Clemyjontri Park in McLean.

“The programming we anticipate is virtually what we do here, just on a grander scale,” said MPA executive director Lori Carbonneau during the public-information meeting, held at the McLean Community Center.

While the arts organization offers painting, drawing and other “easel-based” classes at its DuVal Studio, the group does not have sufficient space for other methods of artistic expression, such as woodworking, ceramics, pottery and printing, she said.

Carbonneau envisions offering a labyrinth with artwork in its center, and building a native-plant garden at the site that could produce dyes for art projects. Weddings also could be held at the art center’s main gallery or its outdoor green, she said.

MPA would redevelop the 1912 home of park founder Adele Lebowitz to be preserved and use it for administrative offices.

Apart from expressing some concerns about security and the level of activity, many residents who attended the meeting seemed enthused about the proposal’s potential.

The FCPA would have to draft, revise and approve a master plan for the proposal. The initiative also would have to undergo a “2232” review to ensure it conforms with the county’s comprehensive plan and then would have to undergo the Board of Supervisors’ special-exception process.

Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) emphasized that the proposal is in its infancy and that given Clemyjontri Park’s prominence in the community, county officials want the public’s input on how to proceed.

“We’re dealing with one of the true gems of McLean,” Foust said. “We will never do anything that’s not in the best interest of that property. I hope we can make this work. It’s a way to develop an even greater sense of community in McLean.”

Fairfax County in October 2006 opened 2-acre Clemyjontri Park at 6317 Georgetown Pike on 18 acres donated by Lebowitz to the county in 2000. Lebowitz, who died in 2014 at age 98, gave the park its unusual name by using portions of the names of her children: Carolyn (CL), Emily (EMY), John (JON) and Petrina (TRI).

Clemyjontri was one of the first large-scale U.S. parks designed to be used jointly by  people with and without disabilities. Timothy Hackman, Dranesville District representative on the FCPA board, noted how the park’s specialized equipment had allowed a disabled veteran to play alongside his children.

The park has exceeded the vision of its founder and FCPA, and is known internationally as an outstanding destination, Hackman said. MPA’s proposal would further the park’s reach, he added.

The park has four themed areas centered around a handicapped-accessible carousel. MPA would love to have the park’s 80,000 annual visitors on its doorstep, Carbonneau said.

According to a report presented to FCPA’s board of directors in late 2019, the facility would result in an “infinitesimal” additional usage load at the park during daytime hours. There would be an estimated eight to 10 MPA administrative staffers on site from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and art classes would draw five to 12 students apiece, plus the instructor.

MPA’s more heavily attended events would occur from 7 to 9 p.m., outside the park’s daily usage. These include eight to 12 exhibition openings annually, which usually draw about 100 attendees each, and about three special events per year, which would attract between 100 and 250 people.

Two of MPA’s four main programs would stay at their current venues, officials said. MPA ArtReach, which draws about 3,500 people, would stay at the McLean Community Center, and the annual fall MPAartfest, which attracts about 10,000 attendees, would remain at McLean Central Park.

MPA would keep having exhibitions at its Emerson Gallery and providing arts instruction at its DuVal Studio. Both of those locations are in the McLean Community Center.

Because of the costs involved in bringing the Lebowitz house up to standards as a public facility, MPA would not assume control of the house under the Park Authority’s resident-curator program, said Ryan Stewart, FCPA’s park-planning supervisor.

A consultant’s report determined the house needs about $600,000 worth of work, said David Buchta, manager of FCPA’s Heritage Conservation Branch. Instead, MPA’s concept would substantially rehabilitate the house, but retain its character, he said.

Non-profit MPA, founded in 1962, has an annual budget of about $1 million, approximately 20 percent of which comes from in-kind contributions, Carbonneau said. The proposed arts center at Clemyjontri Park would require the organization to raise additional funds, she said.

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