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Workhouse Outside the Big House

Open house kicks off new season of classes.

The Lorton Arts Foundation has managed to stay active in the community for more than three years now, in spite of its homeless status during most of that time, by partnering with other organizations. Now, through a partnership with the commercial real estate company Edens & Avant, the foundation is using a rent-free space in the Shoppes of Lorton Valley shopping center to offer its second set of classes. The doors of this temporary home were thrown open to the public on Sunday, Aug. 5.

"It's just a way to get the community introduced to what's coming at the workhouse," said Sherran Denkler, of the art on display and the classes about to begin. Denkler is the foundation's director of development and marketing.

Executive Arts Director Sharon Mason noted that the art hanging around the two rooms of the 1,100-square-foot space was created by the foundation's staff. "Some of our staff are artists, and some are not," she said. "So we've got some interesting stuff on the walls."

Last spring, the foundation offered weekend art workshops in what will be the theater at the coming Lorton Arts Center, on the former grounds of the Lorton Prison Workhouse. "We didn't have heating or air conditioning, so we held it during the milder season," said Mason. Now, with sewer pipes being installed and other renovations taking place in the Workhouse buildings (the center will keep the name), classes had to be held elsewhere.

Knowing that several spaces in the new shopping center up the road had not yet been leased, the foundation called Edens & Avant, the owner of Shoppes at Lorton Valley, and asked if the company would like to form a partnership. "They're giving us the space rent-free until they lease it," said Mason, adding that she hoped the space would not be leased until March, when the foundation expects to have a suitable space open on the Workhouse site. Meanwhile, Mason said, she appreciated the chance to establish a presence "right here in the center of the community."

A FULL SCHEDULE of classes was planned to kick off this week, but Mason said moving in and securing even a free lease took longer than expected. As a result, only yoga classes and a children's collage class have been held in the Shoppes at Lorton Valley location. An Oriental brush-painting course will start next week, and the rest of the classes will begin in the fall. The health and wellness program, including yoga, Pilates and tai chi instruction, will be housed in the rear room of the facility, and art classes will be taught in the front.

By noon, nearly 30 people had stopped in to visit the future classrooms, although nothing was being offered at the time but a chance to chat, admire staff artwork, eat cookies and drink coffee. Some had read of the open house in advance, but others had simply stumbled upon it. "I think that's one of the advantages of being out here," said Denkler, noting that shopping center patrons were being drawn in.

"This is the first thing in Lorton people have been excited about," said Fairfax Station resident Maxine Ringle of the future arts center, as she finished her tour of the foundation's intermediate home. "I do want to keep in touch with what they're doing, so this is one way of doing that," she said, adding that she planned to attend the center's events, particularly dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov's performance on the Workhouse grounds in late September.