A Collaborative Future for Arts in Alexandria

A Collaborative Future for Arts in Alexandria

City approves Arts and Culture Master Plan.

Torpedo Factory artists rally at the Dec. 17 City Council meeting.

Torpedo Factory artists rally at the Dec. 17 City Council meeting. Photo by Vernon Miles.

Torpedo Factory artists turned out in force to the City Council meeting on Dec. 17 in a show of support for the artists’ institution. In October, the Torpedo Factory was taken over by the city government and its leadership was temporarily assigned to the Office of the Arts. For many at the Torpedo Factory, the future of the beloved but financially troubled institution is in jeopardy.

At a Tuesday City Council meeting, discussion of the city’s Arts and Culture Master Plan revolved mostly around one paragraph that touched on the Office of the Arts’ expanded role following the temporary acquisition of the Torpedo Factory. At that meeting, Councilwoman Redella “Del” Pepper and Mayor Allison Silberberg had expressed concerns that including the line could lead to concerns that the change was permanent. The discussion was tabled until Saturday’s meeting.

At Saturday’s City Council meeting, the topic of the Torpedo Factory came up again as part of the Master Plan discussion, but there was no opposition in the public comment and the disagreement on the dais seemed to have fizzled out. During the final approval of the plan, the City Council and members of the public expressed support for the plan.

“It’s a flexible framework in which to expand arts and cultural offerings,” said Susan Amber Gordon, a member of Alexandria’s Commission for the Arts. “This will pave the way for new collaborations as well as collaborations with city government.”

“With this plan informing our decisions and actions we can focus on youth development and neighborhood development [within the arts],” said Kate Elkins, also a member of the Commission for the Arts.

The Arts and Culture Master Plan establishes five goals: achieve equity, inclusion and access for artistic and cultural endeavors, facilitate opportunities for innovation and collaboration, support and foster a sustainable and diverse community of the arts, convey and facilitate artistic and cultural expression, and raise community awareness of the Office of the Arts. As part of The Arts and Culture Master Plan’s implementation, The Office of the Arts and the Alexandria Commission for the Arts will develop annual work plans and establish task forces to work towards yearly goals.

Some had expressed concerns that the plan did not do enough to incorporate the city’s historical resources or the local business community, However, each speaker supported the plan in general. Pepper noted as she was looking through the plan she was unsure how the city would meet the sweeping goals of the plan until she saw that it would include employing new staff members to the Office of the Arts, which will be dependent on the upcoming budgets. The plan also calls for additional full-time employees when financially feasible to increase programming capacity and community engagement. Specifically, the plan identifies the need for a full-time public art manager and a full-time administrative assistant under the Office of the Arts.

The City Council voted unanimous approval of the plan, with Pepper adding a note in the minutes that the plan does not imply or address any council decision of the future governance of the Torpedo Factory.

Torpedo Factory artists in attendance said they weren’t concerned about the paragraph referencing the Office of the Arts’ temporary leadership of the center, but said they were concerned about the decisions for the Torpedo Factory that would come up over the next year.

“I’m not concerned about that line,” said Torpedo Factory artist Greenway Richard. “But I am concerned about what’s happening in 2017 and they said they haven’t even gotten to that.”

“There was slight concern on that, but moreso there was concern that the implementation didn’t address the authority of the increased Office of the Arts and how that’s related to management and direction versus support, “said Abby McClain, director of the Artists Association. “The city should support and empower artists. We’re not for or against the plan, we’ll have to wait. It’s very broad. We want to hear more before we officially support it.”