Alexandria: Who Should Steer Torpedo Factory?

Alexandria: Who Should Steer Torpedo Factory?

Artists Association proposes new management structure.

Starting in October, the City of Alexandria has taken over management of the Torpedo Factory. But even as the city starts its temporary control, the Torpedo Factory Artists Association (TFAA) has presented some different ideas for how the property should be run in the future.


The Torpedo Factory on the Alexandria Waterfront.

Under the current system, the city now leases studio space directly to the artists and other tenants of the Torpedo Factory. The plan is slated to remain in effect only until the city and Torpedo Factory administrative groups can agree on a new system.

While the review of Torpedo Factory operations by The Cultural Planning Group (CPG) earlier this year recommended an independent board, the TFAA plan calls for a new board led primarily by artists. While city officials would also have a place on the board, TFAA President Don Viehman said the new plan would get the Torpedo Factory back to its roots as an artist-run facility.

“The artists here are not novices; we’ve been here for 42 years,” said Viehman. We’ve been able to manage this place and turn it into a nationally known art center. Most of that came from the artists who are here.”

The TFAA plan calls for diversified revenue streams and greater community outreach from the artist community.

“We have an internal community, in that artists that are here are a part of a community, but we also live in Alexandria,” said Viehman. “What we need to do, from an artistic point of view but also from a business point of view, is to have an audience and a public [that’s eager] to visit. We need to reach out to the community. Not just for the marketplace; we need to do things that engage populations in Alexandria and the region to show them that we’re good neighbors.”

Viehman says the artists at the TFAA are already working to provide services across the city and show that they can be a public asset. One artist brought a portable forge to T.C. Williams High School and worked with the art department at the school to set up an iron pour. Students were able to mold and pour hot metal into molds and learn about the basics of metalworking.

“[This kind of activity] makes us engaged,” said Viehman. “We’re meeting and inspiring kids and being inspired by them. It provides an addition to the arts program in the school and it ultimately means parents come too and get involved.”

Under the TFAA plan, artists at the Torpedo Factory would be required to participate in community outreach and engagement objectives in order to maintain their leased space. Availability of space for artists at the Torpedo Factory was one source of controversy under the former Torpedo Factory system. The CPG report found that artists with seniority often held onto valuable spaces at the Torpedo Factory without making proper use of those spaces. Some studios meant to be accessible to the public were closed more often than they were open. Viehman said the new TFAA plan would strictly enforce community engagement and extend minimum hours of artist presence in the studio. Artists using Torpedo Factory spaces will also undergo assessment for renewal of their artist tenure status.

Currently, the TFAA plan is undergoing review by city staff.

“We have received the plan from the TFAA as well as other documents outlining recommendations for the future of the arts center,” said Deputy City Manager Emily Baker in an email. “The city is currently transitioning the leases for the individual studios directly to the city, effective Oct. 1. At the same time, we are developing a community outreach process to help outline the future governance structure for the Torpedo Factory. This process is intended to begin later this fall. The intent is to conduct a robust process that includes internal and external stakeholders as well as the broader Alexandria community.”

Baker said the TFAA plan was being considered as one of several proposals submitted to the city.

“We appreciate the time and focus that the TFAA and others are spending to develop recommendations,” said Baker. “At this time, it is premature for staff to comment on the recommendations by specific groups. We want to ensure that the public engagement process is able to include a broader range of discussion before any decisions are made.”