Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Return Control To Artists

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Return Control To Artists

We read with interest your article “Paths Not Taken” [May 3] in Alexandria and, as the resident artists of the Torpedo Factory, we would like to share our vision for its future.

In 1974, a tenacious group of artists banded together and carved out a vibrant, thriving art center from the derelict torpedo factory. Almost from the day it opened, the Torpedo Factory Art Center has been considered a national model for the arts, tourism, and economic development. The group of artists, now called the Torpedo Factory Artists’ Association (TFAA), managed and maintained the building at no cost to the city for decades. Studies show out-of-town visitors to the Torpedo Factory spend nearly $65 per day during their visit to Alexandria. In 2016, this spending totaled an estimated $35.2 million to the benefit of the city’s hotels, restaurants, retail establishments and other businesses.

Last year, renowned economist Stephen Fuller presented his economic impact study of the Torpedo Factory stating “The Torpedo Factory Art Center is the most significant single visitor attraction in Alexandria … the attractive power of this destination is its unique experience: the ability for visitors to interact with artists and the creative process … A vibrant Torpedo Factory is essential to Old Town’s commercial success.”

After the failure of a City Council-appointed board, the City of Alexandria took over building management and began arts programming in 2016. They increased the number of employees onsite, in addition to taking on the burden and cost of maintenance, janitorial services, and utilities. City employees are performing functions that were previously performed by TFAA at no cost to the city. Office of the Arts management has also needlessly absorbed the cost of multiple studios for their administrative needs, depriving artists who are willing to pay rent and provide community benefit. Additionally, the city manager now oversees almost 100 individual artist leases, including signing documents every time an artist goes on vacation or gets sick, and the Special Finance department is burdened with the invoices and payments for those leases each month.

Using city funds to manage the Torpedo Factory Art Center through the Office of the Arts is not advantageous nor is it necessary. The operational costs of the Torpedo Factory should be the responsibility of those who inhabit it, and coupled with the financial oversight and decision-making authority to make it succeed.

The TFAA has a plan and asks for support from Alexandria businesses, community and the city to re-establish artist governance of the Torpedo Factory. We feel we can make the Torpedo Factory more vibrant than ever, keeping it one of Virginia’s top tourist attractions, a major draw to the Alexandria waterfront and a significant contributor to a strong economic future.

Mary Beth Gaiarin

And the TFAA Board of Directors