New Torpedo Factory Plan Calls for Greater Public Engagement

The Torpedo Factory Art Center is one of Alexandria’s cultural landmarks of the waterfront. But as the city moves forward with other modernizing changes to the waterfront, it is also turning an eye towards overhauling the Torpedo Factory to be more of a “hands-on” public attraction.

A series of recommendations in a recently released action plan include plans the city hopes will turn parts of the Torpedo Factory into a more engaging artistic space.

The first part of the plan is to “re-establish the Art Center’s identity for a 21st century audience.” In practice, this would mean greater utilization of the facility as a space for gatherings and festivities. The first action under that subheading is “celebrate food as art” with food and drink-centered events and festivals in partnership with restaurants and breweries.

Other proposals to re-establish the facility’s identity include implementing a focus on new technological development utilized in artwork and recurring family-friendly and educational experiences.

Lastly, this portion of the plan included a recommendation that artists are encouraged to participate in “on the road” pop-ups along the waterfront to bring the program more into the public eye.

Part of the plan involved reshaping the ground floor experience of the Torpedo Factory. The action plan called for better utilization and upgrades to first floor studios with more hands-on opportunities and “spectacles” likes printmaking and glass making. This would involve a reshuffling of existing studios to put “public-facing” features on the first floor.

In general, the plan highlighted more engagement with visitors over the traditional viewing experience of the Torpedo Factory. The reimagined Torpedo Factory would have “make-it space” type activities on the first floor. The Art League Store could also potentially be moved to the first floor in the redesign.

The last section of the plan was the most “in the weeds” but also the one that could also have the biggest impact on the artists working at the facility as the city works to make the facility more profitable.

“As the Art Center re-imagines itself for the 21st century, it will need to challenge its internal policies, practices, and business model in accordance with best practices and industry standards to become a sustainable organization,” the action plan said. “Its resources will have to be optimally deployed to maximize the impact of every dollar.”

This would involve updating the Art Center’s policies and procedures to “fit external facing direction and be in line with a 21st century Art Center.”

The updated procedures would phase in a lease holder re-jurying process to “ensure vibrancy and vitality” based on a new artist selection process. The plan also says more effective internal and external communications and engagement are needed within the facility.

The new plan would also modify open days and hours to meet the needs of visitors and lesson artist fatigue, though how that would be accomplished is not elaborated on.

“Based on the recommendations of prior studies and the current Art Center management, the staff proposed Action Plan for Vibrancy and Sustainability at Torpedo Factory Art Center is designed to achieve priority results and outcomes to establish a foundation for a renewed Torpedo Factory Art Center,” the city said on the website for the Torpedo Factory. “The goal is to improve the efficiency of operations and sustainability of Art Center while also broadening and deepening its connections to the community and re-configuring the first-floor spaces to create a more dynamic public experience of the Art Center.”

Staff photo by James Cullum