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Virginia Tech and the Torpedo Factory Art Center are collaborating on a sound installation at the Target Gallery (via City of Alexandria)

Virginia Tech and Alexandria’s Office of the Arts are collaborating on “Innovation and Creativity,” a year-long series of projects at the Torpedo Factory’s Target Gallery.

One of those projects, Sound Horizons, opened Aug. 5 and runs through to Jan. 28. Visitors sit in the tesseract, an array of high-density loudspeakers, and experience an immersive environment of sounds curated for Alexandria by Virginia Tech’s Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT).

Sound Horizons includes four sound installations:

  • “Dear Younger Me,” a project about healing the inner Black girl, which features a series of Black women reading letters to their younger selves
  • “Sonification of Cybersecurity Data,” a music installation that turns cybersecurity data into musical harmony of sounds
  • “Liminal Spaces,” a fixed-media composition inspired by life’s in-between moments
  • “Musical Connection,” a sound installation shedding light on the uncharted neural territories that music traverses when people living with Alzheimer’s disease engage in music-making

“Collaborating with one of the nation’s top innovative universities provides an opportunity to put Alexandria on the cutting edge, proving how art and creativity are a thread that runs deeply through all forms of innovation, be it scientific, cultural, engineering, health, or technological,” Brett John Johnson, the Torpedo Factory’s curator of artistic advancement, said in a statement.

A free grand opening for the latest installation, Synaptic Soiree, will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 16.

According to Virginia Tech:

The performances push the limits of sound and performance; they will explore scored data composed of music exploring infectious diseases, neuroscience, including Atrium, meditation, PTSD, and more, as well as the juxtaposition of new technology and the human body.

A facilitated discussion will follow at the end of the show, so you can listen to the researchers and ask questions about their work.

The series of exhibitions, performances and events will wrap next September, which is just is time for the opening of Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus in Alexandria.

“Virginia Tech, with its Innovation Campus, is pushing the frontier of technology,” said Ben Knapp, executive director of ICAT. “Together with the Office of the Arts, we will be showcasing innovation in all of its forms.”

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Galactic Panther Art Gallery at 1303 King Street (via City of Alexandria)

Galactic Panther Art Gallery has hosted live music and paid events since opening in 2021, and now its owners are asking the city for approval to host them.

Galactic Panther’s 1,900-square-foot art gallery has hosted comedy, improv, sound baths, yoga, open mic nights and live music for more than a year, and their proposal to continue with the events goes to the Planning Commission on October 3 and City Council on October 14.

“We plan to host paid events at the art gallery,” owners Eli Pollard and Erik Muendel asked in the application. “These events include art workshops, comedy, live music, yoga, sound baths and receptions.”

The owners said in their special use permit application that they expect the events to attract 20-to-30 people, although photos of events shared on the gallery’s Facebook page show events with more than 30 people in attendance.

“I started the gallery during Covid and (the city was) pretty relaxed about it, and it was this process of maturing and knowing the city,” Muendel said. “I’ve never been in retail and am new to these experiences, and we’re getting all our paperwork in place.”

Muendel continued, “We’re going to upgrade with a booking agent to bring in more touring musical artists. It’s a maturation of our programming.”

An event at the Galactic Panther Art Gallery at 1303 King Street in Old Town (via Facebook) 

Galactic Panther (currently open Thursday to Sunday), already hosts the following events every week:

  • Comedy every Wednesday & Friday
  • Live Music by Jah Messenger Sound every Thursday
  • Live Music 1st Saturdays
  • Improv 2nd Saturdays
  • Glow night Paint & Sip 3rd Saturdays
  • Sound Bath & Yoga every other Sunday
  • Open Mic every Sunday

Muendel is also the owner of ESP Tea and Coffee at 1012 King Street.

According to the city staff report:

  • The applicant is proposing using the space for comedy and live music events which constitute the live entertainment use. They are also proposing art workshops, yoga and other classes that are the commercial private school use. All of these activities would take place in the existing gallery, which has an area to the rear of the space, which is currently equipped with a microphone and an amplifier
  • Noise from live entertainment and activities, such as music, performances, and trivia, shall end no later than 11 p.m.
  • Noise levels are anticipated to reach 80 decibels

Almost two months after The Art League filed permits for a Slaters Lane studio, that proposal is heading to the Planning Commission next month with city staff’s blessing.

The Art League is a nonprofit dedicated to bringing art to the community. The nonprofit’s offices and art supply shop, along with a few of their classrooms, are located in the Torpedo Factory, but the larger commercial school is located in the Montgomery Center.

The Montgomery Center is slated for redevelopment, meaning the local businesses and the Art Center are forced to find a new home. Fortunately, The Art League isn’t going far, and it could be moving into an old print shop at 800 Slaters Lane.

The building, constructed in 1951, was a laboratory and a warehouse before it became a print shop in 1996. It kept that use until 2021 when Nordic Press vacated the building.

In the Special Use Permit, The Art League Executive Director Suzanne Bethel said the new facility would be a hub for classes from clay animation to silk screening:

At 800 Slaters Lane, the applicant would provide classroom education and workshops in the fine arts and outreach programs for the local community. Students of all ages and skill levels would be offered courses such as drawing, painting, watercolor painting, fiber art, ceramics, sculpture, printmaking, photography, jewelry making, clay animation, silk screening, and stained glass.

The application said The Art League has almost 7,000 students per year and hopes to open 17 studios in the building.

The staff analysis supported the new use for the print shop.

“Staff supports the applicant’s request to operate the private commercial school use,” the report said. “This property is an opportunity to keep a revered cultural establishment within the City limits and one proven to harmonize within its surrounding community.”

The staff analysis noted that the studio would also activate a vacant building and maintain a unique educational experience for the immediate and broader community without overwhelming the local street system.

Image via Google Maps


From the Alexandria Restaurant Week throughout Alexandria to the 3rd Annual Bands & Brews Bar Crawl throughout Del Ray, there’s something for everyone happening all over Alexandria this weekend.

Organizing an event? Submit events to ALXnow.

Friday, August 18

Things To Do

Live Music & Entertainment

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Art display in Waterfront Park (staff photo by Vernon Miles)

(Updated 2:40 p.m.) The National Endowment for the Arts has awarded a grant to Alexandria to keep some of the city’s most high-profile art projects going.

The grant funding goes to the Artist Residency Program, part of Alexandria’s Office of the Arts, which supports projects like the Waterfront Park art initiative and the art lab. Diane Ruggiero, who leads of Office of the Arts, said the grant was for $45,000.

“The Artist Residency Program integrates visual and performing artists in the community to conduct interactive art engagements at the Waterfront Park public art initiative Site See, the City’s Mobile Art Lab,” a release from the City of Alexandria said, “as well as new locations including hospitals, libraries, and senior centers and expands the Torpedo Factory Art Center’s Post Graduate Residency Program.”

One upcoming event through the Artist Residency Program is a charcoal drawing and wood carving event at Chinquapin Park Pavilion in Arlandria on Tuesday, Aug. 22, at 4 p.m. The focus of the all-ages event is working with natural materials to create art.

“Join artist Lianna Zaragoza at Chinquapin Park Pavilion for summer art activities like drawing with charcoal and carving into wood sculptures,” the event listing said. “Participants will create drawings and carvings that serve to record the relationships between people in the community and their surroundings.”


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Bhavani Arabandi launched Samhara Ceramics in 2022, making and painting each of her creations by hand (via Samhara Ceramics)

One Alexandria artist aims to spark joy in the mundane with her one-of-a-kind, handcrafted pottery known for its elegance and vibrant colors.

Meet Bhavani Arabandi, the sole owner of Samhara Ceramics based in Old Town Alexandria. Arabandi is a full-time sociologist and researcher, but she spends her evenings in her studio, enveloped in the beautiful mess she calls her passion: pottery.

Arabandi started Samhara in 2022 at the encouragement of her peers and mentors and has been growing her local business ever since, launching an online storefront a little over a month ago at the end of June. Some of her creations are also sold locally at Made in ALX (533 Montgomery St) and pop-up markets. Customers can shop from various vases, mugs, cups, bowls, plates and, soon, jewelry, she says.

“I started ceramics about five years ago because I was looking for an outlet for something creative beyond just work,” Arabandi said. “I tried a ceramics class at The Art League and really fell in love with it… At the first class I remember I had no idea, no clue what I was doing, but it was so much fun, and over time, it really served to center me and really find a focus in terms of my creative energy.”

Samhara, meaning “forged from fire,” combines Arabandi’s passion for ceramics and her Indian roots into one “really apt” name, according to Arabandi. As an Indian immigrant, Arabandi says her Indian heritage is a major inspiration for the art she creates.

“Just being Indian, I feel like color is a part of my cultural DNA, and that’s something that influences a lot of my work,” Arabandi said. “In India, we have a lot of color in terms of our clothing, food and rich cultural heritage.”

Arabandi said the bright hues of her pottery are often what entices customers.

“A lot of folks that pass through markets and see my display really comment on how unique they are because traditional pottery can be a lot of blues and greens and browns, whereas mine has…a lot of reds, oranges, yellows, whites and gold,” Arabandi said.

Each of her pieces are handmade. It takes her around three to four weeks to produce a limited quantity of each product she offers. No two pieces can ever be the same, but that imperfection and individuality is what makes her work “so unique,” she says.

“If you were to say, ‘Bhavani, I love this piece. Can you make another one?’ I’m like, ‘Thank you so much, and no, I cannot because I cannot control the process,'” Arabandi laughed. “I have no idea what will come out of the fire, and that’s the fun of it. It’s predictably unpredictable, and that’s what draws me to it.”

She undertakes three different firing techniques to make her pieces: electric, wood firing and Raku.

“The opening of the kiln is really amazing because you can ooh and ahh at everybody’s pieces that come out of the kiln,” Arabandi said. “…There’s a lot of chemistry involved, but it feels like magic in a way.”

Her Raku pieces have been the most popular amongst customers, she says. She’s even experimented with using horse hair safely sourced from a family friend’s horse farm in the firing process to create distinctive patterns on her Raku creations.

Arabandi also says one of her most beloved pieces was made using Raku firing. In her retelling, a customer became extremely moved by one of her Raku pieces at a local market, telling her it was “the best piece” he saw that day at the market, but he was unable to afford it. Two months later, Arabandi says, a fellow potter purchased the piece for the man, knowing how much he loved the piece, which deeply touched her as she felt no one else could be more deserving of this act of kindness.

“I think he was in tears,” Arabandi recalled. “He was like, ‘Oh my God.’ He was not expecting that at all, and it was amazing to see that. It was stunning.”

For Arabandi, this memory exemplifies her founding mission of helping others find joy in life’s simplest pleasures.

“I really want to bring joy to [my customers],” Arabandi said. “[My pottery is] not to be kept in a cabinet and used for special occasions. I’m all about living your fullest life every single day, and that means using pieces that bring you joy every day. I want you to go and grab that mug that makes you smile in the morning.”

As for the future, her next big venture is selling her items at Art on the Avenue in Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood on Oct. 7. Beyond that, she’s uncertain for what’s to come but relishes in the uncertainty, expressing excitement to continue growing as an artist because “there’s no end to learning” when it comes to ceramics.

“The future is as unpredictable as pottery,” Arabandi laughed.

Photo via Samhara Ceramics/Instagram

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After six years leading Heard, a nonprofit that brings the arts to incarcerated adults, Jane Collins is hanging up her hat.

Collins, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, founded the nonprofit in 2017 by hosting a writing contest between participants of ALIVE!, Friends of Guest House and Together We Bake. Collins has been executive director ever since, growing the nonprofit to teach thousands of Alexandria adults in the Alexandria Detention Center, the Arlington County jail, and in more than a dozen local nonprofits.

“I’m not ‘leaving’ leaving,” Collins told ALXnow. “I am stepping aside, and I know that probably sounds like splitting hairs, but yes, we are looking for a new executive director to take over day-to-day operations.”

Heard pays artists to teach workshops on poetry, visual arts, improvisation, etiquette, public speaking, dance and singing. Last year, the nonprofit gave 229 classes to nearly 2,000 participants, according to their annual report.

“Thank you for being part of my healing,” wrote a female inmate from the Alexandria jail in a testimonial. “Your investment is priceless. Please continue doing what you are [doing,] truly saving lives.”

The nonprofit also offers karaoke every Wednesday night to inmates in the Alexandria jail.

“I go with our professional singing teacher and opera singer, Bharati Soman, and she gives a singing lessons and we sing along to karaoke songs,” Collins said. “Some of those guys can really sing.”

Heard will pay $25,000 to the new executive director, a financial shift for the organization since Collins took in a meager annual salary of $7,500 in 2022.

The organization is funded by the City’s Office of the Arts, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, grants and private contributions. Heard also collected $23,000 in this year’s Spring2ACTion fundraiser, their biggest annual fundraising event.

“I think this job is good for someone who needs a challenge,” Collins said. “I’m thinking of maybe somebody who was a recently retired from a corporate, a nonprofit or a federal leadership position that wants to stay engaged and help but doesn’t necessarily want the 40-to-60 hour week. Or it could be a highly successful maybe parent who took some time out to raise a family, but now the kids are in school and they want to get back into something rewarding.”

Collins will be staying on in a reduced capacity and hopes that the new executive director is organized, personable and has a vision for future growth.

“There’s no reason why communities can’t be adopting this model across the country,” Collins said. “And when I say this model, I mean, using local artists to help support and address whatever the local need happens to be.”

Photos via Heard/Facebook

Image via The Bacon Brothers/Facebook

Musical duo The Bacon Brothers, consisting of Michael and Kevin Bacon, are coming to the Birchmere Music Hall (3701 Mount Vernon Avenue) again this fall.

The two initial nights, Oct. 7 and 8, have already sold out. A third night on Monday, Oct. 9, was added and — as of 1 p.m. on Aug. 8 — tickets were still available.

The Bacon Brothers have a long-running connection to Alexandria and the Birchmere in particular, as the Alexandria Times chronicled. The duo has performed several times at the Birchmere, including a show last year. They made other appearances in Alexandria, such as singing karaoke with former Police Chief Michael Brown at Old Town’s best karaoke bar, the Rock It Grill.

Tickets are $55.

Image via The Bacon Brothers/Facebook


This week, leaders on both sides of the Torpedo Factory discussion raised the issue of the city’s plans once more ahead of the center’s 50th anniversary.

The Torpedo Factory is celebrating 50 years as an arts center next year, but questions linger about what the long-term future of the building looks like.

The history behind the back and forth over the Torpedo Factory is long. The oversimplified version is: maintaining the Torpedo Factory, much less improving it, is a costly investment and if the city is signing that check, it wants more for its investment than what the Torpedo Factory currently offers.

Back in 2016, the City of Alexandria stepped in to oversee the operation of the Torpedo Factory Art Center. Since then, the city has worked through a process to develop plans to revitalize the Torpedo Factory. Controversially, some of those plans include reducing artist studio space to make way for other uses on the ground floor, like a cafe or maker-space.

Cindy Lowther, President of the Torpedo Factory Artists’ Association (TFAA), said one of the recent flashpoints has been the frequency of artist leases. Last month, the city selected 29 artists to receive three-year studio leases at the Torpedo Factory. The TFAA advocated for a five-year lease for artists, saying three-year leases are too short and the need to prepare for the jury ing process cuts down on the amount of time working on creating new art.

The leasing and space usage all tie into a broader question of whether the city’s plans to make the Torpedo Factory more vibrant will destroy what made the space special or enhance it.

“The TFAA is concerned that the effort to make the Art Center more ‘vibrant’ could result in a significant reduction in rental space available to visual artists,” Lowther wrote. “This would change the character of the Art Center and risk damaging its hard-earned reputation.”

Mayor Justin Wilson, meanwhile, said in his August newsletter that the city’s plans for the Torpedo Factory will make the facility more diverse, financially sustainable, and an overall more successful arts destination.

Wilson also said the Torpedo Factory’s future has been “studied to death” and that controversy around any changes to the facility paralyzed decision-making.

“It has now been seven years since the City took steps to provide stability by assuming caretaker leadership for the Factory,” Wilson wrote. “Since that time, the City provided leases to the existing artist tenants, and has been providing day to day management. I am pleased we are now making decisions and creating a sustainable structure for the governance of the Factory so that it can flourish in the future.”

The Torpedo Factory Art Center in Old Town (staff photo by James Cullum)

City-approved plans for the future of the Torpedo Factory Art Center are drawing serious concern from resident artists.

The Torpedo Factory Artists Association (TFAA) says it’s hopeful the plan will work, but that the city’s vibrancy initiative threatens to reduce rental space available to artists.

TFAA President Cindy Lowther says that the effort to make the art center more vibrant could “could result in a significant reduction in rental space available to visual artists.”

“This would change the character of the Art Center and risk damaging its hard-earned reputation,” Lowther wrote in an opinion piece published today on the TFAA Facebook page.

An estimated half-million people visit the Torpedo Factory on Alexandria’s waterfront every year, according to the city. The art center is home to more than 150 artists working in 82 studios.

In 2021, City Council unanimously endorsed the Action Plan for Vibrancy & Sustainability at Torpedo Factory Art Center. Council also directed the creation of a city-led task force (which includes two artist members) to direct implementation of the plan over the next five-to-ten years. In February, the city put out an open call for artists and announced a new governance structure for the art center. The city also announced three-year lease agreements for new resident artists.

Lowther said lease agreements should be five years instead of three. She also said that public plans to celebrate the art center’s 50th anniversary next year should be presented.

“We also appreciate his (City Manager Jim Parajon) and Council’s desire to fund and orchestrate a 50th anniversary celebration for the Art Center in 2024,” she wrote. ” Concerningly though, no planning process for this has been announced yet. If this is a perfunctory exercise rather than a full out effort by our City, it will miss a wonderful opportunity to introduce the Art Center to new visitors and energize tourism and the economy in Old Town.”

Mayor Justin Wilson wrote in his August newsletter that the discussion over the Torpedo Factory has been exhausted.

“Candidly, the future of the Torpedo Factory has been studied to death,” Wilson wrote. “We have used the divisiveness of this issue as an excuse to avoid making a decision on its future. Unfortunately, inaction is a decision in and of itself.”

Alexandria assumed “caretaker leadership” of the Torpedo Factory seven years ago, and Wilson wrote that the diversity of arts and artists is a priority.

“Since that time, the City provided leases to the existing artist tenants, and has been providing day to day management,” he wrote. “I am pleased we are now making decisions and creating a sustainable structure for the governance of the Factory so that it can flourish in the future.”

Lowther said that more artists need to be involved in the art center’s direction.

“The TFAA agrees that we need a diverse group of artists and more creative programming to increase the vibrancy of the Art Center,” she wrote. “At the same time, unless the new governing entity involves the resident artists/business owners in decisions over such issues as a five-year lease and a specialized marketing plan to promote the Torpedo Factory Art Center, its future will remain in jeopardy.”

The city’s action plan for the art center focuses on these principles:

Re-establish the Art Center’s Identity for a 21st Century Audience

  • Curate a roster of public events/programs to evaluate initiatives of varied offerings to include community favorites, family friendly, media worthy, and new artistic media that promote the core role of the arts in human-wellness and creative expression, as well as championing lifelong learning.
  • Expand the artist studio program to better reflect contemporary best practices, diversity, and public interaction.
  • Expand role and impact of Target Gallery, the Art Center’s critically acclaimed contemporary art gallery the promote the core role of art in human wellness as expressed in Action 1 above.
  • Establish new Art Center attributes towards a refined identity, maintaining an independent and unique marketing strategy and tools within the larger City framework.

Curate the Building, with a Focus on the First Floor, for Improved Visitor Experience and Artist/Studio Program

  • Re-design and evaluate first floor as a space to be a more exciting, interactive, hands on, accessible, and ever-changing experience for visitors.
  • Re-design and evaluate third floor to afford better use of space for a greater audience, more programs, and income potential.
  • Re-design and evaluate building to create opportunities for diversity and increasing the Art Centers role in Waterfront Small Area Plan.

Establish Policies and Procedures that Identify the Art Center as a High Performing Organization and Rebuild the Art Center’s Role as a Leader in the Country

  • Develop a clear and compelling Mission and Vision for the future of the Art Center.
  • Update the Art Center’s policies, procedures, and standards, to fit external facing direction and be in line with a 21st century Art Center and allow for Art Center to operate as an entrepreneurial and fundraising organization to ensure vibrancy and sustainability within the larger City framework.
  • Plan for the next five – ten years.

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