Torpedo Factory Art Center
Once the U.S. Naval Torpedo Station in Alexandria, Torpedo Factory Art Center is in the nation’s longest continually operated community of publicly accessible artists’ studios in a converted industrial space. It has inspired cultural placemaking around the world.
Artists earn studios through a multi-phase competitive jury process. Meet them as you visit all three floors. Spark your creative spirit by watching them work. Bring home original art, too.
Learn more at torpedofactory.org.
Torpedo Factory Art Center is managed by the City of Alexandria’s Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities through the Office of the Arts. Learn more at alexandriava.gov/arts. Follow @alexartsoffice on Instagram and Twitter.
Torpedo Factory Art Center Stakeholder Task Force
As part of the continued revitalization efforts of Torpedo Factory Art Center, the City established a stakeholder task force charged with helping develop a coherent approach to vibrancy and sustainability in alignment with the principles for Torpedo Factory Art Center adopted by City Council at their meeting on December 14,2021.
The Torpedo Factory Art Center Stakeholder process concluded on February 15, 2023. To stay updated on the progress, visit www.torpedofactory.org.
Click here for information about the Stakeholder Task Force including meeting presentations and recordings.
In 1973, many roads met to form a new cultural hub in Alexandria. Marian Van Landingham, as president of The Art League, sought a new building to house the nonprofit. Alexandria was also preparing for its Bicentennial celebrations and wanted to improve the derelict waterfront by 1974. James W. Coldsmith, editor of the Alexandria Journal, suggested Van Landingham consider the abandoned torpedo plant, solving two problems at once.
Van Landingham rallied the community and City Council around the idea. She joined the City of Alexandria’s staff as the Art Center’s first director from 1974 –1975, before embarking on a decades-long political career in the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond.
The Art Center was originally pitched as a three-year experiment. Under the direction of Van Landingham’s successor, Margaret Alderson, the longest-serving director to date, the Art Center established itself as an edifying mainstay for the region.
On the Waterfront Since 1918
They used to make torpedoes
Ground broke on the U.S. Naval Torpedo Station in 1918, the day after Armistice Day ended WWI. Mark 3 torpedoes—like the silver model through the red doors to your right—began production in 1920. This building held the completed torpedoes as they waited to be shipped via the Potomac. The factory operated for five years before becoming munitions storage.
During WWII, the Torpedo Station grew to 16 buildings with 5,000 non-segregated employees. They produced Mark XIV torpedoes, including the green torpedo in the Grand Hall. The bright paint indicates it was a test torpedo, making it easier to spot through binoculars at the Naval Torpedo Test Range in Piney Point, MD. This building is one of the last structures from the original factory.
Less than two months after V-E Day, they built the last torpedo on June 18, 1945. Production shifted to rocket motors before the plant shuttered in June 1946.
In the 1950s, the complex converted to the U.S. Federal Records Center and stored large federal collections. Captured Nazi documents were translated from German for the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. Smithsonian dinosaur bones and other oversized objects and archives were also housed here. The City of Alexandria acquired the complex in 1969.
Vibrancy, Sustainability, and Revitalization
Action Plan for Vibrancy & Sustainability at Torpedo Factory Art Center
The City of Alexandria has undertaken a process to determine the vibrancy and sustainability of Torpedo Factory Art Center. As part of that process, the City contracted with SmithGroup and Chora to review the 15 existing public and privately commissioned studies that touched on the Art Center. They developed a set of overarching goals and recommendations based on those existing plans. In July 2019, SmithGroup and Chora presented to the City, “A Study of the Studies: Themes and Recommendations for a Vibrant and Sustainable Torpedo Factory Art Center.”
The Action Plan included three interconnected Core Strategic Directions (CSDs) to guide the Art Center:
- Re-establish the Art Center’s Identity for a 21st Century Audience.
- Curate the Building, with a Focus on the First Floor, for Improved Visitor Experience and Artist/Studio Program.
- 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.
Read the full report at torpedofactory.org
Each of these Core Strategic Directions has a series of related actions and outcomes outlined in the following pages to guide the Art Center’s action steps and related actions and outcomes to ensure that the Art Center proceeds steadfastly in these strategic directions. The City's proposed Action Plan maintains artists and art studios as the core experience and does not recommend converting any part of the Art Center to private, non-arts commercial space such as food vendors.
Why have an Action Plan?
Torpedo Factory Art Center has nearly 50 years of history as a cultural hub in Alexandria. Today, the public has multiple ways to consume art and interact with artists. The novelty of seeing art being made is varied across the country. To avoid being left behind, the Art Center must adapt to an ever-changing landscape of 21st-century art institutions to regain its place as an arts leader.
Though it was founded and managed by the City of Alexandria, there was a 20-year hiatus when the City offered ground leases for the Art Center's management to third-party groups. Torpedo Factory Artists Association managed the Art Center for 12 years, 1998 – 2010. The specially created Torpedo Factory Art Center Board nonprofit managed the Art Center for five years, 2011 – 2016.
The City of Alexandria, through the Office of the Arts, assumed temporary management of Torpedo Factory Art Center in 2016. City Council affirmed the City’s long-term commitment to the viability of the Art Center on November 17, 2018.
At that meeting, City Council unanimously approved and adopted the following three recommendations:
Direct the City Manager to develop, via a public process in coordination with stakeholders, a Torpedo Factory Art Center Vibrancy and Sustainability Plan, and bring that plan to City Council for consideration.
Recognize that substantial capital funding, in the order of $10 million to $15 million, will be required in the decade ahead in order to address current and future Torpedo Factory Art Center facility deficiencies, as well as to address to-be-determined future program needs; and
Affirm that the City of Alexandria Office of the Arts will continue as the long-term managing entity responsible for the management and operations of the Torpedo Factory Art Center.
To achieve the Council-directed objective of creating a Vibrancy and Sustainability Plan, the City contracted SmithGroup and Chora, two well-known consulting groups that work with industry-leading art institutions, to review stakeholder reports and recommendations and develop an Action Plan to move the Art Center forward.
The outcome was the meta-analysis, Study of Studies, with 20 years of research by various groups to determine how to strategically proceed into the future.
From this study of studies came the Action Plan for Vibrancy and Sustainability at Torpedo Factory Art Center.
Incorporating Public Feedback into the Action Plan
The community was invited to participate in virtual community meetings in December 2020 to learn more about the Action Plan for Vibrancy and Sustainability at Torpedo Factory Art Center and provide their feedback.
Over the years, the City has been approached by various groups who have been interested in providing alternate, non-arts functions for the Torpedo Factory, especially for portions of the ground floor. Before a decision is made by City Council about the future for the Torpedo Factory, staff wanted to determine the level of public interest in these alternate ideas.
Staff asked a number of these entities who have made prior inquiries to provide answers to a series of questions regarding their ideas. The answers to the questions are below. None of these answers represents a proposal. If the City were to decide on alternative uses for a portion of the first floor, a competitive RFP process would likely be undertaken to solicit proposals.
In addition to these responses to questions, the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership (AEDP) staff has talked to other parties who have previously expressed interest in improving the vibrancy of the Torpedo Factory. AEDP has provided the following memo summarizing the themes and ideas they heard during these discussions.
If the City decides to pursue these or other alternative uses, a formal solicitation will be issued.
Upcoming community meetings will be announced here and on the City calendar.
Please email email@example.com if you have any questions or comments you would like to share.
Developing the Action Plan: The Study of the Studies
The Action Plan was developed from the 2019 A Study of the Studies: Themes and Recommendations for a Vibrant and Sustainable Torpedo Factory Art Center, a meta-analysis based on nearly 20 years of public and private research about the Art Center.
The City contracted with SmithGroup and Chora to review the 16 existing studies about the Art Center and develop a set of overarching goals and recommendations based on those existing plans.
Both consultants were selected based on their work with outstanding national and international arts and culture institutions. SmithGroup has a vast knowledge of the City of Alexandria from working together in the past and is supported by a seasoned Cultural division having worked with institutions including the National Park Service and Smithsonian Institution. Chora has completed strategic planning for notable institutions including the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.
Community Engagement and Feedback
In 2016, when Torpedo Factory Art Center transferred back to City management for the first time since 1996, City staff in Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities; Planning and Zoning; and the City Manager's Office engaged Diane Mataraza and Surale Phillips to undertake a community engagement process and get feedback from the community about their use and experience at the Art Center. The Alexandria Commission for the Arts appointed a five-member task force to advise on the community engagement process.
To ensure that a variety of voices and perspectives were gathered, the consultant team, with input from the Task Force, developed a community engagement strategy that included a variety of opportunities for people to participate and provide their feedback with the intent of reaching the diverse residents of Alexandria.
Three survey protocols were developed – an intercept survey, an online survey for members of The Art League, and an artist survey. The questions in the intercept survey and the online survey were identical, however, the intercept survey (done in person and by phone) was geographically representative and was designed to be the primary survey and has been given more significance. The artist survey was developed to ensure that all points of view were considered.
The report only contains the feedback from participants who indicated they live within Alexandria. Additionally, the report combines the results of the Intercept Survey and the Online Survey and is called “City Resident Survey Results".
The engagement process was completed in spring 2018 and received by the City and presented to the Task Force in September 2018. The Alexandria Commission for the Arts received the report in October 2018.
In March 2016, the Torpedo Factory Art Center Board (TFACB) and the Alexandria Commission for the Arts (ACA) approved the Torpedo Factory Art Center Report by Cultural Planning Group that had been commissioned by the TFACB. The report outlined four recommendations to align the facility for future success. Since then, the City Manager has received three additional reports:
- Vision for the Torpedo Factory Art Center submitted by Community Members for the Future of the Torpedo Factory
A Discourse of the Recommendations for the Torpedo Factory Art Center submitted by the Executive Committees of the TFACB, the Torpedo Factory Artist Association (TFAA), and the President and CEO of The Art League
- Charting a new Course: Steering the Torpedo Factory Art Center Toward a Sustainable Future: The Business Plan for the Torpedo Factory submitted by the TFAA.