Founded in 1974 in an old munitions plant, Torpedo Factory Art Center is home to the nation’s largest number of publicly accessible working artist studios under one roof. The City of Alexandria manages the Art Center through the Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities, as part of the Office of the Arts' family of programming. (Follow them on Instagram and Twitter.)
An Alexandria landmark for more than 45 years, it’s the highlight of the Potomac Riverfront, attracting approximately 500,000 visitors annually. Find artwork in a wide variety of media–including painting, ceramics, photography, jewelry, stained glass, fiber, printmaking, and sculpture–in 82 open artists’ studios. Observe the creative process and ask questions.
Torpedo Factory Art Center is also home to the City's Alexandria Archaeology Museum, operated by the Office of Historic Alexandria; the independent nonprofit The Art League Gallery and School; two group workshops; and five artist-run galleries.
On November 17, 2018, 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 management and operations of the Torpedo Factory Art Center.
To achieve the Council directed objective of creating a Vibrancy and Sustainability Plan, the City has contracted with 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.
Action Plan for Vibrancy & Sustainability
The Torpedo Factory Art Center has had a long and distinguished history culminating in the 70s and 80s as a model for placemaking and unique way for the public to see artists at work. Today, the public has multiple ways to consume art and 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.
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 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.
The Action Plan outlines three interconnected Core Strategic Directions (CSDs) derived from the Study of Studies and the related recommendations.
The Core Strategic Directions are:
- CSD #1: Re-establish the Art Center’s Identity for a 21st Century Audience
- CSD #2: Curate the Building, with a Focus on the First Floor, for Improved Visitor Experience and Artist/Studio Program
- CSD #3: 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
Each of these Core Strategic Directions have 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.
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.
The community can also provide feedback via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
A Study of the Studies: Themes and Recommendations for a Vibrant and Sustainable 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 16 existing studies about the Art Center and develop 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.”
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.
Torpedo Factory Community Engagement Report
As part of the continued transition of Torpedo Factory Art Center (Art Center), 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) were 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
When is the building open to visit?
The Torpedo Factory Art Center is open seven days a week to the public, 360 days a year (56 hours a week) with no entry fee.
Who owns the building?
The City of Alexandria owns the building as a public trust and leases space inside the building directly to artists, galleries, and The Art League.
How many studios are in the building?
There are 82 artist studios in the building in addition to seven galleries, a café, and some of The Art League classrooms. More than 120–140 artists hold leases at any given point in the year, based on seasonality.
How much is rent?
The City feels that it’s important that arts space continues to be below market rate to ensure a vibrant arts community. To that end, all current leaseholders currently pay $16.39 per square foot per year with leases through March, 2022. Rent fees include all utilities, marketing, programming, maintenance, staffing, etc. Rent is the same no matter the location in the building or services of the tenants to the public.
Find answers to more Frequently Asked Questions by clicking the link below.
Celebrate the History
Ground broke on the U.S. Naval Torpedo Station in 1918, the day after Armistice Day ended WWI. The building opened in 1919 and the first Mark III torpedoes rolled off the assembly line in 1920. The plant was active for five years before becoming munitions storage. In WWII, it produced Mark XIV torpedoes. By the war's end, it converted to government storage for the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial Records, Smithsonian dinosaur bones, and other large objects and archives. The City of Alexandria acquired the complex in 1969, setting the stage for the Art Center that stands today.
To learn more about the history of the Torpedo Factory Art Center, watch A Brush With History: The Torpedo Factory Art Center from Istrico Productions, created in honor of the 100th anniversary of the building and the 45th anniversary of the Art Center.