Torpedo Factory Art Center Frequently Asked Questions

Page updated on Sep 22, 2019 at 2:02 PM

Torpedo Factory Art Center

Frequently Asked Questions

2019 marks the 100th year anniversary of the historical torpedo factory building, and 45th year of the Art Center. The Torpedo Factory Art Center represents an idea begun in 1974, that artists, civic leaders, and the community can build a better place through the arts. As the creative engine on the Potomac, the Torpedo Factory Art Center is held as a public trust.  Last renovated in 1983, artists with studios and galleries have a social contract with the public – to be open and share the arts with all – art up close, in person, and in progress.    

According to Visit Alexandria, the Torpedo Factory Art Center is the 6th most visited attraction in the city and the largest community of artists with open studios under one roof. Our mission is to ignite the creative spirit. 

Reaffirming the City’s commitment to the arts and growing the Art Center into a 21st century arts leader will require a strong vision and significant capital investment in the facility. It is with this background that the following Frequently Asked Questions are offered to aid in the public's understanding.  

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. 

When did the building become an art center?
Originally a munitions factory, the City of Alexandria bought the building from the Department of the Navy in 1969. The Torpedo Factory opened as an art center in 1974.

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.

Who owns the building?
The City of Alexandria own the building as a public trust and leases space inside the building directly to artists, galleries, The Art League, a café, and others.

How is the building managed? 
Historically, the Art Center was founded in 1974 by Marian Van Landingham (Studio 321), who was president of The Art League at the time. Van Landingham became the first Art Center director and worked for the City of Alexandria. The City managed the Art Center through the 1980's. In the 1990's, the Torpedo Factory Artists’ Association (TFAA), created by artists and The Art League, began managing the Art Center with support from the Friends of the Torpedo Factory. In 2011, the nonprofit Torpedo Factory Art Center Board and its full-time staff assumed management. Artists received 12-month subleases that passed through two intermediary organizations.

Since October 1, 2016, the City of Alexandria Office of the Arts has managed the Art Center as a temporary measure including daily operations and programming. All the current tenants received a 36-month lease with the City that expire September 30, 2019. 

What are the differences between Torpedo Factory Art Center, The Art League, Torpedo Factory Artists’ Association? 
The Torpedo Factory Art Center is the building and everything that takes place within it. As the creative engine on the waterfront, the Art Center produces a series of public programs, exhibits, and events. City staff manages and maintains artist leases, and common spaces like the Target Gallery and residency studios.

The Art League (TAL) is an independent nonprofit organization that calls the Torpedo Factory Art Center home. It has a larger location, primarily classrooms, on Madison Street in Old Town Alexandria. TAL has been a part of Alexandria for more than 60 years and is known for its art education, filling more than 10,000 class seats and offering exhibit opportunities to nearly 1,000 artists annually.

The Torpedo Factory Artists’ Association (TFAA) is an independent membership organization. The TFAA is not a nonprofit, like TAL. TFAA membership is more than 275 juried visual artists, many in the Torpedo Factory Art Center as well as across the Greater DC region and beyond. The TFAA manages a gallery on the 3rd floor in the Torpedo Factory Art Center and they recently launched a pop-up art gallery venture in the Mosaic District in Fairfax County.

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 $15.91 per square foot per year (increased 3% in 2017 and again in 2018). This includes 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.

The average studio/gallery size is 471 sq ft, or $624 a month rent. The smallest rented space is 128 sq ft. The largest space is 6,564.

Does the Café pay rent?
Yes, the café pays the same rent as all tenants.

The café is seen as a necessary amenity for visitors and tenant artists. However, the past two cafés have not lasted long in the location and experts caution about the sustainability of a café in that location without the capability to prepare food. In an effort to spur growth in this environment, the lease for this space has additional provisions to ensure it’s a useful amenity. If the café income is below a particular dollar amount at the end of the lease, the rent will be adjusted.

Additionally, unlike the studios, there is not a reserve of cafés interested in the space. A new café must complete a larger number of lengthy applications, procedures, and facility changes before becoming operational. Therefore, maintaining and sustaining a café is of great interest to the organization.

The current café was selected through an open invitation to apply, and reviewed by a panel of members of staff, staff from the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, and a professional from a local restaurant organization.

Do artists pay a commission on art sales?
No. Although common at other art centers, art sold in leased studios and galleries at the Art Center do not require a commission to the Art Center. Art sold in the Target Gallery, a professional exhibition program of the Art Center, does take a commission consistent with most professional galleries.

Do artists have required hours?
Yes. As part of a lease, individual lease-holding artists are required to post hours and maintain an average of 28 hours per week in their studio for making art or interacting with the public. If two artists share a studio, they are required to maintain an average of 36 hours, and three artists maintain 40 hours. Between the hours of 6 am – 1 am, artists may work in their studios as long as they wish.

Hours are required because part of the Mission of the Art Center is to connect visitors to working artists. All artists at the Art Center make their own hours.

Do City taxes pay for the Art Center staff, janitorial services, exhibitions, or programs? 
No. The Art Center is a special revenue source and is therefore completely self-funded.

Do City taxes help pay for capital upkeep? 
Yes, the City currently provides capital upkeep of the building and has for the majority of the building’s history as an Art Center. During the period between 2011 and 2016 when building management was contracted out to the Torpedo Factor Art Center Board (TFACB), the City did not provide capital improvements, as this was under the purview of the nonprofit.

What is the space breakdown of the building?  
The building is 76,000 square feet. Artist studios occupy the majority of leased space in the building. The Art League is the single largest tenant with space dedicated to administrative offices, classrooms, art supply store, and gallery. The Alexandria Archaeology Museum comes in third. There are four independent art galleries that are not associated with another building organization. Art Center-managed spaces include the Gift Shop, Target Gallery, and a community meeting room. Staff offices are less than 1% of space in the building. Common Public Areas also include emergency stairways.


Will current leases be renewed? 
If the recommendation to City Council is approved, all Art Center tenants in good standing will be offered an additional one-year lease through September 2020. At the publication date of this document, all tenants are in good standing. 

Leases may include some minor changes, primarily to Operating Rules and Procedures, however changes will be vetted by tenants and stakeholders before being offered in the Lease in 2020.

Has attendance changed much over the years?
Visitor count is taken via an electronic monitor at each door entrance.  The number of visitors counted has remained between about 500,000 – 600,000 people over the past decade, however it has shown a slow but steady increase. 2017 saw the largest number of visitors with 604,989 people.  Year 2018 is not yet completely counted at the time of this publication. 


How are artists selected to rent space at the Art Center?
All artists are selected through a jury process. 

There are a handful of short-term residency spaces throughout the building—most visible being the Post-Grad Studio and the New Project Studio—which provide opportunities for emerging artists and under-represented voices. Information about applying for these opportunities can be found via

Since the late 1970s, the Torpedo Factory Artists’ Association (TFAA), an independent membership organization, selected artists via a closed, blind-jury process. Currently, artists selected through this process may lease or sublease a studio. Studio-leasing artists are not required to maintain an active membership in the TFAA as a requirement of their lease or sublease. Jurying for the TFAA normally takes place early in the calendar year.

In the past, artists who leased space enjoyed the ability to continue leasing the space without additional jury review. Likewise, artists who are members of the TFAA maintained the ability to lease/sublease space (when available) in the building so long as they continued to pay member dues. Once in a studio, however, artists are not required to be a TFAA member. Some artists have maintained membership for over 30 years. 

There are also four art galleries and two workshops in the Art Center that are managed by independent membership organizations. Each group decides the terms of their own membership, provided they do not conflict with the terms of the Art Center tenant leases and operating rules and procedures. 

Is the jury process going to change? 
To grow as a 21st century art institution, some changes is necessary. The most important element of selecting an artist shall remain the quality their art work. The City has expressed interest in working with the Torpedo Factory Artists’ Association to update the jury process. City staff also solicited input from artist/tenants in the building, local artists from the region, art experts from the broader metropolitan area, past jurors, and leaders at 14 art centers from around the country. 

With this feedback and using the mission and vision of the Art Center and Alexandria’s Arts and Culture Master Plan as guideposts, Staff developed potential goals for updating the jury process. These include diversity (including ethnicity, economics, artistic medium, age, and career level, physical abilities, etc.); ability to engage and interact with visitors, participate in events, and maintain hours; career goals and potential to grow; and a practice that supports working in a community of other artists.

Will the identity change to be more like a recreation center? 
No. The Art Center will maintain its unique brand and continue to develop its identity using professional art world benchmarks and the traditions of the Art Center. The Art Center will maintain its own website, printed material, and social media.

Are dogs welcome in the Art Center?
Keeping with the tradition of the Art Center, dogs are welcome. Because the building is a public space, dogs must be kept on a leash or under physical control, per City code. Artists/tenants are required to sign an additional document if they wish to host their dog in their space. This agreement maintains similar requirements outlined in pet agreements from before the City assumed management.   

What are the next steps to ensure sustainability for the Art Center?
The City Manager recommended the development of a long-range strategic vibrancy plan for the Art Center, with the Alexandria Arts Commission and stakeholders playing an important role. The Alexandria Arts Commission is a 16-member group of residents who, in part, advise City Council with regard to policies that will strengthen the arts.

Who are the stakeholders of the Art Center?
Stakeholders are persons, groups, or organizations that have interest or concern in an organization and can be affected by the organization. Stakeholders consist of, but are not limited to, tenants, including artists, The Art League, The Torpedo Factory Artists’ Association, and galleries and workshops, as well as non-tenant organizations such as the Friends of the Torpedo Factory and Factory Society. Stakeholders also consist of staff, residents, City Council, visitors, local businesses, schools, and community and civic organizations.

What are the different reports about the Torpedo Factory Art Center? Can I read the reports?
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:  

  1. Vision for the Torpedo Factory Art Center submitted by Community Members for the Future of the Torpedo Factory

  2. 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

  3. 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.

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