In the fall of 2016 I took a trip down memory lane and visited Alexandria, Virginia’s Torpedo Factory. I had last visited as a teenager with my mother, but I still remembered the location on Alexandria’s historic waterfront just across from Washington, DC.
The Torpedo Factory is an artist conclave. Over 165 artists show and sell art out of 82 studios, 7 galleries, and 2 workshops. It is the largest, publicly accessible, artist space in the United States totaling over 76,000 square feet. But it wasn’t always that way. As the name implies, the factory was originally built by the War Department to manufacture, well, torpedoes of course. Ironically, construction began the day after Armistice Day in 1918. After completion, it did make about 5,000 torpedoes before being turned into storage. It saw new life during World War II, but afterwards returned to storage.
In 1974, as part of Alexandria’s Bicentennial efforts, part of the building was turned into artist space. It became so popular that by 1983 the building had undergone a complete renovation turning the whole facility into artist space. There are three levels and each has artist studio space that range from small to extra-large. Many of the larger studios display the work of several artists. Most are in residence, spending their time talking with visitors or creating new art. Those that share space take turns staffing their studios. Art ranges from paintings, mosaics, sculpture, pottery, ceramic…..everything art. The building is open 7 days a week and boasts more than 500,000 visitors annually.
The Torpedo Factory has a strict artist acceptance policy, and each artist is judged by a temporary review board. Artists must apply to be “juried in” and it is a multi-step process that includes submitting pieces of your art to be reviewed. The jury is usually comprised of three individuals for 2-dimensional art, and three for 3-dimensional art. The jurists know a thing or two about art; last year one of the jurists was the chair of the American University’s Art Department, another the vice-chair of Alexandria’s Commission for the Arts, and another was an associate professor at the Corcoran School of Art and Design, part of George Washington University.
Next blog – the artists in the factory and Jamaliah Morais