To the editor:
News reports in recent weeks have painted an inaccurate portrait of the content and context surrounding discussions about potential enhancements to the Torpedo Factory Arts Center. Myself and others have been misquoted and had words put in our mouths. Its too bad that opinion is getting in the way of fact as there are important discussions going on. I am a great fan of the Torpedo Factory and have enormous pride in its role in Alexandria. Id like to explain what is going on.
Last Spring, the mayors economic sustainability implementation committee met with leaders from the Torpedo Factory to talk about the future of the Torpedo Factory and determine if any benefit could come from working with the Factory to help it expand on its past success. That discussion led to the creation of a group of artists and city staff members who are now evaluating whether there are ways to enhance the Factory.
This effort is focused on attracting more people to the Factory in order to help it and its artists as well as to bring shoppers and diners into Old Town. This is especially critical as we see so many vacant storefronts in Old Town and throughout the city. We need policies that help ensure the economic viability of Old Town. The city owns the building and rents it to the artists at a below-market rate because of its important role as a tourist and cultural destination in Alexandria. There is no question it plays an important economic role in the city. Nor is there a question about its important cultural role. The current review will also examine ways to increase the financial viability of the artists; they need to be able to make a living.
I am just one participant in these discussions. News reports that have put me at the center of the discussions fail to acknowledge the many artists, residents and other community leaders engaged in this effort. Its too bad that these reports have ignored the many others who are much more involved in these discussions.
Much of this discussion is among the Factorys artists. Some would like to see the Factory open during evening hours so the artists can take advantage of peak visitor traffic in Old Town and so more people have the opportunity to enjoy the work on display. There are discussions about improving the buildings paint, signage and entrance so that it is easier to find and present an appealing image to those walking by. Artists and others have discussed how to ensure that artist spaces are regularly occupied when the Factory is open to fulfill its mission of being a working, living museum. Some want to see a coffee bar, wine bar or bistro inside to help bring in some evening vibrancy. Such additions could also raise money for better promotion of the Factory and its individual artists as well as to help pay for new exhibits and events. Some want to see more opportunities to display art to attract more visitors and major art installations. And others want to see more opportunities for the artists to sell their art in order to make a living and give more visitors a chance to take a piece of the Factory home with them.
Some artists, however, dont want their studios open at night. Some are concerned about the center becoming overly commercial and have pushed back against efforts to increase visitors. As with anything, each of these ideas has trade-offs and views on both sides.
Its important, though, to point out what isnt happening as part of these discussions. Nobody wants to turn the Factory into condos or make it into a shopping mall. Inaccurate reporting and misguided rumor-spreading has unfortunately perpetuated these fantasies. But they are just not true.
From my point of view, this ongoing review and discussion makes sense. A wide range of views is to be expected. Its also understandable that people are cautious about any changes that could harm the charm and unique identity of the Factory. Alexandria is in the midst of an effort with the community to design and develop a world-class waterfront that will be the envy of the world. The Torpedo Factory is an obvious and critical piece of that effort. The city should work to increase opportunities for people to enjoy it. I have enormous confidence in the creativity and innovation of the artists at the Torpedo Factory, and I am confident that the many options to enhance the center will be carefully evaluated, tested when appropriate and implemented when they make sense. The Factory is already trying to expand its hours and increase its programming. These are exciting efforts. As an amateur artist and art lover myself, Im looking forward to the continued and increased vitality and innovation at the Torpedo Factory.
Councilman Rob Krupicka