Torpedo Factory officials seek support for renovation efforts

Torpedo Factory officials seek support for renovation efforts

By Katie Callahan (File photo)

Though city councilors dealt the Torpedo Factory Art Center’s planned renovations a setback late last month, the organization’s CEO says the nonprofit’s supporters remain undeterred.

When Eric Wallner, who took the reins at the local artists’ haven early in 2013, went into council chambers looking for $137,000 to jump-start long sought renovation work, he found out the request was for too much and came too late. He made the pitch weeks after city councilors had settled on a fiscal 2015 budget.

Wallner was told to wait until the fall to try again by city councilors wary of allocating large sums of money outside of budget season.

“We’re always fundraising and planning but I think right now we’re focused on, ‘How do we get the resources to build a solid architectural plan to envision what the building will look like?’” Wallner said.

The ambitious proposal he submitted to the city also included costs for new signs, programs and materials, more employees and marketing efforts.

Wallner wants a detailed renovation plan in place before soliciting potential benefactors. Vague ideas for the future will do little to attract private capital, he said.

Even though city councilors rejected his first proposal, Wallner took heart in their request that he return before them. Though it may not seem so on the surface, they still have faith in the Torpedo Factory, he said.

“We’re really fortunate that the city is supporting us in our efforts,” Wallner said. “We’re looking forward to creating a great waterfront experience for visitors.”

A nonprofit since 2011, the Torpedo Factory draws on many different sources for funding. They applied for about 20 grants this past fiscal year and were awarded $7,940 from the Alexandria Commission for the Arts. The center’s art board also received $25,000 from the city’s marketing fund. The Torpedo Factory will launch an end-of-the-year fundraising campaign which will send personalized messages to existing or prspective supporters and employ social media campaigns like Giving Tuesday.

For the last three years, the Torpedo Factory Art Center Board has participated in Spring2Action and next year is no exception.

The real challenge has been developing relationships with corporate sponsors.

“We’re new to this,” Wallner said. “We are just starting this [capital improvement effort]. It takes a long time to get the momentum and get on people’s radars that you’re looking for the funding.”

Marian Van Landingham, who led the effort in the 1970s to create the center, said the Torpedo Factory’s artists and supporters are playing the waiting game in the meantime.

Until the city’s budget season begins again, the factory will be supported by artists’ rents, leasing the space for private events, selling souvenirs and revenue collected from Bread and Chocolate’s cafe.

“The factory will go on doing what it’s been doing, which is attracting over 500,000 people a year,” Van Landingham said. “The kinds of things we want to improve, like signs and things like that, will just be put on hold for a while.”

But a few of the artists are fed up with the center’s lack of upkeep. Three decades have passed since the building’s last renovation.

Common complaints were the dirty third-floor windows, the belief that many tourists don’t know where the factory is located because of poor signage, intermittent problems with the air conditioning and heating system, and the wear and tear on the bathrooms.

Renovations made within the past year include painted ceilings, replaced sliding doors and improvements to the back entrance.

Virginia Irby-Maxwell, an artist at the factory for the past 32 years, said the center is long overdue for tender, loving care. What that will be, she does not know. But change is needed.

“It needs to liven up some,” she said. “It needs more advertising. It’s been through so much over the years.”