Torpedo Factory board, arts commission approve recommendations

Torpedo Factory board, arts commission approve recommendations

By Chris Teale (File photo)

The Torpedo Factory Art Center board approved the recommendations from a consultant’s report Monday night, but several board members and other artists lamented the potential impact the changes will make. The following evening, the Alexandria Commission for the Arts followed suit.

Consulting firm The Cultural Planning Group released a controversial report calling for the creation of a new, independent and self-appointing board of directors for the celebrated art center, which is headquartered in a city-owned building. Its other recommendations were to streamline the management structure under one nonprofit organization, create a compelling vision for the center and define a new relationship between TFAC and the city.

A revised report released January 31 would save the Torpedo Factory Artists Association from complete dissolution under the management streamlining, which the report initially recommended. But its influence on the management of the center could be reduced.

The board’s vote on the recommendations and analysis done by CPG reflected disagreement on the report’s findings. The Times reported in February on an apparent split between artists and non-artists on the proposals and the future direction of the center.

A motion to create a self-appointing board was approved by the TFAC board 8-5; the management streamlining passed 6-5-2 with a percentage of resident artists designated to the board; the creation of a compelling vision went through 12-0-1; and the vote on a new  relationship passed 7-6. The analysis and recommendations of CPG then were accepted by a 7-6 margin.

An additional motion by former state delegate and Torpedo Factory co-founder Marian van Landingham to allow the executive committees of TFAC, TFAA and The Art League to continue joint meetings to discuss a path forward passed 7-1-5. The votes at the arts commission had larger majorities of support, and included a motion identical to van Landingham’s that also passed.

While board president Mike Detomo emphasized the report and the votes are just the start of a long process, TFAA representative and TFAC board member Ann Patterson expressed her dismay.

“It’s heartbreaking, personally, as an elected member of the artists’ community to see what’s happening here tonight,” she said.

Several board members criticized the decision to create an independent, self-appointing board. The board would be freed from city council control — albeit with council’s agreement to repeal the resolution that created the board — but van Landingham said she was concerned the new organization would not be representative of all constituent groups at the Torpedo Factory.

The lack of artist representation worried several board members and attendees who spoke at the meeting’s public comment period. They said since the artists had helped build the center into one of the region’s premier art destinations, they should retain some influence in how it is run.

“The CPG plan would dissolve the strong synergy between the artists, the community and the city,” said artist Cindy Packard Richmond.

The agreement for a certain percentage of artists to be represented on the new board was added as an amendment by board member Eric Nelson, with a final number to be decided later.

The arts commission looked to solidify artist representation with its own recommendation, which was approved Tuesday night after a memo by the commission’s executive committee outlined its recommendations based on CPG’s findings.

The commission voted to approve the independent self-appointing board, but recommended a transition board be constituted to include the president of the TFAA and the executive director of The Art League as non-voting members. That transition board is recommended to be in place for between six months and one year, and to be made up of members not previously involved with TFAC but who have experience in arts and nonprofit organizations.

At the arts commission’s public hearing on the topic, several TFAC board members extolled the value of an independent board that would not be beholden to city council and could instead have more focus on creating art.

“I think it’s time for the city to step back and let the artists and arts groups start building the factory,” said board member and secretary Pat Miller.

The commission also recommended that the TFAA be given a significant role in the streamlining of management operations, something that chairman Matthew Stensrud said came after hearing extensive feedback and concerns. The commission also passed a motion in keeping with the TFAC board’s recommendation that a compelling and unifying vision be created.

“The problem is that the solutions will come from within when we all work together,” artist Jen Athanas told the arts commission.

Diane Ruggiero, the city’s deputy director of parks, recreation and cultural activities, said at the arts commission meeting that the votes taken are just the start of the discussion on how the Torpedo Factory should move forward. She said the votes were key to see the board and commission’s overall intentions before more specifics can be ironed out.

Within that process, the executive committees from the three organizations will continue to meet. Detomo said great progress has been made, and that within that spirit of cooperation, all three organizations will be able to have their say on any conclusions from the working group.