Your Views: A Torpedo Factory artist’s rebuttal

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To the editor:

The letter by former Torpedo Factory CEO Eric Wallner, “Misguided TFAA threatens Torpedo Factory’s future,” in the July 18 Alexandria Times is nothing more than a carefully orchestrated, obviously selective, pseudo history of the Torpedo Factory Art Center during Wallner’s tenure as director.

During his time there was a widely recognized lack of skilled leadership at the Torpedo Factory. In addition, the many citizens and civic organizations of Alexandria that were asked repeatedly by Wallner and his management team to make substantial non-profit donations to support the city-established Torpedo Factory Art Center Board’s goals and decision making, found his appeals lacking and were not willing to support them.

The genuine financial picture of the TFAC is revealing. It is, and has been to this day, the efforts and money from the TFAA artists and the Art League collected as rents and provided as additional expenditures that has supported and subsidized the existence and operation of the TFAC. To claim that TFAC rents are subsidized is to reveal a lack of understanding of basic real estate. No one, including the city, has ever subsidized artist rents.

The city hired a director with those artist rent payments from 1974 through 1998. Otherwise, the city has not supported the operation of the TFAC with a single city council budget line item of taxpayer dollars. Nevertheless, the TFAC has survived and prospered because of the efforts of its tenants, sometimes in spite of hostile city administrators.

In fact, the TFAA artists even dreamed up, started, grew and made successful three subsidiary businesses: a gallery, a gift shop and an after-hours building event rental business between 1999 and 2011. In a questionably legal act, those businesses were confiscated by the TFACB along with the trained staff in 2011 when the TFACB took management control, with no payment or compensation to the artists or TFAA other than a small inventory accounting.

Yes, the location of the TFAC makes the property valuable. But repeated commercial real estate assessments have shown that current rents are in line with market rates for undeveloped, raw commercial properties that have had minimal maintenance and no owner-financed capital improvement for 35 years.

What the TFAA artists, like artists around the world, have been saying for a long time are the following:

1. We don’t want to be gentrified out of existence and we don’t think doing so will benefit the City of Alexandria and its citizens.

2.If you want the TFAC to be a genuine, viable art center, the TFAA artists who are the tenants have to be able to survive economically, like any other small or micro business.

3. To make that survival happen, real decisions about operations, marketing, short and long-term planning, artistic participation and judgement and the nature of the working environment have to be made by the artists, not alone or in isolation, but in cooperation with the city, community members and administrators.

4. The role of good management should be to find meaningful ways of assisting artists, that help them grow and treat them as the respected professionals that they are. It should not be to treat them as disposable objects, tell them what to do, exclude them from genuine meaningful decision making, publicly and privately vilify them and distort the genuine history of the TFAC.

This ought to be especially relevant for current and past managers, the money for whose salaries – often at higher rates than the majority of artists they claim to manage – is provided by the hard work and creativity of the TFAA and Art League artists who are the subject of Wallner’s letter.

How do I know what is written here? I served as either treasurer or president of the TFAA for almost all of Wallner’s tenure and repeatedly had the responsibility of interacting with him on behalf of the TFAA.

-Don Viehman, Alexandria

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