Your Views: Don’t destroy the Torpedo Factory

Your Views: Don’t destroy the Torpedo Factory
The interior of the Torpedo Factory Art Center. (Photo/Lindsey Sullivan)

To the editor:

City Council is again trying to significantly alter the Torpedo Factory’s character. Unlike previous attempts, they might just succeed this time, but in doing so, they will likely inflict inexorable harm to what is possibly the foremost cultural center in the city. The uniqueness is manifested through the interaction of the patrons with the varied and numerous artists in this historic setting.

My wife and I lived in the City of Alexandria for more than 25 years. Our friends and family, both foreign and domestic, always expressed awe after visiting the Torpedo Factory. Particularly our niece, who was a pre-teen 20 years ago and spent a great deal of time interacting with artists on a visit, was totally fascinated with the process of wood engraving. The city has missed a treasure trove of a teaching opportunity concerning the various art modalities at the Torpedo Factory, especially with the waning of art education in schools and calls for more child-friendly activities.

The attempt to alter the nature of the Torpedo Factory has been ongoing and picked up speed in 2008 and 2009 after the creation of the Long Term Economic Sustainability Implementation Committee, which pushed ideas that contradicted the committee’s very name.

In particular, the committee thought that the Torpedo Factory would make more money by changing it to retail, and that it was serving the wrong artists and wrong art. This caused an outcry when it came out, and retractions were made all around, but that was truly how this committee felt.

The city then commissioned a study in the hopes of buttressing these arguments, but instead, it demonstrated that the Torpedo Factory’s unique cultural characteristic is vitally important to the Alexandria economy. The study process included private interviews at which time the consultant told me that some committee members were the “most tone deaf that they had ever encountered” as to the value of such a cultural center.

This lack of cultural appreciation created such deep divides that it all but eliminated the possibility of fruitful dialogues on how to enhance the cultural value, such as a hands-on living classroom for the schools and the young. Instead, the focus remains on various short-term, money-making schemes.

We now find ourselves at the crossroads of Alexandria cultural history, facing the prospect of turning the Torpedo Factory into a Chuck E. Cheese simulacrum. Although this will undoubtedly never happen, it nevertheless is the logical conclusion of this change being pursued to its end.

Presently, the Torpedo factory is a unique offering. Once it is diminished by departing from the cultural path, it will become just another venue with limited potential.

-Poul Hertel, Alexandria