Our View: Remembering our arts roots

Our View: Remembering our arts roots
Photo/Matthew Randall Rivera (right) in the Little Theatre of Alexandria’s production of “Rumors.”

The 20-page City Creatives arts section that appeared in last week’s Alexandria Times is evidence of just how far our city has come as an arts destination. The section featured stories about local institution The Alexandria Harmonizers, a young dancer, an actor from The Little Theatre of Alexandria and national act The Bacon Brothers, who have a special tie to the Port City.

The rotating art exhibit in Waterfront Park at the foot of King Street, currently a neon sign that says, “I Love You,” has created an art-driven focal point in that park. Residents and visitors alike have told us they enjoy these rotating exhibits.

LTA, along with long-time arts staple Alexandria Symphony Orchestra, survived the COVID-19 pandemic and have full slates of theatrical and symphonic offerings on tap, respectively. The brilliant MetroStage, whose planned new theatre needs another $2.6 million to become a reality in North Old Town, also has several upcoming shows at the Lyceum, its temporary home.

There’s The Birchmere, a source of folk, rock, country, jazz and blues music that just celebrated its 50th birthday. The Birchmere has brought world-famous performers, ranging from Johnny Cash to Alison Krauss to Emmylou Harris – and recently music legend Gordon Lightfoot – to our fair city to perform.

The Alexandria Film Festival, an annual event each November, has helped put Alexandria on the map for cinephiles in the region. Then there’s the Durant Arts Center, numerous private art galleries and dance and music studios that teach and provide performing opportunities.

Gardens and flower arrangements are a form of art, and Alexandria boasts both in River Farm, George Washington’s former property halfway down the G.W. Parkway in the Fairfax County portion of the city, and the Alexandria and Hunting Creek Garden Clubs, whose talented flower arrangers create works of art that draw visitors from the city, state and beyond each April. This year’s tour is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 23.

And, of course, there’s The Torpedo Factory, which has probably done more than any other single arts entity to put Alexandria on the national, and worldwide, arts map. Back in the 1960s and 70s, Old Town was a dilapidated, dangerous neighborhood with brothels and a run-down waterfront. Led by local artists Marian Van Landingham, Mary Ann Stevens and others, a visionary arts destination was created in Alexandria.

The city is now in the process of re-thinking what the Torpedo Factory, which operates in a city-owned building, should be moving forward. Periodic revamping, after all stakeholders have the opportunity to provide honest feedback, is good for every organization. We think the Torpedo Factory should be no exception.

We have two primary concerns: that what emerges remains arts-centric, as opposed to development driven with an arts flavor, and that long-time artists are treated fairly. Fair treatment to long-time artists, of at least 10 years, would not involve putting them at risk of losing their studios with this transition.

It’s fine to frequently jury artists who have worked at the Torpedo Factory for less than 10 years. And it’s fine to require that all studios remain open for longer periods each day than has previously been the case.

But the artists who have been there for 10 or more years should not be subject to an annual jury requirement. We can prune and revamp, but we must do so without destroying the very roots of our flourishing, flowering arts scene.