Your Views: Long live the Torpedo Factory

Your Views: Long live the Torpedo Factory
An aerial shot of the first floor of the Torpedo Factory Art Center. (Photo Credit: Cody Mello-Klein)

To the editor:
What follows is a letter to the residents of Alexandria from a long-time artist at the Torpedo Factory.

Dear Alexandria,

Thank you for your generous support for the Torpedo Factory Art Center over the years. Your continued financial investment creates a cultural institution with far-reaching influences that benefit our community, the D.C. area and even the country. It has undoubtedly had a profound impact on me.

Alexandria is my adopted hometown. My parents grew up together in the Los Angeles area. As an Army Officer stationed at the Pentagon, my father moved our family to Fairfax County Alexandria in 1973. I attended Mount Vernon High School and graduated from Virginia Tech.

During my last two years at the university, I moved to the City of Alexandria as a student to take classes and help inaugurate the new Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center, an urban extension of the Virginia Tech School of Architecture + Design, now located on Prince Street. I have lived in the city ever since. My wife and I currently reside in the Del Ray neighborhood.

I joined the Torpedo Factory Art Center in 1983. As a resident artist for 38 years, I have been able to devote my life to my art and grow from the opportunities afforded to me by Alexandria. My artwork takes the architectural hand skills I learned in school and explores them as an art form. For example, what new expressions result when architectural drafting, rendering and model making are applied to a portrait or landscape? My most recent work finds art in science, technology, engineering and mathematics concepts. You can find two of my digital drawings on aluminum, inspired by electromagnetism and the Fermilab bubble chamber, hanging at the Principle Gallery on King Street through Aug. 21.

As an artist and Alexandrian, I have participated in many citywide art initiatives. I first rubbed elbows with City Council in 1987 at the premiere of the Target Gallery. I led Torpedo Factory artists, in collaboration with the city, to establish the Target Gallery as a way to bring artists in from beyond the Art Center’s walls. For several years, I chaired the City’s Public Art committee and was a member of the Alexandria Commission for the Arts. I initiated and authored the Public Art Committee addendum to the Waterfront Small Area Plan.

I was a community stakeholder for both the design competition for Freedman Cemetery and the public art there. I also led an unsuccessful bid to celebrate with public art “The Man Who Killed Jim Crow,” Charles Hamilton Houston.

But alas, my tenure is coming to a close. My residency at the Art Center will end on Sept. 30. Although recently selected in the 2022 Open Call for Resident Artists, the jurors lowered my status to Artist Pro Tem. I believe the loss of my studio can be attributed to the City of Alexandria’s new ALL Alexandria policy that is informed by Resolution 2974. Whatever the cause, I accept my fate. I will vacate Studio 222 to make room for a new artist moving in on Oct. 1.

The Torpedo Factory Art Center is a brilliant idea that complements Alexandria’s storied history with the arts sense of now. I’m lucky to have been a part of it for so long.

My goal for the future is to take what I learned from engaging with the public in my Torpedo Factory studio and share my experiences online. Once again, thank you for your generous support and for giving me the space to grow as an artist.

-Matthew Harwood, Alexandria