Alexandria: Opportunities for ‘Creative Placemaking’

Alexandria: Opportunities for ‘Creative Placemaking’

Looking at the future of the Torpedo Factory Art Center.

Eric Wallner is the Chief Executive Officer at the Torpedo Factory Art Center.

Ask any local Alexandrian and they would agree, the Waterfront is one of the most vibrant and active neighborhoods in the city. This wasn’t always the case. In the 1970s, after the torpedo factory was no longer in active use, the area was described as rundown and abandoned. In her book, “On Target: Stories of the Torpedo Factory Art Center’s First 25 Years,” founder Marian Van Landingham described it as: “Full of old government furniture and Smithsonian Institution storage, the buildings were considered a blight. Only a half dozen businesses survived on neighboring King Street. The city needed something to bring life and visitors to this area.” The creation of the Torpedo Factory Art Center in 1974 has become a textbook example of urban revitalization, often cited as one of the first experiments in adaptive re-use of an industrial space.

As an economic engine for our tourism industry, the Torpedo Factory Art Center is responsible for generating $16.2 million in direct visitor spending. Our community impact, however, goes much deeper. Nationally recognized researchers Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa Nicodemus describe creative placemaking as an effort to shape and coordinate the cultural life of a community. “In creative placemaking, partners from public, private, nonprofit, and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, tribe, city, or region around arts and cultural activities. Creative placemaking animates public and private spaces, rejuvenates structures and streetscapes, improves local businesses viability and public safety, and brings diverse people together to celebrate, inspire, and be inspired.”

With a mission to foster connections among artists and the public that ignite the creative spirit, the Torpedo Factory Art Center is an internationally recognized model of creative placemaking. Last year, with our partner organizations, the Art League, the Torpedo Factory Artists’ Association and the Alexandria Archeology Museum, the Art Center completed a Strategic Road Map which outlines three main objectives: To become an indispensable community and regional asset; to support resident artists; and to enhance the reputation of the Torpedo Factory among the arts community and the public.

The city’s ongoing Waterfront planning process provides an opportunity to preserve this unique cultural and historic asset while integrating the arts directly into the visitor experience. This fall, the Torpedo Factory Art Center is developing a detailed, action-oriented business plan with a focus on financial sustainability and growth. Since the building was last renovated in 1983, preparations are being made to launch a major renovation for an even more vibrant user experience. The art center welcomes the input, involvement and support of the Alexandria community as we continue to grow.