The Arts and Cultural Master Plan is a 36-page document outlining the city’s 10-year plan to develop priorities for allocating resources to Alexandria’s arts community. Yet, the entire discussion at the Dec. 13 City Council meeting centered on one sentence. Goal Five, raise community awareness of the Office of the Arts as a leadership agency, included a reference to the department’s growth following its temporary acquisition of the Torpedo Factory:
“Recently, [the Office of the Arts] pivoted to a significantly expanded portfolio encompassing special events management and transitional oversight of the Torpedo Factory Arts Center.”
City Councilwoman Redella “Del” Pepper said she would not support the plan without it being made clear that no decision had been made about the future of the Torpedo Factory but that it would not fall under the Department of Parks and Recreation. In October, the Office of the Arts assumed temporary leadership of the Torpedo Factory while an alternative leadership model could be put together.
Pepper and Mayor Allison Silberberg favored the addition of another sentence that would clarify that the Office of the Arts has not been selected to permanently run the Torpedo Factory, but faced backlash from Vice Mayor Justin Wilson and City Councilman Paul Smedberg. While Silberberg said artists had approached her with concerns about the inclusion of the section about the Torpedo Factory, Wilson and Smedberg accused the mayor of generating controversy where little or none existed. Wilson countered that everything stated in the that section of the arts plan was factually true. While the left half of the dais was divided over the sentence, the right half argued that the council was wasting time focusing on one sentence when it should have been looking over the entirety of the plan.
“I agree that [the additional sentence] is unnecessary, but it’s also harmless,” said Councilman Tim Lovain. “If the inclusion of this sentence would make the Torpedo Factory artists less anxious, then I don’t have a problem with it. I don’t see what harm it would cause.”
“I could care less about the sentence,” said Councilman John Chapman. “I’d rather focus on the actual plan and the merits of the plan. To focus on one sentence as a make it or break it sentence I don’t think is appropriate.”
The Arts and Culture Master Plan establishes five goals: achieve equity, inclusion and access for artistic and cultural endeavors, facilitate opportunities for innovation and collaboration, support and foster a sustainable and diverse community of the arts, convey and facilitate artistic and cultural expression, and raise community awareness of the Office of the Arts. As part of The Arts and Culture Master Plan’s implementation, The Office of the Arts and the Alexandria Commission for the Arts will develop annual work plans and establish task forces to work towards yearly goals. The plan also calls for additional full time employees when financially feasible to increase programming capacity and community engagement. Specifically, the plan identifies the need for a full-time public art manager and a full-time administrative assistant under the Office of the Arts.
At Lovain’s suggestion, the council voted to advance the plan to the Dec. 17 City Council meeting where the inclusion of the sentence will be reconsidered. The motion was approved in a 6-1 vote, with Pepper staying true to her word and not voting in favor of the plan without the sentence included.
“Plan overall is excellent, if it had not been for this particular paragraph would have been delighted to support it,” said Pepper. “If anyone wants to minimize that one sentence about the torpedo factory, you’ve really not been listening, not just to us but to others. I will not be supporting it.”