Some of the best innovative thinking in our world is happening at the intersection of things that most would consider a mismatch.
And yet someone thought to connect a former torpedo factory, with art, archaeology, community and even premature babies!
Yes. we are really going to take you on a little journey today to points far and wide, and then it will all come together!
The Torpedo Factory Art Center once was an actual torpedo factory, and now it has been part of revitalizing the surrounding community in Alexandria Virginia.
There are musical events, comedy shows and various programs that incubate new creative talents. There is an exhibit that features the ongoing work of a nearby archaeological excavation and numerous galleries that feature dynamic reaches of art.
A few years ago there was an art event linked to helping The March of Dimes raise much-needed funds to support premature babies and their families and now they are reaching into new corners of the community to delight and inspire.
If this isn’t an example of a win/win investment of public support and energy, then we may never see one!
And on top of all that, The Torpedo Factory Art Center has a fascinating, uplifting story!
It all began in 1918, at the official end of World War I, when the U. S. Navy built the original building to become the U.S. Naval Torpedo Station. It manufactured torpedoes for 5 years until demand dwindled and it became a munitions storage facility.
Unfortunately, World War II erupted and the factory was called back into service to produce the new torpedoes being launched from submarines and aircraft at an intense rate. The demand was so great that ten new buildings were added to the complex.
In fact, today, in the main hall of the building, there is a bright green Mark XIV torpedo on display. Along with its history of manufacture and service, as it was on a number of vessels.
In 1959, the building complex became the property of the city of Alexandria, Virginia, and it sat largely inert for a decade.
By 1969, an unusual set of circumstances intervened to bring the Torpedo Factory’s impact 180 degrees: from destruction to creation.
In the earliest part of the 1970’s, a thriving organization called The Art League of Northern Virginia was losing its lease elsewhere in Alexandria, and its president was Marian Van Landingham, an artist and enormous advocate for the arts. She proposed a project that would renovate the building into working studio spaces for artists, and as luck would have it, the city was just beginning to put together a waterfront revitalization plan.
The proposal was eventually endorsed by the Alexandria Bicentennial Commission, and the arts community worked hand in hand with the city to remove 55 years (40 truckloads) of debris.
The center has enriched the surrounding community ever since!
From 1982 to 1983, the building underwent a second major renovation, and the factory was gutted to install all new heating and cooling, electrical units, windows, and flooring. Prior to that, the artists had just been stoically toughing it out. Even through winters when their ancient boilers could barely heat the building above freezing, and summers when the cavernous old space was like an oven.
Now, the Torpedo Factory Art Center is home to the nation’s largest collection of working-artists’ open studios under one roof, and it’s thought to be the highlight of the Potomac Riverfront, attracting approximately 500,000 visitors annually.
I could continue to run on about why all that is so inspiring, but I think our video share today, by CCTV America, will give you a better view of at least one arch of connection The Torpedo Factory Art Center has advanced. Take a look at this video about the March of Dimes event that went on there and you’ll get a window into the center and its reach.
These people are not just whistling Dixie! By the looks of it, there is a lot going on in this old torpedo factory!
Besides their connection to all things creative, one of the center’s tenants – The Art League – is supporting their community’s youth in a very personal way, best explained by The Art League on their Wikipedia page. Here’s what the organization at the heart of all this, is doing, now almost 50 years after they started it all:
In 2003, in partnership with the Alexandria Court Service Unit, The Art League established a mentoring program for at-risk girls in Alexandria, called A Space Of Her Own (SOHO). The SOHO program engages at-risk, low-income, 5th-grade girls in a year of personal growth centered on art. Each participating girl is paired with an adult, female mentor to partake in art lessons taught by an Art League instructor. These sessions become the catalyst to discuss larger life concerns, decision-making, and emotional issues. At the completion of the program, the teams remodel each of the girls’ bedrooms, incorporating all of their artwork, to give each girl a “space of her own.” 1
Like I said at the beginning, it doesn’t get more win/win than this folks!
Who knows how far the ripples of expanded possibilities are radiating out from that old torpedo factory.
Stay open, curious and optimistic!
~ Dr. Lynda
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