Arts & Entertainment, Gallery Beat

What Is Happening to the Great Jewel of the DMV Art Scene?

By F.Lennox Campello

As I write this month’s column, I am in New York City at the Volta Art Fair during NYC’s week of art fairs.  I am typing this column in my cell phone because I have a thing about free hotel WiFi and security.

Art fairs are tiring work… one must be on full alert, on your feet, and kibbitzing for hours to the thousands of potential collectors and art buyers.

So why am I typing this column in my phone as I lay on my weird Scandinavian style bed, eight inches off the floor at the trendy and chic Selina Hotel in Chelsea?

Because the city of Alexandria is slowly but surely screwing up, and tarnishing, and destroying the great jewel of the DMV art scene that once was the Torpedo Factory.

I could try to explain what the kommissars at the helm of the office that now “runs” the Torpedo Factory are screwing up… but I thought that I’d let Cindy Packard Richmond, a well-known and highly talented and successful Torpedo Factory artist tell you in her own words:

“I am voluntarily leaving the Torpedo Factory Art Center at the end of September. I am NOT retiring.  I have loved my time (17 years) at the Factory and being with the amazing artists and friends.  The TFAA is not what it once was. We had blind juries. Artists were free to develop and stay as long as they wished.

Alexandria abruptly took away the artists’ autonomy.  Now, the jury is as far from ‘blind’ as possible. Everyone’s age and ethnicity is determined before the art is considered.  The most odious part of their process affects the current artists. They are not being judged as artists, but by studio space.  If a studio has three artists and one is deemed lacking, ALL THREE artists are forced to leave.  The factory lost some amazing artists due to this folly last year.  Now every artist has to re-jury every three years. The Office of Arts appears to believe this constant churning will make the factory vibrant.”

In my opinion, this is what happens when clueless said kommissars take over running and dictating the Arts.

Bowspirit by Cindy Richmond

Result: what was once the shining jewel of the DMV art scene, a building once full of trash, rescued and refurbished by artists, not the city or its politicians, artists who over the decades turned it into a magical place for the Arts, not the City or its politicians, slowly fades away into an art-by-recipe gray hunk of government-approved art.

Cuba and North Korea also have government kommissars who dictate government-approved art.  In those countries, artists who are determined to be “lacking” are often jailed.  Ask Cuban artist Tania Bruguera about what happens when the heavy hand of government chokes the creative process of the fine arts.

“That is exactly how the Corcoran failed – clueless political hacks attempting to run a museum”, commented a well-known art administrator of a major DMV non-profit arts space.

“Manufactured authenticity,” noted a local artist.

“… the city is CLUELESS. So many people have tried to wake them up,” added a well-known and respected DMV gallerist.

Is the avalanche of the destruction of the Torpedo Factory’s artistic footprint too late to stop? I don’t know.

Is there a politico in the City of Alexandria who remembers the Factory when it was a shining and vibrant example of what hardworking artists can accomplish when working together? Probably, but these days politicians just align to what the wind and pollsters tell them is the right (or left) thing to do.

What makes this disaster sadder, is the fact that “art by recipe” has failed every time it has been tried as the Nazis and the Soviets discovered in the last century.

There’s no formula, there’s no allotment by race or ethnicity or affiliation or fill-in-the-blank…the real selector is the Art itself.  The art decides…with artists, not political offices as the drivers.

Torpedo Factory… the Art world weeps for you.

About the Author: F. Lennox Campello’s art news, information, gallery openings, commentary, criticism, happenings, opportunities, and everything associated with the global visual arts scene with a special focus on the Greater Washington, DC area has been a premier source for the art community for over 20 years. Since 2003, his blog has been the 11th highest ranked art blog on the planet with over SIX million visitors.

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