Arts & Entertainment, Gallery Beat

The Jewel of the DMV – Part Deux

By F. Lennox Campello/ Photo Credit: Lee Moody

Last month I was pretty harsh in examining the City of Alexandria’s Torpedo Factory “new” artist/studio selection process, which as the many, many comments both here and in various social media platforms gave evidence to, has been and remains a contentious point at the Factory.  My focus was on the process, but some commenters felt that my critical approach to the process problem also reached to the new artists’ themselves – that was not my intention and for that I apologize, and must note that as recent as December of last year I lauded several of the new artists.

The comments also testified to the individual parts of the process which artists think are good for the Factory’s future, as well some key ones that the artists dislike immensely, most common amongst these being the three-year re-jurying requirement.

Back to the process.

In my own experience as a juror, I have been part of hundreds of art jurying processes over the last few decades (including multiple times at the Torpedo Factory itself, as well as the DC Commission of the Arts & Humanities, Maryland Arts Commission, Mid Atlantic Arts Commission, etc.), and thus I am very familiar how most art jurying/judging processes are run.

The article stemmed from the debate (from Torpedo Factory artists who communicated with me) as to the issue of the jurying process for the Torpedo Factory being a full “blind” process – “blind” defined as a process where the jurors do not know anything about the artists and only view the artwork and often an art resume/CV.

The opposite of a full blind jurying process is where more detailed information about the applicant artist is offered to the jurors and specific guidelines given to them as to how to pick them, including media/genre/size allotments, etc.

The City’s new application guidelines for Torpedo factory studios note that 65% of an application’s score was based on artwork. The remaining 35% of the application was scored on professional artist presentation skills including “artist statements, process statements, and artist talks, as well as the artists’ interest in engaging with the public and working within a community.”

There are three phases:

  • Phase I considered artistic merit and was judged blind, with jurors only viewing the art. Jurors looked for deliberately crafted artwork with an authentic and original point of view that reflects an awareness of current trends and aesthetics in the larger art world. It was worth a maximum 50 points. Applicants needed 33 points to advance.
  • Phase II was non-blind and considered applicants’ backgrounds. Jurors looked for artists who could explain their art and who wanted to engage and interact with the public through their work. They reviewed applicants’ career highlights and how they have marketed themselves or their work. It was worth a maximum of 25 points. Applicants needed a combined 50 points from Phases I and II to advance.
  • Phase III gave the jurors an opportunity to meet and interact with the applicants. This was the first-time jurors saw their artwork in-person to review it for quality. Jurors consider the applicants’ ability to communicate about their artwork, with an eye toward their desire to positively engage with the public. It was worth a maximum of 25 points.

Bottom line: Not a full blind process, as is it more common in my own wide and diverse experience as a juror, or a mixed process, where jurors get to see a resume with names, etc., but an amplified, phased-in system where the jurors get to actually meet the artists.  That answers the “blind” part of the issue, in a rather creative and new process which I actually think may be good in the long run for the Factory.  Part of me understands why in 2023 the “meet the artists” part of the selection process could have an impact – as whenever possible, the ideal artist is not only a good artist, but can also engage in a meet-the-public-facing venture such as having a public studio is.

Next issue.

Jaqueline Tucker, the City’s Race and Social Equity Officer was consulted while developing the process, and I noted in the application process that “the application asked for applicants’ gender identity, disability status, language, ethnicity and/or race, and age. This information was not shared with the Jurors and held no bearing on scores.”

Diane Ruggiero, the Deputy Director, Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities Department for the City of Alexandria Office of the Arts, was also kind enough to amplify and she emailed me that “… about demographics – yes, we ask about who is applying since we don’t want to make any assumptions about how people identify. For Phase 3, although the artist is presenting to the jurors, the criteria that the jurors are evaluating is very clear and does not include any information about race, gender, age, etc.”

She also added that “the only time the demographic information was shared with the jurors was in the final report at the conclusion of the process.”

That seems to answer one of the more contentious points among Factory artists – clearly triggered by the fact that the application asked for these details in the first place.

In 2022, 78 artists applied and 26 were offered a studio: 11 of 24 incumbent artists and 15 of 54 new artists were accepted.

Now for the part of the process that needs a fine tune  – especially for the new artists – as “new accepted applicants will be offered a three (3) year lease and be re-juried every three (3) years.”

In my opinion, three years is not enough time for an artist to establish a footprint in such a dynamic place as the Factory. It also gives the appearance that the City is more interested in constant renewal as opposed to long-standing artistic presence. To get both, I would change that to a five year lease with a two-lease (10 year maximum) stint commencing with the next set of applicants.

Lastly, one commenter in social media went Alensky on me because of my June article, noting (among many other things) that I was “privileged.” My seamstress mom and longshoreman father must have chuckled in heaven at that characterization.

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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