Torpedo Factory artists upset over new selection process

More controversy is brewing between artists at the Torpedo Factory Art Center and the City of Alexandria. 

This time around, it’s over the new selection process that decides which artists end up with studio spaces. 

FOX 5 has learned that 13 artists will lose their studio space by the end of the summer due to the new selection process. 

City officials say the goal of the new process was to provide fair and equitable access to the studio spaces for more artists.  

FOX 5 spoke to artists who currently have a studio space who say while they aren’t opposed to the new process entirely, they don’t like how the city went about it.  

READ MORE: Torpedo Factory future to be discussed at Alexandria council meeting

"You don’t change things you’re happy with basically, so they are initiating changes that will result in good artists losing their studio space and possibly their livelihood." Alex Gray said.  

FOX 5 spoke with Gray last fall after he started a petition to stop the city from moving the artist studios off the first floor of the facility to make way for restaurants and retail shops. 

"Last time we spoke it was about don’t let them kick out the artist and now the artists are getting kicked out."  

Gray says many of the artists leaving have had a space at the Torpedo Factory for years. 

"Every artist that’s in the building has already gone through, has already demonstrated their work it meets a certain standard of quality, so the re-jurying process is somewhat insulting," he said. "It’s not that there isn’t a need for some turnover, but the cost is just way too high, and it’s being done in an arrogant high-handed way that doesn’t allow for any feedback of any kind." 

He says in the past, artists were juried in based on just their artwork. 

According to the Torpedo Factory Jury Report, 65% of an application's score is based on the artwork. 

"So now it switched to have you had shows outside of the region? How is your Instagram following? Are you good at presenting to people what you do in public? Now maybe those things are important, but people only knew about that for six weeks," said Lisa Schumaier, an artist who has had a studio space since 2004. 

Diane Ruggiero, director of the Alexandria Office of the Arts, told FOX 5 they started having discussions with the artists about the changes before the pandemic. She added artists had several months to put everything together.  

Both Gray and Schumaier told FOX 5 that another problem with the new process is those who want to share studio space together must now apply and be evaluated together. 

"I don’t think anybody needs to be jurying people on the basis of someone else’s artwork," Schumaier said. "I don’t see it working for what we want the building to be about. I think it’s going to limit the number of artists that are in studios."  

Ruggiero said she has heard the concerns from the artists. 

"If we just juried in everybody separately well what if one of those artists got in but the other one didn’t? Like are we suddenly going to have to play matchmaker? Does the accepted artist need to go and find somebody? And we really need to make sure both of those artists are of the caliber to have a studio… Could you imagine choosing roommates in your apartment? You don’t want the landlord choosing your roommate for you?" 

City officials do say there’s an off-boarding process for those artists who won’t have their studios going forward. A professional development program is in place to help them for the next time they apply.