From Prison Stripes to Community Arts

Ar11828079048335Where once 7000 inmates were housed in brick buildings the remarkable Lorton Workhouse Arts Center begins to form. The prison complex had a long a long history in the Northern Virginia area dating back to the early 1900’s. Originally designed as a working prison farm inmates raised cattle and chickens and built many of the brick buildings that are now being renovated. The bricks were made in kilns located on the property.

In 1917 the prison received its most famous inmates and recognition that it did not want. Over 150 women were arrested for protesting for the suffrage movement. Many of the women were transported to the prison and were kept in deplorable conditions. It is felt that the reports of their treatment helped the suffrage movement and eventually led to the winning vote for the 19th amendment. Over the years the nature of the prison changed and it became an area that anyone who lived close by learned to avoid especially at night. It closed as a prison in 2003 and the transformation of the 3200 acres began in earnest.

With foresight and a lot of negotation with developers and the Fairfax County Government, 55 acres set aside for the Lorton Workhouse Arts Center-a cultural arts center- is designed to promote the arts and arts education for local area residents. The original brick buildings are being renovated to provide art spaces reminiscent of the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria. Designed to include studio space for and exhibition space for up to 150 artists the plan also includes cooperative programs with the new South County High School and Northern Virginia Community Colllege.

In May Mikhal Baryshnikov visited the site, the second Art Under Construction Exhibit just finished and the ArtStar Theater Youth Camp is underway. Currently it is hoped that the first of the buildings will be finished for opening in October with the last of the buildings opened for artists by Spring 2008.

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