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From Big House to Big Dreams

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From Big House to Big Dreams

James W. Bailey

From a former place of bedlam and unrest to a modern day artsy melting pot, the Workhouse Art Center in Lorton, Va., has had quite the facelift.
 
Now the region's most distinctive cultural and creative arts center, the workhouse was built under Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Era vision to provide nonviolent prisoners with fresh air, natural light and purposeful work as the basis for their rehabilitation.

But over the years, the prison changed, with watch towers, cells and wired fences installed as it grew into a medium-security prison. After more than 90 years as a correction facility, the prison officially closed its doors in 2001.

But really, what are you gonna do with a creepy prison? How about some rezoning? In 2008, Lorton Arts Foundation celebrated the grand opening of phase I for the Workhouse Arts Center.  

Currently, 10 of the 30 historic buildings are open to the public, featuring ultra-modern galleries, studios and classrooms, each dedicated to a different medium. You'll find courses in ceramics, printmaking, glass, oils, wood and more. Programs  range from the performing arts, visual arts, ballet, mind/body, and a kids' zone.
 
Visiting the Art Center is quite an experience knowing that you are in a building that once housed violent criminals -- no need to go through security here, though. Some of the buildings still have the look of "The Hill" (the prison's old nickname), with the concrete walkways, and of course the eerie prison watch towers. When all building phases are completed, the proposed arts center will occupy 294,000 square feet of arts facilities and 40 acres of open space.
 
The Second Saturday Art Walk is a great way to introduce yourself to the space (next event is Jan. 14). Tour seven unique studio buildings, talk with artists, buy original works, and mix and mingle with others while enjoying light refreshments and music. 
 
Gallery & Studio Hours:
Wed-Sat, 11A.M.-7P.M. and Sun, 12P.M.-5P,M.
 
9601 Ox Road
Lorton, VA 22079
 
 
 
 
 
 

Related Topics destinations, virginia, arts
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