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Fairfax County to Take Greater Role at Workhouse Arts Center

The Workhouse Arts Center. Patch file photo by James Cullum.
The Workhouse Arts Center. Patch file photo by James Cullum.

The Lorton Arts Foundation board, the nonprofit that runs the Workhouse Arts Center, will be abolished after the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors agreed that the county will assume $30 million the organization’s debt.

Programs at the 56-acre cultural arts venue will remain the same, according to John Mason, CEO and president of the arts center.

“We are pleased that the county has taken this action. It’s a key step in ensuring we have a long-term future,” Mason said.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors announced their decision at Tuesday’s board meeting. The Lorton Arts Foundation had entered into about $60 million in debt to Wells Fargo Bank.

“Because this land is owned by Fairfax County, the Workhouse Arts Center provides important cultural opportunities for the region and litigation over any default of the debt could affect county interests, the Board of Supervisors voted to provide $30 million as its share of an agreement with Wells Fargo Bank to cancel all remaining LAF debt obligation,” reads the announcement from the board.

The agreement settles all issues between the Foundation and Wells Fargo Bank. The arts center had been struggling to raise money to run the center’s programs. 

“I have personally attended many successful workshops, fundraisers, and events at the Workhouse,” reads a statement from Board Chairman Sharon Bulova.

“However, like many non-profits and businesses alike, the LAF has not been immune to the economic recession and slow recovery. Simply put, the past few years have proven an intensely difficult time to raise money for the arts, and the Workhouse Arts Center’s operations have not generated enough revenue to cover expenses, especially debt it incurred for capital renovations,” the statement continues.

Fairfax County purchased 2,440 acres of federal land for $4.2 million in 2002. It was the site of the formal Lorton Reformatory until the prison closed in 1998.

In 2006, the Lorton Arts Foundation took on the task of renovating and converting the former prison into the arts center.  The prison is on the National Park Service’s Register of Historic Places.  

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