The challenges facing Lorton's Workhouse Arts Center are many, and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will most likely provide millions of dollars in financial support for the next few years until the former home of the Lorton Prison becomes self-sustaining. But it still won't be enough. The center faces program cuts, slowed renovation of buildings and potential partnerships with neighboring colleges to offer art classes.
"We are being very challenged at the Workhouse. We're not going to let it go down the tubes and we have an interest in keeping it successful," said Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland at last week's South County Federation meeting. "We need to find ways to get more people to the Lorton Arts Foundation, and to get monies from the persons who go there. The board is well aware of the challenges they are going through, and if they default on the obligations then the whole thing falls into our laps."
Hopes that the Workhouse would be self-sustaining by next summer are unlikely, said John Mason, president and CEO of the Lorton Arts Foundation, the nonprofit that operates the arts center.
"We have not drafted our FY2014 budget request yet, however I would expect that request would be in range of this year’s County contribution ($3.35 million)," Mason told Patch in an email. "Our goal is to become operationally self-sustaining within the next few years."
The foundation needs to increase operational revenues and develop large-scale donor programs, according to a June 2011 County Office of Financial and Program audit. "The organization has possibly been too focused on the rehabilitation of the properties and planned use, rather than ensuring the current operations are producing the revenue results needed and budgeted for," said the report.
Questions and Answers
Patch: What's the latest progress with the Board of Supervisors and the Workhouse?
Mason: We are very pleased that the Board of Supervisors provided significant support in FY2013. We are working closely with the County to identify enterprise activities that would be appropriate for the Workhouse and create new revenue streams.
Patch: How is the Workhouse doing with working toward sustainability?
Mason: Key to the financial sustainability of the Workhouse is revenue generation from our programs (studio rentals, art of movement, art sales, etc.) and rental of facilities.
Patch: Any updates on a restaurant on campus?
Mason: Frankly, it’s a real challenge. To renovate (building) W-13 as a restaurant, it may take $500,000 to a million dollars. Because restaurants operate on tight margins, we’re challenged to find someone willing to front that much investment.
Patch: What's the latest with groups coming to the Workhouse from George Mason University?
Mason: Perhaps the most exciting thing we’re doing now is growing the partnership with George Mason University. We have an agreed action plan that will lead to growing new activities of the next several years. Additionally, we anticipate providing glass program classes to Northern Virginia Community College.
Patch: Can you quantify any financial improvement? Where is the Workhouse/LAF financially?
Mason: Our financial performance for the first two months (July and August) of this fiscal year are solid. Bottom line being met… As you know we had to adjust our theater program because I had anticipated a loss of over $100,000 if we continued in-house production. Joey Wallen, our Director of Performing Arts, is doing a great job with a mix of rental opportunities that will lead to theater and musical productions. We will also be initiating an experimental cabaret series and dinner and a movie in our W-3 Theatre. And by the way, we have replaced the uncomfortable, hard plastic seats with nice cushioned seats.
Patch: What is the latest on opening additional buildings on campus, like the event center, the theater?
Mason: We’re working with the County to gain a clear understanding of the cost estimates associated with additional renovations. It’s certainly in the millions. Realistically, it’s hard to imagine that we will be able to renovate additional buildings in the next two years…
As you may recall, the event center has been partially renovated, with a cost to date of $1.9 million. It will take an additional $2 million or so to make it really operational. I look forward to meeting someone (or a corporation) that would like to see their name on the building!
What advice do you have for the Lorton Arts Foundation? Tell us in the comments box below.