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Workhouse Arts Center: A Correction Facility Transformed into a Work of Art

November 1, 2023

The Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton, VA has an incredible history and story of transformation. What began as the District of Columbia’s workhouse correctional facility in 1910 is now a premiere center for expression, creativity, and artistry. For 91 years, the beautiful, Georgian brick workhouse building was the District’s alternative to prison for incarcerated individuals. Prominent figures ranging from the celebrated suffragist Lucy Burns to G. Gordon Liddy, a key figure in the Watergate scandal, and Chuck Brown, the pioneering father of Go-Go music, were all incarcerated at the Workhouse at various times following convictions in District courts. In 2001, the correctional facility closed and a group of visionary community leaders in Fairfax County banded together to come up with a plan to revitalize and repurpose the 55 acres that was formerly federal government land. In 2008, Workhouse Arts Center was born and opened to the public as a center for culture, arts, and freedom of expression.

Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton, VA

Today, the center defies its own history of captivity and restraint. Christine Cimino, Workhouse Arts Center Marketing Director, described the center as, “a revitalized facility for artistic and creative freedom.” The property is a compilation of art studios, performance stages, galleries, and classrooms all linked together under beautiful pavilions surrounding an open courtyard. Roughly 65 resident artists maintain an ongoing presence as they lease and actively engage in artistry within the Workhouse Arts Center. This vibrant creative hub offers an extensive array of resources and dedicated spaces to accommodate a rich diversity of artistic pursuits, spanning from glass melding and ceramics to sculpture and painting. The Lucy Burns Museum is also part of the property and covers the history of the women’s rights movement and the events that took place in Washington, D.C. And in a final effort to pay homage to its rich history, some of the original prison cells are open for viewing to the public.

In addition to artist studios, Workhouse offers classes for students ranging from ceramics, drawing, fiber, glass, painting and sculpture. The Workhouse Arts Center is dedicated to the belief that arts education enriches one’s perception of the world. Their programs empower students to enhance their self-esteem, empathy for others, and environmental awareness through creative experiences. Additionally, students benefit from social and emotional enrichment through interactions with peers and fellow artists.

Workhouse Arts Center, Lorton VA

The Performing Arts Department on campus has a variety of theater, music and comedy performances throughout the year. Previous productions have featured a diverse range of performances, including a modern twist on Hamlet called “Women Playing Hamlet,” contemporary favorites like “Urinetown,” and the whimsical “Xanadu” for which the lead actress Jessica Barraclough received a Helen Hayes nomination for Outstanding Lead Performer. The upcoming show, “The Who’s Tommy” is set to take the stage in December, promising an unforgettable theatrical experience. Notably Workhouse hosted renowned jazz singer and musician, Bobby Blackhat, along with the comedic brilliance of Tammy Pascarelli, both gracing the Lorton, V.A. stage with their exceptional talents.

Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton, VA

The Workhouse Arts Foundation, Inc. and Fairfax County are enthusiastic about plans to further revitalize and restore the historic buildings at the Workhouse Arts Center. In early 2022, Fairfax County began the restoration of two historic campus buildings. On completing the restorations these buildings will be made available for lease to commercial businesses. This development will introduce potential space for a brewery, restaurant, and coffee shop on campus for the very first time (not yet confirmed).

Workhouse Arts Center, through its transformation from a historic correctional facility to an artistic haven, serves as a testament to the transformative and enduring value of the arts. It is a unique example of a community’s vision breathing new life into historic spaces, creating opportunities for creativity, education and cultural enrichment.

PS: Workhouse Arts Center extends a warm welcome to pet owners for most outdoor events, allowing four-legged companions to join you in our outdoor areas. Bring your furry friend and savor the day together!

Workhouse Arts Center Hours:
Wednesday: 11 AM–6 PM
Thursday: 11 AM–6 PM
Friday: 11 AM–6 PM
Saturday: 11 AM–6 PM
Sunday: 12–5 PM
Monday: Closed
Tuesday: Closed

Upcoming Workhouse Arts Center Events:

Second Saturday Art Walk November 11

Learning at Lunch – “Incorrigible” A Sneak Peak! November 17

2023 Gala: Coloring Our World November 18

16th Annual Artist Teacher Exhibition: The Collective Now – December 2

Showtimes for “The Who’s Tommy”, the musical will be on December 31 – February 11 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights at 8 pm. More details to come! Performing Arts — Workhouse Arts Center

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