The Art League: Art Connected to Community

Suzzone McAfee, Howard University News Service

Nestled on the waterfront in what was once an old torpedo factory is The Art League, a creative feast of art galleries, artist studios, fine arts school, and community-based programs. To tourists exploring Old Town Alexandria who stumble upon The Art League, it is like discovering creativity on overflow. 

“The Art League, which is a non-profit organization, was formed in 1954 by a group of artists taking classes who wanted to showcase their work,” said Whitney Staiger, gallery director of The Art League. “Twenty years later in 1974, Marian Van Landingham, a member of our advisory board, merged the Torpedo Factory art center with The Art League.”

The mission centers on developing and maturing the arts in Alexandria by connecting art to the community. The Art League offers art classes throughout the year and through various community programs.

The Art League uses the visual arts to reach out to the underserved in the Alexandria community with programs like SOHO Old Town (a Space of Her Own). SOHO Old Town is a 15-year-old program spearheaded by the Alexandria City Public Schools.

“SOHO works with at-risk fifth and sixth-grade girls pressured into negative situations,” said Staiger.

“The girls are matched with a mentor, and from September to May, they learn art as well as etiquette skills, self-esteem improvement, nutritional facts and how to deal with bullying. We’re very proud to boast we have a 98 percent success rate and some of the students return as mentors after graduating high school.”

For those who want to learn to draw, hone their photography skills, or want a place to do printmaking, The Art League school is the place.

Highly-trained artists serve as instructors teaching a variety of classes offered by the school throughout the year. The non-accredited school is open to all and attracts first-time students as well as emerging and seasoned artists.

John Ploch, a sculptor, artist, volunteer and Art League student, started coming to The Art League after trying different classes and discovering his talent. Ploch has been taking the same course — a stone culture class — for 15 years.

He said he returns because the classes are enriching, inexpensive and the center provides most of the supplies. The instructors are seasoned art professionals who give their time, techniques and personal attention to each student.

“Here I am in my mid 50’s and all of a sudden I can do art,” said Ploch. 

Beverly Ryan is an instructor at The Art League, who joined 26 years ago attracted by the friendliness of everybody. Similar to many Art League members, she has been involved with the League in various positions including in the art supplies store and served on the board for three years.

Currently, Ryan teaches abstract painting and narrative painting as well as two different classes in encaustic painting. She also has an open studio in The Torpedo Factory where visitors can watch her creating art, and she can sell her works.

“It’s a great community,” said Ryan. “Creativity encouraging creativity. it’sI’s a great place.”

“The Art League helped me realize a dream I didn’t know I had,” Ploch said. “The hours I spend in the classroom are the best hours of in my week. You don’t have to come in here accomplished, knowing what you’re doing.”

 

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