Behind the scenes at the Torpedo Factory: New artists and the jury process

Tags: Arts & Culture, Old Town, Alexandria art scene, annual jury, art, artists, Torpedo Factory Art Center

By Jeff Sypeck

How does an artist get into the Torpedo Factory? Artists who dream of having a studio here often assume the process must be baffling; in fact, it's surprisingly straightforward.

On Monday, March 18, 2013, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., aspiring Torpedo Factory artists will flock to the third-floor landing, bringing with them five original works (and cardboard to protect each work), a CD with 10 to 20 additional images, and an application that includes an artist statement and information about their process. They'll be assigned ID numbers to ensure anonymity—no résumés allowed—and they'll need to follow other criteria outlined in the official application: only one-third of the CD images may show work that’s more than two years old, for example—and please, no wet paint.

Over the next two days, two juries will review the applicants' work. By Tuesday night, one jury will have chosen new painters, photographers, and other 2-D artists. By Wednesday night, a second jury will have chosen artists who work in three dimensions, such as sculptors, potters, jewelry makers, and fiber artists.

But how do they decide? The Torpedo Factory has adapted a process originally developed by the Creative Crafts Council. Painter and jury chair Michele Hoben discussed the process at great length in August 2012, offering vital tips on preparation and presentation—and this year, she shared this summary of exactly what happens behind closed doors:

  • Each jury consists of three arts professionals nominated by the Torpedo Factory community. Whether artists, curators, gallery owners, or professors, they bring experience with a wide range of media and represent diverse points of view.
  • The jurors aren't told how many artists they may choose.
  • In the morning, the three jurors independently rate each artist on a scale of 1 to 5—but they're not allowed to give a score of 3. The jurors are encouraged to be inclusive and give artists the benefit of the doubt before a second, more collaborative evaluation in the afternoon.
  • Artists who score a total of 14 or 15 are automatically accepted.
  • That afternoon, jurors scrutinize and re-score the artists who scored highly enough in the morning to earn a second look, this time after thoughtful debate. ("Scores often change during these discussions," Hoben says.) Any artist receiving a score of 14 or 15 is automatically accepted.
  • If two jurors give an applicant a 5, the artist is accepted regardless of the third juror's vote—a policy that prevents a single juror from scuttling an applicant's chances.

"Over the years, we've refined it into a fair, thoughtful, efficient process," notes glass artist Lea Topping, who serves on the committee that helps organize the jury. She encourages artists not to be discouraged if they aren't chosen right away. "Many current TFAC artists have come through several juries," she says. "If you're not juried in this time, please try again."

Michele Hoben enthusiastically agrees: "Each year we have different jurors. A juror can't return for five years, and no past panel will ever be reconvened—so each year, a different jury, a different outcome."

She also encourages ambitious local artists to check out the Visiting Artist Program, and to come meet artists who've been through the jury process themselves. "Demystifying the process is a very good idea," she says. "Our studios are open—so stop by and chat!"


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