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Workhouse Arts Center

Our History

The Occoquan Workhouse opened in 1910 in Lorton, VA and served as the prison for the District of Columbia until it was closed in 2001. The property was purchased by Fairfax County in July 2002.  Fairfax County was required to develop an adaptive re-use plan for the land and the former prison facilities. A small and forward-thinking group of community members in the Lorton region put forward a plan to transform the former prison facility into a cultural arts center.  In July 2004, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the rezoning of a 55-acre portion of the former correction property to become the Workhouse Arts Center, which opened in 2008. When all phases of the renovation are complete, the Workhouse Arts Center will consist of 234,000 square feet of adaptively re-used space and 40 acres of open space.  The Workhouse Arts Center is one of the largest and most innovative adaptive re-use art projects in the U.S. and provides a unique, quality, interactive arts experience to the millions who live in and visit the Washington, D.C. region.  In 2017 after initiating a change to the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia, The Workhouse Arts Center established the NOVA Arts and Cultural District, including the Town of Occoquan, Occoquan Regional Park, and the center.


The Need

Human Need: At the core of who we are as human beings is the need to create and produce, the need to make something and to make a mark on the world around us.  Additionally, at this time in history, it is clear that we are not as content being passive recipients of arts and performances.  We want to have an experience like no other, one worthy of positive public commentary and worthy of treasuring.  Workhouse Arts Center builds its priorities around fulfilling this need, not only with those who have the disposable income needed for such experiential art, but for those who are less fortunate.


Venue Need: The National Capital Region (including the Workhouse Arts Center campus) provides many art opportunities for visitors and citizens.  The Workhouse Arts Center is however in a corner of the geography that is underserved in the arts, particularly in performing arts experiences and serves as a signature venue for the region.  Further, the need for venues that can effectively support emerging artists, up-and-coming talent, local or otherwise, who cannot sustain audience sizes in the larger venues of the region such as the Kennedy Center, Wolf Trap, or the Smithsonian.


Additionally, a venue in the region which is available to working artists who create, exhibit, and teach is hugely important to the success of the region.  In the last year, Workhouse provided 65 studio spaces to individual artists, provided teaching opportunities to nearly 100 teaching artists, exhibition opportunities to 25+ artists including Arches Gallery (Associate) Artists, and provides to artists and teachers critical income of $620,000 annually (budget FY2018) in the form of artist sales ($130,000) and artist teaching salaries ($490,000).


History Need: The Workhouse Arts Center is a National Historic Register site. The organization’s Lucy Burns Museum honors that entire 91-year history as well as the story of the suffragists who were imprisoned and abused as they struggled to give women the right to vote and pass the nation’s 19th amendment.  The richness of the site’s history includes a remarkable cast of characters including prisoners as well as those who visited, worked, and entertained at the prison.  As the product of the actions of President Teddy Roosevelt during the prison reformation era, the site has touched the lives of many and it is an important need that the Workhouse Arts Center fulfills to tell that story.


Community Need: The Workhouse Arts Center also fills an important gap in our immediate geographical region for availability of large-scale community-wide events.  The campus has quickly become a destination of choice for arts and community events that invite a large number of people to the campus.  Fireworks, 10,000; Haunted Trail, 8,000; Second Saturdays, 10,000; BrewFest, 3,000.  Experiential community events draw people together for a shared experience that unites neighbors and communities.


Economic Driver: The Workhouse Arts Center and arts programming provided has served and continues to serve as a catalyst for growth and development of the local economy.  Since the center opened its doors, the area has seen increased development in housing and schools, as well as renovation of existing sites nearby.  An unmet need Studies from leading art advocacy organizations, such as Americans for the Arts, have shown that a thriving, regionally-based artist community can have a significant impact on the prosperity and quality of life of both artists and citizens that live in the region.  The key to this effort is a facility with the scope and scale to provide a diverse arts experience in a highly interactive manner between the artists and their patrons. This in turn creates a viable economic engine that sustains the effort and delivers benefits to all.  The Workhouse Arts Center is uniquely positioned to fulfill this role in the region.  In 2017, the Workhouse established the NOVA Arts and Cultural District which includes portions of Fairfax and Prince Williams Counties.  It required a change to the laws in the state of Virginia to allow an interjurisdictional arts and culture district, the first ever of its kind in the state.  It required a bipartisan effort to change the legislation and was passed unanimously.  It is a strong testimony to the idea that the very things that divide us are the things that unite us, in this case, the Occoquan River which runs between the two counties.  It is also a strong testimony to the power of the arts to drive economic growth and development.  The arts are powerful.


Our Mission

To grow and support a vibrant arts center that offers engaging opportunities and inspiring experiences in visual arts, performing arts, history, and education.


Our Vision

To become a regionally and nationally recognized as an innovated collaboration of visual and performing arts, education, community engagement, historical perspective, and personal enrichment.



Our Objectives

Provide Inspiration:

Deliver quality, interactive arts experiences that include meeting artists, watching artists at work, watching artists perform, viewing and purchasing unique and compelling artwork, immerse in art making by taking classes, and providing an environment which enables people to actively and deeply cultivate their own creativity.  Offer a experiential arts consumption in one location that includes all forms of visual and performing arts.


Provide arts and history education to people of all ages and all abilities both at the Workhouse and in the surrounding community.


Bring people together within the environment of creating, producing, and making, thereby tapping into their core and deepest human need.