Little remains to hint that the Workhouse Arts Center was once part of the Lorton Correctional Complex.
In one corner of the center's 55-acre campus stand three watchtowers, but that is about it for prison reminders. The insides of buildings that until 2001 were used as prisoner dormitories have been given fresh coats of white paint with splashes of bright oranges and blues.
The 30 red-brick buildings of the former D.C. Workhouse and Reformatory, with their graceful arches and high ceilings, could be mistaken for a boarding school. If the style seems familiar, it might be because former D.C. municipal architects Snowden Ashford and Albert Harris designed them. Eight of the 10 buildings house galleries and studios; one is a performing arts building and one holds offices. The buildings' open floor plan, with galleries and studios on either side of a central walkway, makes it easy to forget the structures' original use. Until, that is, you realize that yellow lines painted on the floors were once used to herd prisoners through the rows of bunk beds.
"We celebrate that, we really do," Tina Leone, chief executive of the Lorton Arts Foundation, says of the buildings' history.
There is plenty to see and do at the Workhouse to make an afternoon of a visit. Begin at the gallery building and pick up a pamphlet that tells the history of the buildings and what is in each. Much like the Torpedo Factory's in Alexandria, the atmosphere is meant to be inviting and allow the community to talk to local artists and watch them work. The buildings will offer space for every genre of art.
Besides the facilities for painters and sculptors, there are studios for glass workers, photographers, weavers, jewelry makers and yoga enthusiasts. If you love ceramics you could spend half an hour just wandering through a building dedicated to that medium, talk with a potter and walk out with a new vase. In the pastoral surroundings, you can round out an afternoon with a picnic and walk among an outdoor exhibition of sculpture by artists Pattie Porter Firestone, Craig R. Schaffer and Mike Shaffer. The exhibition marks the first anniversary of Workhouse's opening and runs through Nov. 28. On Sept. 19, the center is hosting an anniversary celebration from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. with a free concert, artist demonstrations, workshops and children's activities.