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Workhouse Arts Center
Workhouse Arts Center

Workhouse Arts Center

The Workhouse Arts Center is set on 55 acres of land on the campus of what used to be the historic D.C. Workhouse and Reformatory.  Today, the Workhouse supports more than 100 of the region's finest professional and emerging artists and is fast becoming a regionally and nationally recognized visual and performing arts mecca for all of those interested in the arts. Artist studios and gallery buildings are open Wednesday through Saturday 11am - 6pm, Sunday 12 - 5pm. And from 6pm-9pm on the Second Saturday of each month you can discover all the Workhouse Arts Center has to offer. Whether it’s your first visit or your hundredth, the Second Saturday Art Walk is the perfect time to meet nearly 100 Resident and Associate Artists, creating art in the studios or exhibiting in their galleries.

Beginning on January 25, 2020 the Workhouse will unveil the Lucy Burns Museum which will feature professional history exhibits that tell the story of the 91 years of prison history and the story of the suffragists who were imprisoned here in 1917 for picketing the White House for women’s right to vote.

StoryTellers Your Stories to Create

Scenes From the Workhouse Arts Center

5 Things to Do at the Workhouse Arts Center

Workhouse Art Center: Attend an Event

1. Attend an Event

Throughout the year there are over 300 concerts, theatrical performances, and various other events to enjoy. In the intimate classrooms and theaters found across campus you'll be able to enjoy everything from comedy shows to jazz recitals and everything in between.  There are also seasonal performances on the campus quad for you to enjoy during the warmer months of the year.  Annual Independence Day and Spring Festivals are two of the larger special events that bring out the crowds, and you can see what's going on when you're in town by visiting their event calendar here.

Workhouse Art Center: Visit With Artists

2. Visit With Artists in Their Studio 

The Workhouse is home to over 60 studio artists working on site throughout the campus.  Visitors to art galleries usually find themselves in a very passive experience (simply viewing the art on display), but at the Workhouse you're encouraged to interact with the artists in their studios and see what their passions and inspirations are.  These welcoming artists put on over 150 independent exhibitions per year in the various buildings throughout campus, which gives you plenty of opportunities to view their works - and buy your own unique piece to take home with you!

Workhouse Prison Museum

3. Visit the Lucy Burns Museum

(open to the public beginning January 25, 2020)

In 2018, the Workhouse Arts Center completed renovation of a 10,000 square foot barracks building on campus to house the Lucy Burns Museum.  By the end of 2019, the Workhouse Arts Center will complete the installation of professional history exhibits to tell the story of the 91 years of prison history and the story of the suffragists who were imprisoned here in 1917 for picketing the White House for women’s right to vote.

The Lucy Burns Museum will engage visitors in an exploration of the history of the Lorton Correctional facilities that operated for a total of 91 years from 1910-2001.  From the prison’s founding by President Theodore Roosevelt during the progressive reform era to the current site adaptive reuse project, re-purposing of the property to support an innovative and growing arts center, the museum explores a vast history including an incredible cast of characters of notorious criminals, some of the biggest jazz artists of the 21st century, and activist and suffragists. 


Workhouse Art Center: Take a Class

4. Take a Class   

If you want to expand your creativity, get in shape, learn to cook, or even take a stab at glass-blowing, then the Workhouse is the place for you.  Multiple classes throughout the year give you an opportunity to nurture your inner artist, and puts you in position to learn how to hand-craft the best birthday gift EVER for your significant other. To find the most up-to-date information on classes and workshops including classroom changes, time changes or date changes please check their site often.     

5. Take a Guided Tour 

Workhouse Art Center: Take a Guided Tour

One of the best ways to familiarize yourself with the Workhouse is to take a tour. If you are in a visiting group, and want the opportunity to get an in-depth guided tour of the campus, you might want to schedule a guided tour (for groups of 10 or more only) which last approximately 45-60 minutes, and give an excellent perspective of the history behind the facility.  You'll also get a behind-the-scenes look at the different studios located throughout the buildings on campus. These tours and dates are available during open hours only and depend on tour guide availability. Request a tour for your group by emailing or by phone at 703-584-2900.  You can also take a self-guided tour at your own leisure.


Workhouse History: Feeding the HogsHistory of the Workhouse  

The District of Columbia's Workhouse opened in Lorton, Virginia in the summer of 1910. It was an experiment to see if hard work in an open air environment would be an effective deterrent for short term prisoners who were habitual drunkards, vagrants and family abusers. A 3,200 acre tract of undeveloped land on the Occoquan River near Lorton, Virginia was purchased by the U.S. Government for the establishment of an "industrial farm". 

Workhouse History: Working the Horses

A Women's Workhouse was opened in 1912 on a nearby site. Sentences were of short duration and were for soliciting, prostitution, disorderly conduct and drunkenness. Women did laundry and made clothes for the prisoners of the two institutions. There prisoners built the stockade and tents in which they were housed using lumber obtained from the site. There were no cells, locks or bars. A brickyard was established, fields were prepared for cultivation, orchards created, a wharf built on the river and a road cut through to a nearby railroad. Eventually the prisoners built the brick dormitory buildings still seen today of bricks they, themselves, had made. 

Workhouse History: Women Sufferagists

In 1917, women began demonstrating in front of the White House for the right to vote. They decided they would rather be imprisoned than be quiet. In response to their outspoken protests during World War I, they were sentenced to fines or imprisonment. They chose imprisonment. Some of those arrested were sentenced to the Women's Workhouse at Lorton. The protestors were held under deplorable conditions. As news of the sentences spread, sympathy for the suffragists wasaroused. Even the most hard hearted did not believe that pickets deserved such drastic sentence. After the pickets were released a number of women who had been arrested and served sentences toured the country on the "Prison Special" railroad car to keep public attention focused on the suffrage issue in the Senate. Finally the 19th amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1919 and for the first time women were allowed to vote in the November 1920 national election.

Workhouse History: Prison Tower

By the late 1980s, the prison was known more for over-crowding and disorganization than the rehabilitation program for which Roosevelt had promoted. In fact, the prison was in such a state of disrepair that it became representative of the nation's difficulties with correctional facilities. In 1997, Federal legislation required the Lorton Correctional Facility to be closed by December 31, 2001. The last prisoner left the complex in November of 2001.


In 2002, the then Lorton Arts Foundation, Inc. proposed a plan to transform the former prison facility into a cultural arts center. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the rezoning of a 55-acre portion of the former correctional facility to become the Workhouse Arts Center in July of 2004. A year later, the site was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. After several years of planning, adaptive reuse and rehabilitation of the historic buildings, the Workhouse Arts Center opened to the public in September 2008.

The Workhouse currently consists of six (6) artist studio buildings, the main galleries, the W-3 Theatre, the Art of Movement building and the Metropolitan School of the Arts. We support more than 100 professional and emerging artists by providing them affordable studios and galleries to exhibit their work. Instead of only viewing the art, visitors are encouraged to interact with the artists when they visit. In addition to visual arts, the Workhouse Arts Center is home to performing arts, including: theater; musical theater; film; music; and dance performances. The Workhouse also offers over 800 arts education classes and workshops in a broad spectrum of art disciplines.

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