Artist and Community Leader
2006 Women's History Month Honoree
Born in 1937 in Albany, Georgia, Marian Van Landingham received her B.A. and M.A. degrees from Emory University. She has served in the Virginia House of Delegates with distinction for 24 yeas, but is best known as the visionary who convince the city Alexandria, Virginia to renovate a decrepit and forbidding military storage area into an community center for art and discovery.
In 1973, Van Landingham proposed the complete transformation of a leaky, drafty, pigeon infested, former military factory into a dramatic, multistory gallery of studios with space for artist to work, which would be open to the public, who could watch the artistic process and even purchase art. As the volunteer president of the Art League, and with her remarkable confidence that artistic expression is central to the health of the community, she convinced the city to fund her plan of renovation. Artists went in, cleaned out the rats and pigeon droppings and set up studio spaces. What was created became the, Torpedo Factory Art Center, a thriving art colony and innovative partnership between the city and 140 artists. Since 1974, the center has served as the anchor of Alexandria’s revitalized waterfront just outside Washington DC, and a beacon of culture and community as well as a magnet for tourism.
The Torpedo Factory Art Center has helped transformed Alexandria’s riverfront into a vibrant, crime free community with beautiful parks and access to the Potomac River and has given hundreds of artists a reasonably priced place to work. Children and adults from the community study art in a highly regarded art school. People come from all corners of globe to browse and watch the artists at work.
The establishing of the Torpedo Factory Art Center was Van Landingham’s first real political campaign and helped launch her career in the Virginia House of Delegates. In her book, On Target, Stories of the Torpedo Factory Art Center’s First 25 Years, she discusses her successful lobbying strategies. For example, she invited several community residents, who wanted the factory leveled rather than renovated, to tour the factory. During those tours, she shared with them her enthusiastic and detailed vision of the factory’s potential as a center for art and community.
As a legislator, Van Landingham has used this approach in her lobbying efforts. Always well-prepared, analytical, and respectful of different points of view, she is committed to the dialogue and the democratic process. She is Virginia’s most senior female delegate and the first woman to chair several important committees. Her commitment to educating all the students of Virginia is obvious in her expansive and innovative legislative agenda, which includes teaching English as a second language, dedicating lottery money to public schools and reducing class sizes, funding for the handicapped and homeless and for child care for poor families. Her colleagues praise her as a straightforward and poised public servant, who maintains her moral compass along with her strong commitment to those most in need.
As an artist, activist, and elected official, Marion Van Landingham is a model of a woman who is a builder of communities and dreams.