Posted on 15 February 2013.
Artist Marlene McCarty displays one of her damaged drawings. McCarty is one of thousands of artists whose work was destroyed by flooding during Hurricane Sandy.
(Alexandra Hall/Uptown Radio)
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When Hurricane Sandy hit lower Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood last October, art galleries and artists studios suffered overwhelming flooding and damages. Since then, a community of art foundations and conservators has quickly put together resources and funds to aid artists in need. Alexandra Hall has the story.
ALEXANDRA HALL: Marlene McCarty’s new studio is a small, white-walled cube with high ceilings and square windows that overlook the waterfront in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park.
MARLENE MCCARTY: “Well this is obviously-it’s obvious what the damage was.”
HALL: Her entire life’s work lies within stacks of paper and plastic on the floor or in rows of cardboard cylinder tubes along the wall. She unrolls a large blue pen drawing of a cross-legged ape with orange hands. Blotted watermarks run over the stiff curves of the paper.
MCCARTY: “All of this blue bled from other places. This warping was totally from the water.”
HALL: Marlene is one of thousands of artists whose work was damaged by flooding. Her studio was in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, which houses hundreds of artists’ studios and art galleries. The neighborhood is in a low-lying area along the Hudson River. During the hurricane, this area was referred to as Flood Zone A.
Before the storm, Marlene elevated her pieces one foot above the floor. But floodwaters rose to five feet. She points out the damaged remains of drawings that she had planned to show in Berlin this September.
MCCARTY: “That’s all I have left now. It’s from a series from the early ‘90’s called the deliverance series that had never been shown. And I had actually just started talking to some people about the possibility of showing it. WHEW! So, that’s done.”
HALL: A few weeks after the storm, conservators from the Museum of Modern Art, art foundations, and private donors put together a plan to help artists who were affected. The Foundation for the American Institute for Conservation used a grant from Sotheby’s to set up the Cultural Resource Center. Anna Studebaker is the Manager at the center. She says that artists go to this large warehouse in Sunset Park to consult experts and try fixing their damaged work.
ANNA STUDEBAKER: “A lot of the artists affected didn’t know, a lot of people don’t know about conservation, so it was kind of a way to help artists who previously would have been told just throw everything out if it has mold, to basically learn how to take care of their art.”
HALL: The New York Foundation for the Arts has also been helping. After Hurricane Sandy, the foundation raised $1.5 million for affected artists. Marie Williams, who is in charge of the project, says that the foundation has already awarded $900,000 to over 300 artists, actors and musicians.
MARIE WILLIAMS: “For us we realized that an artist losing their entire body of work is so freaking devastating. That is everything they’ve ever created destroyed in a week, a day, a storm. And we wanted to be able to provide a portion of that to be given back to them.”
HALL: Artist Caroline M. Sun is one grant recipient who lost her artist materials and her cat in a fire during the hurricane. The foundation gave her $5,000. She’s grateful, and she says she understands that when a natural disaster threatens human safety, most people’s last concern is the welfare of art and artists.
CAROLINE M. SUN: “I’m sure a lot of people think, oh artists, who cares what happens to their art. They can always make more. And it’s not like that when you’re making art. When you’re making art it really is like your babies, like your children.”
HALL: The New York Foundation for the Arts still has $600,000 to give to artists, and the Cultural Recovery Center will be open for a few more weeks. In the meantime, they’re preparing artists for the next storm.
This is Alexandra Hall, Columbia Radio News.