BY KIRSTYN BRENDLEN
Would-be Basquiats at the
non-profi t Arts Gowanus are
digging through piles of wet
paper, canvas, and clay as
they struggle to clear out their
fl ooded studios that sustained
massive water damage during
Ida’s historic downpour.
The artistic organization
houses studios for 35 local
working craftsmen based in a
basement offi ce on President
Street near Third Avenue, just
blocks from the Gowanus Canal
— making the low-lying
space ripe for destruction during
the fl ood.
“I still haven’t talked to everyone,
but for the few people
who were there all day cleaning
out their studios, it was pretty
devastating,” said Johnny
Thornton, executive director
of Arts Gowanus. “It was really
emotional and hard to see people
throw away their work.”
The Gowanus Arts team
began the night worry-free
about the space, as it had never
fl ooded before, Thornton said.
His lack of concern, however,
ended abruptly at around 2:30
am, when he woke up to frantic
emails from the management
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company telling him
that the offi ce was fl ooding.
The anguished artisans
estimate that around eight
inches of water poured into
the basement that night.
“Luckily the building management
was there and they
were trying to take as much
off the fl oor as they can, they
were trying to be as proactive
as they can,” he said. “But it
was a losing battle.”
Thornton wasn’t able to
get back in the building until
the following afternoon, after
management had made sure it
was safe for people to enter.
“The pictures were shocking,
but going in there and everything’s
ruined,” he said. “This is hard
because it’s people’s livelihoods,
it’s their business.”
Artists will likely be tossing
supplies as well as their
fi nished artwork — paper,
wooden frames, and other materials
are likely ruined. Most
anything that can absorb water
should be tossed as it’s unlikely
to dry and can grow mold, and
fl oodwaters are likely contaminated
with sewage. “It’s Gowanus
rain overfl ow, so anything
the water touches you
don’t really want — it’s pretty
gross water,” Thornton said.
As the cleanup continues,
Thornton said he wasn’t sure
what the next steps would be
for the artists dealing with so
much loss. The management
company stressed the importance
of documenting everything,
he said, taking photos
of damage and what is being
tossed out, but he doesn’t think
most individual artists have insurance
to cover their losses.
“I think a lot of times artists
are used to taking these
kind of hits,” he said. “Being
an artist, especially in Brooklyn,
is really diffi cult. It’s really
diffi cult and hard to sort of
navigate, and a lot of times it’s
not very profi table at all.”
Artists are often priced
out of the neighborhoods they
work in and are forced to move
Artists tossed artwork and materials after Hurricane Ida fl ooded Arts
Gowanus. Arts Gowanus
elsewhere, further destabilizing
an already precarious career,
according to Thornton.
Last year, Arts Gowanus
was nearly forced to move out
of their location when Spaceworks,
the non-profi t who had
been leasing affordable studio
space, announced they
would be closing. In the eleventh
hour, the organization
was able to strike a deal with
the landlord and stay in the
“We’re here for a reason,
because we love the community,”
he said. “We work hard
to maintain our foothold in the
community. And so I’m hopeful
that this isn’t the last straw for
anyone, but you never know.
Because it’s just one more
The next steps aren’t quite
clear, but Thornton remains
encouraged by the community’s
response to the news.
“The people who weren’t
as affected, and luckily didn’t
have a lot of stuff on the fl oor
were helping out other artists,
it was actually a really special
day,” he said. “A lot of the community
came out to help.”
There will likely be bureaucratic
headaches as the
organization moves forward
— most of what was ruined
in the offi ce itself was paperwork
and promotional materials
for the ArtWorks, the
organization’s annual fundraising
drive, and the return
of Gowanus Open Studios
Donations to Arts Gowanus
can be made at www.artsgowanus.
Floodwaters threaten art,
livelihoods at Arts Gowanus
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