A year ago today Hurricane Sandy struck the metro New York City as a Category 2 storm. The largest hurricane on record in terms of width – over 1,100 miles in diameter. The Red Hook area of Brooklyn was squarely in harm’s way.
There was a thriving artist community in the area first settled by the Dutch in 1636 and named Roode Hoek. The Dutch translation of "Hoek" means the point and this point of Brooklyn sticks out into upper New York Harbor. The storm came ashore with a 9.23-foot storm surge at Red Hook.
In the middle of all this were many artists, including Dustin Yellin at Pioneer Works, a warehouse / studio / exhibition / event space.
One artist friend who was devastated by this catastrophe was John Gordon Gauld. His studio had four feet of water flow in as a toxic combination of seawater, sewage and gasoline. Nearly everything in Gauld’s life was in ruin – including his home furnishings, tools, art supplies. As John described it, “I got rashes and my skin burned from working in the water for weeks after the flood.”
John Gordon Gauld moved to New York after receiving a BFA from RISD (the Rhode Island School of Design) - clearly he has design in his blood, as he is the grandson of Lilly Dache, a famed French milliner and fashion designer who worked extensively in the USA.
Gauld is in many ways more fortunate than many working artists for he enjoys gallery representation and a well-established base of collectors and supporters, including Beth Rudin DeWoody.
Following the renovations in Red Hook, John, like so many others, faced a real dilemma. Unable to afford to move back into their homes/studios, thereby unable to work and make a living producing art. Fortunately, John is a well connected artist and extrovert, and seems, in the past year, to be rebuilding his career. Recently I visited Salomon Contemporary Gallery which currently has a few pieces of John's paintings.
I first was introduced to John's work in 2012 at an art show opening and again at the Coalition for the Homeless ArtWalk you can go to coalition for the homeless and make a donation).
This summer I was reintroduced through a mutual artist friend, Ellen Jong while they took a day trip to Montauk. On their way back to NYC they met me in Bridgehampton. I invited them back to my house in case it might work for him temporarily. We discussed my intention to build an Garage/Art Studio space. I then reached out to people I knew and who I was referred to and I called rental ads in the local papers, explaining his situation.
From Sagaponack to Westhampton to Shelter Island, and as far East as Montauk we made calls and John visited many properties trying to find something suitable and affordable so he could cut a deal, but not with much luck. Not an easy task to find a home/studio space for an artist who also has an airstream in tow.
the Joan Mitchell Foundation, the Pollock-Krasner
Foundation, the New York Foundation of the Arts and the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, he was still having a really tough time finding space and signing a deal. I met with one of John’s admirers, and an art collector in Amaganset – who also seemed to be trying to help John. John like many artists have conflicted feelings about collectors and patrons, in terms of not understanding why they are not more willing to offer them space they have in their home or in a property that is vacant. I tried to explain that these people do a lot of good and try to spread the wealth, while also having to make priorities since they are bombarded with requests. Besides, the unforeseen liabilities.
Gauld ended up leaving for a few months to take residence in the “Beyond Sandy” program sponsored by the La Napoule Art Foundation – located on the French Riviera in a converted castle. A wonderful and well deserved reprieve after all he had been through.
John reflected on this struggle this past year. “I do not consider myself a victim," regarding the loss of most of his belongings, he simply said, “While I do not like to over-emphasize the importance of material goods, the loss has created a hardship in functioning as an artist and as a person.”
In 2012, the requests to the New York Foundation for the Arts for storm-related assistance totaled $12 million among almost 500 artists in New York and New Jersey, nearly 90 percent of them in New York, according to the executive director Michael Royce. The Craft Emergency Relief Fund, or CERF+, said it had applications from 65 artists, most without insurance in devastated areas of Staten Island, Red Hook and Brooklyn's Greenpoint section where many waterfront warehouses have been turned into art studios. Many artists "are still dealing with life issues and can't be thinking of earning a livelihood and are still really very fragile," said Craig Nutt, director of programs at CERF+, a national organization that helps professionals craft through personal and natural disasters.
A program put in place so artists have a place to go when sudden disaster strikes or life hardships suddenly occur.
An example of a wonderful group who helps brokers in need is the Realty Foundation of NY- a program established in 1954 that comes to the aid of real estate brokers. I hope with the help of other patrons of the arts we can find more effective ways to help out artists who might still be in need or are in need in the future.