Hurricane Sandy Still Wreaking Havoc on the Art Industry

As clean up from Hurricane Sandy continues, the art galleries of New York are reporting record losses. Reuters reports that art insurers may be paying claims up to a half a billion dollars in damages from storm flooding. But with a storm like Sandy of unprecedented strength and reach, could this have been avoided?

Some galleries took precautions to prepare for the storm, like moving artwork higher on walls, but even this wasn’t enough when Sandy’s flood waters raged through the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. Numerous galleries experienced flooding up to six feet in the main floors of their showrooms, not to mention the surging flood waters that wreaked havoc on basement and warehouse storage units filled with art work.

The art insurance industry has long expressed concern on the current standard of storing mass amounts art work in warehouses where a large loss can result from fire or floods. And although the industry eagerly awaits a remedy, some intermediate assistance has arrived. According to Philanthropynewyork.org, the tri-state art community will receive emergency relief through the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) including $2 million from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Arts with “half to go to affected visual arts organizations and half to individual artists.” The Warhol Foundation, Lambent Foundation, and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, will also be providing grant opportunities to organizations and individual artists via NYFA, providing a much needed rescue for many in this local industry. So, not clear on what these grants are for – to help struggling artists? Yet, isn’t it the galleries that are experiencing the damage?

Whether the art insurance storage standards will be placed under greater scrutiny, is still to be determined, but the lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy should not be forgotten when the next “super-storm” rolls in. Galleries in lower lying areas where a flooding possibility exists should have a preparation plan that includes relocation to a higher ground facility, as well as utilizing storage containers that are fully waterproof. Art advisory services can assist greatly, with suggestions for both storage facilities as well as steps in either procuring or building such containers. Sandy has also taught us that it may be weeks before an expert can get onsite to appraise the condition and stop any further damage due to mold or moisture exposure, so having a communications plan in place, as well as having the knowledge of what to do in those scenarios can make the difference between a restorable piece or a total loss.