Forging ahead: Arts Gowanus moves forward with Open Studios despite devastating flood damage

damage from the storm at arts gowanus
Last week’s storm damaged about $80,000 worth of art and equipment at Arts Gowanus.
Photo courtesy of Arts Gowanus.

The show must go on. After losing thousands of dollars worth of art, furniture and art supplies due to the flood water from last week’s storm, artists with Arts Gowanus will carry on with their plans to host their annual Open Studios exhibition on Oct. 21 and 22.

On Friday, Sept. 29, the organization’s headquarters and about 70 individual studios located at 540 President St. were inundated with half a foot of water that poured through the building’s door front. Johnny Thornton, executive director of Arts Gowanus, estimated $80,000 worth of damage.

water coming into Arts Gowanus
The doors at Arts Gowanus couldn’t hold back the floodwaters. Photo courtesy of Arts Gowanus.

“Everyone lost work,” said Thornton. “Some artists have exhibitions coming up, some people lost a lot of equipment.”

The city’s drainage systems can handle 1.75 inches of rainfall per hour. The storm that hit Brooklyn on the night of Sept. 28 and continued through the next evening dropped more than two inches per hour at its heaviest.

Gowanus is one of Brooklyn’s most vulnerable neighborhoods when it comes to flooding and contamination from sewer overflow, thanks in part to the Gowanus Canal in the center of the neighborhood. More than seven inches of water filled some streets as the storm raged on. 

This is the second time the studios have flooded in the last three years. Hurricane Ida left the President Street filled with eight inches of water in Sept. 2021 and destroyed artwork and equipment, forcing artists to toss out years of work and art materials.

Arts Gowanus members started a GoFundMe through which they hope to raise $25,000 to make up for some of the losses. So far, neighbors and community members have donated over $11,000.

The organization itself took a big hit, Thornton said, and a lot of Open Studios materials and merchandise that for the upcoming show were ruined.

“It was pretty devastating for us as an organization,” said Thorton, who also lost many of his own art pieces. However, the director reaffirmed they will be back on their feet in time for the exhibit. 

damaged art studio at arts gowanus
Artists are moving forward even as they deal with the loss of finished artwork, equipment, and materials. Photo courtesy of Arts Gowanus.

Open Studios will feature about 400 artists across different locations — galleries, storefronts, and more – in Gowanus and the surrounding neighborhoods. Thorton said 70 locations are already locked in, but the number might rise to 100, and 540 President St. will be one of them.

“I’ve talked personally to a lot of the artists and we’re going to forge ahead and do our best to help the artists present the most work they can,” he said. “We’re not delaying.”

This will be the 27th annual Open Studios. Visitors can expect a a rare glimpse inside the former factories, warehouses, and studio buildings of the artists based in the greater Gowanus area, and artists will be on-hand to discuss their work and artistic process. Thousands of printed maps will be distribute to help visitors navigate through murals, galleries and other various locations, and a digital map will be available online. 

Gowanus Open Studios will take place on Oct. 21 & 22 from 12-6 p.m. Admission is free, and locations vary – get more information and a full map on the Arts Gowanus website.