Artists fight Hurricane Sandy with steel barricades

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Sandbags weren’t the only line of defense against Hurricane Sandy.

One arts venue on the banks of the Gowanus Canal, the Gowanus Ballroom, used several tons of steel in order to fight the storm surge — but to no avail.

“We spent 48 hours barricading the building, setting up pumps, sealing everything off,” Josh Young said about his 15-year-old combination venue space that has its own metal shop. “We put 6,000 pounds of steel behind the roll gates. We made it watertight.”

The hope was that the weight of the sculptures would hold down the roll gates. But when the storm hit, not even the largest installation pieces could prevent the gates from flying open.

“The whole roll gate just collapsed and a 20-foot wave of water came across the ballroom,” said Young. “There were welders flying and tables flipping over.”

The Gowanus Ballroom was one of several Brooklyn performance venues and galleries that were critically damaged during the hurricane.

Coney Island USA, known for its sideshows and burlesque performances, was another heavily damaged space.

“Our ground floor, which has our bar, cafe, our gift shop, the theater, and the dressing rooms in it, was all under five feet of water,” said unofficial mayor of Coney Island Dick Zigun. “Everything fell over and floated and bumped around.”

Luckily, the landmarked venue had just wrapped up its fall season and is closed for the winter. So, they have a few months to fix the damage. To that end, Zigun plans to organize a benefit, but that has not been scheduled yet.

Galapagos Performance Space in DUMBO was similarly left underwater.

“We found seaweed under the stage,” said executive director Robert Elmes. “The water was everywhere.”

The staff and performers at Galapagos spent days frantically cleaning up, and were ready to have a show there five days later.

But there is still much to be done. Elmes estimates that the venue sustained $150,000 to $200,000 worth of damage.

“It’s things that audience can’t see,” he said. “If anything, the place looks really shiny.”

Galapagos is also planning to set up a fund raiser on Wednesday, Nov. 14, to raise money for other DUMBO businesses and art spaces who were hit by Sandy.

No matter what happens, Elmes said the venue will persevere.

“Culture can’t get knocked down and not get back up,” he said. “We have to use the adversity to push forward.”

How to help out: The Gowanus Ballroom [55 Ninth St. between Second Avenue and Smith Street in Gowanus, (347) 460–2687,] will hold a fund raiser show on Nov. 24 at 6 pm, featuring regulars as well as special guests. $15 donation. Check and to find out more.

Updated 5:37 pm, July 9, 2018
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