On the night of April 14, around 9:18 p.m., a major water main under Harrison Avenue in Boston’s South End neighborhood burst. The damage was extensive: parts of the street collapsed, cars were submerged and an adjacent parking lot began to fill with murky water. Some residents were forced to evacuate and Eversouce cut electricity to the area.
SOWA, the neighborhood’s arts and design district, was hit particularly hard. One of the complexes, 460 Harrison Ave, houses a labyrinth of studios and galleries. Many of the galleries are located in the building’s basement, and many of them were flooded, bearing the brunt of the destruction.
Fountain Street — an artist’s collective — was almost totally submerged. Marie Craig, Fountain’s director, awoke to a message from the space’s building manager, informing her about the flooding. “I watched the attached video of the flood and felt completely devastated. Not one, but two concurrent crises!”
While the Fountain Street team were able to salvage a good deal of art that was on display, much of the work that was in storage, along with the gallery’s technology and furniture, were harmed, most to the point of being unsavable. “Absolutely, our first priority was rescuing the art,” said Craig.
“As soon as we were allowed access, we did our best to elevate and salvage the submerged pieces, to at least prevent further damage. Over the next two days, we worked with exhibiting artists to arrange for them to pick up their work, one at a time, while safely maintaining social distance.”
By the time of the flood, the galleries had already been dealing with the fallout from the on going CODIV-19 pandemic. The statewide stay-at-home advisory had forced many galleries to go to appointment only viewing, followed by full closure on March 24.
“We have been exploring virtual exhibition ideas,” said Marjorie Kaye of Galatea Fine Art. “It doesn’t take the place of brick and mortar, but there is a whole world of possibilities out there.”
Galatea Fine Art, also located in the 460 Harrison complex, sustained similar damage to Fountain Street and had a similar plan of action. Kaye first heard of the flood on the news, thinking that the occurrence was in a different part of the city, only to be informed that the gallery had been affected.
As with Fountain Street, at Galatea, much of the damage was to technology and works that were being kept in storage. However, art above the waterline was saved: “There were some gallery heroes that went right in and rescued the artwork,” Kaye said. “They acted with bravery and were right in there getting things sorted out. They also assessed what would have to be replaced.”
The duel crises have taken a lot out of the SOWA community. “The community has been stunned and heartbroken, for sure, but is also resilient,” Craig said. “There was a huge outpouring of support. Artists offered to help in any way they could.”
Kaye is already planning out how to adjust to the new restrictions. “Not being able to draw large crowds for First Fridays puts a huge wrench in the works,” she said. “We have to adapt to smaller crowds at first.”
Craig went on to say that the gallery’s landlord has been “communicative and responsive.” She added that the City of Boston is “beginning to work with businesses that were impacted,” but that, “it’s too soon to tell what the outcome will be regarding the city’s response.”
Kaye has hopes that the Galatea team will safely be able to get back into the space by August: “Thank the universe for our insurance agency. They’ve been wonderful. The basic infrastructure will be redone.”
Even with the flooding and the on-going pandemic, both Craig and Kaye are optimistic, but fully aware of the obstacles ahead.
“I feel that the art scene, in Boston and beyond, is facing this challenge by doing what we do best—by innovating,” Craig said via email. “Local institutions are finding ways that extend their character and mission into the virtual space and devising ways for people to engage with art and to create community around that.”
The community is also at the top of Kaye’s list. “It is my hope that we artists will connect with every ounce of strength we have to recreate our communities,” she said. And, giving some much-needed hope and perspective, she added, “We have always had to work with ingenuity just to survive. Now it is imperative that we realize that “they” are “WE” and we have the power to come together and define our creative worlds.”
(Both Galatea Fine Art and Fountain Street have expanded their presence on social media to meet these unprecedented times. Head to https://www.fsfaboston.com to see recent updates and to view their “Artist of Fountain Street” series, which is chronicling the space’s artists. Galatea’s blog, which can be found on their website, continues to post engaging artist profiles, and their Instagram keeps one up to date with new works as they expand their online exhibitions.)