A Climate Change in the Art World?
A week after Hurricane Sandy, gallery-goers were back in Chelsea, picking their way around rubble, shattered glass, and dealers who were still hauling damaged art out of their basements. In the new reality, several Chelseas coexist: there’s one of power suits; and another of rubber boots, hazmat suits, and no power at all.
The demise of some of the art community’s more fragile, underinsured and undercapitalized ventures might be one painful consequence of the hurricane, which wiped out studios, inventories, and infrastructure. A more hopeful legacy might be a newfound engagement of the art world with the real world–-if, that is, the level of volunteerism inspired by the storm continues. And if more people from cultural sphere engage in the response to climate change as protagonists, rather than merely as commentators.
Beyond the two Chelseas was the tale of two cities exposed in Sandy’s aftermath. Powered by various trends in the art world—the influence of the Occupy movement and the rise of Rockaway surf culture among them–the art community did more than embrace its own. Alone and together, its members set out to marginalized neighborhoods, helping with the recovery effort and going door-to-door inside powerless housing projects with food and supplies.
Walter Meyer, a landscape architect and designer, is working with the Waterfront Alliance and several other local nonprofits on a fundraising project called Power Rockaways Resilience. The goals are to deliver power now in the form of solar generators (like the one shown here being installed on the Rockaway Beach Surf Club) and to enhance resilience for the future by developing projects for phytoremediation (using plants to leach out pollutants), creating dunes, and developing other strategies to protect the land from storm surges.
Another priority is recreating the boardwalk, the symbol and spine of the peninsula, which connects its diverse communities and provides a staging ground for the concessions that bring economic activity to the area. An elevated wood boardwalk, Meyer notes, is no longer tenable, because its elements can become projectiles during storms. Meyer and his colleagues are devising ideas for a provisional boardwalk on the beach surface, where temporary concessions can operate out of solar-powered shipping containers.
“We’re growing this by the hour,” he says.
COURTESY POWER ROCKAWAYS RESILIENCE.