As Boston reopens, art lovers hoping to visit Boston’s commercial galleries may have to delay gratification a while longer. These businesses are legally allowed to reopen during phase two of Governor Charlie Baker’s four-phase reopening plan, with retailers tentatively scheduled to welcome visitors about three weeks from now. But spaces in SoWa, the city’s central gallery district, were flooded by a water main break in April. It may be months before they open.
“It will be closer to Aug. 1 before we get the elevators running,” said Bradley St. Amand, director of operations for GTI Properties, which owns the affected buildings. “We can’t provide ADA access without the elevators.”
The April 14 flood submerged the lower levels of 460, 490, and 500 Harrison Ave in 4 to 6 feet of water. Galleries on the ground floor at 460 Harrison include Alpha Gallery, L’Attitude Gallery, Abigail Ogilvy Gallery, Fountain Street Gallery, A R E A, and Galatea Fine Art. Upstairs shops and galleries will be closed at least until the power is turned on between June 1 and June 15, St. Amand said.
Joanna Fink, owner of Alpha Gallery, was allowed into her ground floor space after the water had been pumped out. “The force of the water had thrown stuff all over,” she said.
A couple of dozen artworks were affected, Fink said. She hired a conservator to assess the damage and is awaiting the report. “I don’t know how many are reparable and how many will be declared a loss,” she said. But a restored painting, she added, “will never return to its original value.”
St. Amand said repairs to the buildings will cost $5 million to $10 million.
“Everything down there is pretty much a total loss,” he said of the lower levels. Late last week, GTI was tearing down walls and pulling up floors to mitigate mold. “Then we’ll start looking at putting things back together,” St. Amand said.
GTI, owned by developer Mario Nicosia, had waived April rent for SoWa businesses. Now, St. Amand said, “we’re not charging rent over there through July. Not until we can have the building open as normal.”
Art dealer David Guerra, owner of A R E A, headed to SoWa when he heard about the flood. “I was there at 11:20 at night,” he said. “It was traumatic. We had pieces in storage, equipment lost.” He estimated the losses at $117,000. He said he believed insurance companies will value artwork below its price, and he has launched an online fund-raising campaign for A R E A.
“We’re pleased with how GTI has handled the crisis. They’re giving us constant updates,” Guerra said. “We’re hoping the city will respond to what has happened.”
Last week, the nonprofit Washington Gateway Main Street hosted a virtual meeting for affected businesses with city and state officials. Taylor Connolly, communications manager for the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, said an investigation is underway as insurance adjusters visit the SoWa properties. She suggested business owners file claims through the Boston Water and Sewer Commission.
With A R E A closed, Guerra is promoting local artists with online exhibitions. He plans to stage an online art fair of New England art galleries in June. He has projected video art on gallery artists’ houses.
Other galleries are also mounting virtual exhibitions. Still, Fink said, “we’re stuck in a state of suspended animation.”
Marjorie Kaye, the furloughed director of Galatea, a member gallery, called the prospect of reopening in August a blessing — it’s a month when galleries traditionally close for vacations. “The gallery can slowly reintegrate itself,” she said. She estimated that Galatea had suffered a $50,000 loss, which she said is covered by insurance.
Flood waters have abated. The challenges ahead have not. Fink frets about the possibility of another flood. More immediately, she wonders about SoWa’s popular First Fridays event each month, when all the galleries have opening receptions.
“Will we be able to have a First Friday ever again until there’s a vaccine?” she said. “Without that forum generating buzz, it’s not the same thing.”
Still, after a video conference on Wednesday with affected galleries, “there is a feeling that we can come out of this with a stronger sense of community in SoWa,” Fink said in an e-mail.
“It’s a heartbreak all the way around,” Kaye said of all the upheaval. “Then again, artists are used to working within the chaos. We have no guarantee of anything.”