New York's Art District Devastated By Sandy

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There are nearly 400 art galleries in New York's Chelsea neighborhood. Many of these galleries were flooded by the storm surge that accompanied Hurricane Sandy. One insurance company estimates it has $40 million in claims.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And business has been interrupted in more than 200 art galleries in New York's Chelsea neighborhood. Many of them were flooded by Hurricane Sandy, and gallery owners are only now getting a full picture of their losses.

Jon Kalish reports.

JON KALISH, BYLINE: Chelsea is the most important of New York's several art districts, and as one art dealer here put it, Sandy brought the neighborhood to its knees. Much of Chelsea is below sea level so when the Hudson River overflowed, many of the galleries were inundated.

Two weeks after the storm, nobody knows how may millions of dollars worth of art has been damaged or lost, but that total is at least in the tens of millions. Christiane Fischer is the president and CEO of the AXA Art Insurance Corporation.

CHRISTIANE FISCHER: The effect is so strong because so many galleries are in a very, very small defined area. I think that thousands of works were affected.

KALISH: Fischer estimates her company will pay out $40 million to cover damaged or ruined art and to rebuild flooded exhibition spaces.

Chelsea's streets and sidewalks have been crowded with construction crews rebuilding water-logged gallery walls and trucks carting off damaged artworks for conservators, who are said to be in great demand but short supply.

Gallery owners are re-thinking the wisdom of storing art in their basements and AXA's Fischer says their insurance policies may change in the coming months.

FISCHER: This might result in adjustments to premiums. This might result in adjustments to coverages that we're not willing to provide. Or we say, yes, we're willing to insure you but you will guarantee to us that when a notice of a storm comes, you move the art out of harm's way.

KALISH: Art dealers have created a quarter million dollar fund to aid damaged galleries.

For NPR News, I'm Jon Kalish in New York.

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