“WE’RE hanging in,” Tim Griffin, the executive director of The Kitchen, said, laughing wearily, when I spoke to him on the phone Tuesday afternoon, as he and his staff dealt with the aftereffects of Hurricane Sandy-related flooding. Four feet of water swamped the ground floor theater and lobby; the initial estimates of damages are between $400,000 and $500,000. “It’s definitely a daunting moment, but also a galvanizing moment. Our real goal is to make sure our program remains intact. But you know, it’s so urgent here, and yet, Far Rockaway puts it in perspective. We have to be really engaged with our situation, but we’re very aware of the larger context.”
CLR: Can you describe what the building is like now?
TG: The Kitchen community is really strong, it’s support is very strong and it has a great infrastructure in terms of the people who make up this institution, so I feel we’re very much up to the task. That said, if you look at the space, it is unsettling to say the least. Basically the whole floor is gone, most of the walls are gone; all aspects of the building on the first floor have been impacted. It’s really, really bare bones. The seating and the equipment, the doors separating the lobby from the theater—all those things are basically gone. When you walk in the front door, you’re treated to a massive, awe-inspiring view of the space.
It’s one of my favorite spaces—actually my favorite space in New York. It’s a gorgeous room. Now, you are really walking into a very different space. You end up on the one hand being completely dumbfounded seeing it in this state, and on the other hand awestruck as its scale and dimensions and proportions become really clear, in terms of how special it is.
CLR: What point are you at now, in terms of clean up, assessment, rebuilding, etc?
TG: In these situations, the first thing you do is a remediation process: you remove everything that is hazardous as quickly as possible and seek to minimize subsequent damage to the architecture and equipment. We removed the floor as quickly as possible, and removed all the walls with growth—mold, etc.—on them. We also pumped out the elevator. And we did a damage assessment on all of the equipment that was here. We are doing as much as possible while avoiding damage to the building for insurance purposes. That’s a conversation yet to happen. Basically we are almost done with the demolition aspect, and moving to the drying aspect. Our hope is we will have all that done by Friday at which point we can begin to really reconstruct.
So many people and galleries have really been hit by this hurricane, and so we’re not unique in that regard. The situation here is slightly different because the floor is a dance and performance floor: two layers of plywood, designed to have some give, and that extended all the way through the lobby. And if you add the equipment to that, because it’s part of the fundamental building apparatus, then you’re talking about a real significant impact that takes more time to address. We just have to try to move as quickly as possible
CLR: Do you have a sense of what insurance will cover?
TG: We don’t know. We’re very well insured, but probably I would speak for every institution in New York in saying that when you engage with an adjustor, it’s a conversation—and everyone I am sure is having that conversation. Here again we’re a unique space; there are so many things, equipment-wise, that are intrinsic to the building’s function. It creates more terms for discussion than might exist elsewhere. It’s not a kind of space you encounter all the time.
CLR: What is the most helpful thing people can do?
TG: Obviously anybody who’s able to make a donation, that makes an enormous impact, because the costs, as they accrue, will be real. There will be things we have to address even before any insurer steps up to the plate. Our benefit auction was happening on the 12th; we’ve moved that to the 26th and our goal is to have that at the Kitchen, but it might have to take place at another location. People being mindful of that is important, because that event is fundamental to our programming, around expenses and operations anyway, regardless. It’s essential year to year, but now obviously it becomes that much more significant. And I guess just the other thing is the gallery wasn’t affected, so as soon as we know that the building is a safe, secure environment, we’re going to open Matt Keegan and Eileen Quinlan’s exhibition. Just .. know that we’re still doing programming, and spread the word.
This happened right in the middle of Richard Maxwell’s Neutral Hero. If we’re able to bring it back here at this location, that would be a really special moment. It would speak to the mission of the place. We’re just gonna really try to make sure our program and the artists who have things scheduled will still have their opportunities.