Old Lyme - It's been almost two months since heavy rains inundated the region and caused historic flooding, but at the Lyme Art Association in Old Lyme, the recovery has barely begun.
More than 2 feet of water poured into the gallery's ground-floor art studio and offices when a backyard stream overflowed during the storm, causing more than $140,000 in damage to the $750,000 building and artwork in storage. Much of the association's paper archives were either damaged or destroyed, in addition to art and office supplies, two computers and a brand-new copier.
"Parts of the building were under water for over 12 hours," said Executive Director Susan Ballek, gesturing to the high-water marks still visible on the walls. "And any works done on paper, like watercolors, drawings, and pastels, are ruined, as are most of the frames."
The flood also forced the cancellation of art classes for a week, costing the association several thousand dollars in lost income. Although it is not responsible for the $80,000 in damage to artwork that artists left in the storage facility, the association still needs to come up with $60,000 for structural repairs to the building. The walls and electrical system downstairs have to be replaced, a disruption that will again cancel classes.
For a small nonprofit with a $300,000 annual budget and a limited endowment, the situation is grim.
"We're doing our best to stay open, but it's definitely a month-by-month situation," she said. "We're certainly on the edge."
In an effort to raise the money, the association has begun reaching out to its nearly 1,200 members with several fundraising initiatives. The Board of Directors pledged to match up to $1,750 in donations from the 100 elected artists, the highest level of membership. Ballek said they're asking the rest of the members for a minimum donation of $25, hoping for at least 1,000 people to participate.
Additionally, the association will hold a ticketed cocktail party and silent auction in July, featuring donated works from the elected artists. All the proceeds will go toward the repairs. So far, the gallery has raised about $14,000, which Ballek said is enough to get the project started, but the fundraising efforts must continue until the work is completed.
"We'd love to be able to raise enough money to reimburse the artists for the cost of restoring their works, but that's secondary to raising enough money to repair the building," she said. "And that needs to get started immediately."
The association is also coordinating with the state's DOT and DEP to fix the drainage problem on the property to prevent future floods. The land is bordered on both sides by state property; although two three-foot culverts feed the stream on one side, a single four-foot culvert, currently filled with debris, empties it on the other.
Opened in 1921 with the help of local patron Florence Griswold, the Lyme Art Association is the oldest operating art association in the country. Ballek hopes to use the repairs as an opportunity to update the 90-year-old building, designed by notable architect Charles Platt, such as adding handicapped-accessible bathrooms and paneled drywall that can be easily taken down and dried out.