"I Am Very Lucky and Very Grateful"
Jonathan Ferrara Gallery
As told to Leslie Taylor
On the eve of Hurricane Katrina, artist and gallery owner Jonathan Ferrara packed up his dog and his computers and left New Orleans for Baton Rouge. After a temporary displacement, he returned home, assessed the damage and began to rebuild his business -- and a piece of the Big Easy's art community.
I came back to New Orleans the 29th of September, which was three or four days after they let people back into the city. When I came back, I saw the building next to mine was completely destroyed, but my building was still standing. There was no reason why the building next to mine was destroyed and mine wasn't.
When I returned, the first floor of my gallery looked the same as it did when I left. On the second floor, however, the trusses that attached my building to the next had torn loose and bashed what looked like holes from missiles in the common wall. I had to repair the common wall and the roof had to be replaced, but I was very lucky. I am very lucky and very grateful.
I was also lucky to have the brains and resources and energy to say, "I've got to get my sh*t fixed and get it done now!" It was important for me to move forward immediately. I realized that after the hurricane, with all the reconstruction businesses moving in and with other businesses losing their offices, usable space would be at a premium. After I completed repairs on the gallery, I leased the 4,000-square-foot space for a year to a roofing company from Colorado. I moved the gallery into my house and studio for the time being.
As small businesses know, you can't afford to sit and stare like a deer in headlights. Inaction is the biggest killer in something like this. It's important to act and continue to push. Continually go after the insurance company, the contractors, the adjustors.
As an individual business owner, I did not have employees, but I think of the artists I represent as subcontractors, and wanted to come up with a plan to help them continue to support themselves. Also, as hurricane coverage began to slip off the front page, I wanted to keep the message of Katrina alive. I launched the "New Orleans Artists in Exile" traveling exhibition to bring work by New Orleans' artists to galleries across the country. We attracted a lot of press and made a lot of connections, which was good for my artists and the gallery. We started in October in New York. We also took the show to Atlanta, Shreveport, and Miami.
I reopened the gallery in New Orleans on the second floor of my building on April 7. The first show was with artist Miranda Lake, whose planned October 2005 show was shelved because of the hurricane. We quickly sold 25 of her 30 paintings, which says to me the art market is not dead. I suppose if you're going through this huge tragedy, in a certain sense, you might want to be surrounded by something that's nice.