Disasters occur every day: rivers overflow, buildings burn to the ground, earthquakes happen. You think you are immune to them until you find yourself smack-dab in the middle of one.
In the summer of 2010, after a heavy rainstorm, the sewers backed up throughout much of Chicago where I was living at the time. Four inches of soupy brown water with bits of this and that sprinkled throughout filled my studio. As the water subsided, a toxic sludge remained, and a few days later, I found mold growing up one wall.
I wanted to scream, rant, cry, run away, but instead I called my insurance agents. Yes, agents. I carry coverage on my home and a separate business policy on my studio, located in my basement. Isn’t that overkill? No. My homeowner’s policy doesn’t cover the liability of visitors to my studio, and it certainly doesn’t cover my art and all my equipment.
I was lucky. The damage could have been far more extensive. Some homes were reported to have over five feet of sewage in their basements. The federal government became involved and called in FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency).
An agent from my business insurance company visited my studio within a week of my call, documented the damage, and then guaranteed that any art inventory damaged would be covered for the full wholesale amount. What a relief! Not only that, the insurance company would pay out for interruption of business. In other words, as my studio was no longer functional, the insurance company would pay the rent for me to work in a temporary space until the repairs to my studio were completed.
My home insurance policy covered the rest of the damage, including the removal of toxic sodden drywall, cleanup of the mold, and all subsequent repairs to my basement. Without sewer backup coverage, I’d be like my neighbors—still waiting for funding from FEMA.
I don’t like paying for insurance, but I consider it a necessary expense. As an artist, I’ve experienced my art being stolen, damaged by careless curators, and lost in transit. My work often takes several months per piece to make. If it ends up damaged, lost or stolen, I need some financial compensation.
When I began to exhibit more extensively, I added a marine policy to my business coverage. It proved less expensive over the course of a year than paying the insurance coverage provided by shippers. The bonus is that it not only covers my work in transit, it also covers it at other sites, such as alternative galleries that may not have coverage.
In 1989, a horrific fire burned down the Brunswick Balke-Collender building in the River North gallery district of Chicago. With it went 25 galleries and $50 million dollars worth of work. Some galleries, such as Zolla-Lieberman, relocated. Others closed permanently. When it happened, I was a young artist recently out of school, and the disaster made a huge impression on me. It was then I decided to err on the side of caution and get insurance. My recent experience proves once again that I made a good decision.
This essay was first written and published on Chicago Artists Resource.