It is time once again for the Annual Gowanus Artists Studio Tour (A.G.A.S.T.), a weekend when visitors are welcomed in many of the art studios in the area around the Gowanus Canal.
The Gowanus Canal is one of Brooklyn’s most notorious neighborhoods. Built to connect a marshy inland area of South Brooklyn with New York Bay, the canal was intended to serve two purposes: draining the land (thus enabling development) and serving the transportation needs of a rapidly growing industrial region. When it opened in the 1860s, the Gowanus was hailed as one of the world’s most important waterways.
Unfortunately, the factories, mills, tanneries, slaughterhouses, gas plants and coal yards that stood alongside the Canal produced great quantities of toxic materials, most of which were dumped directly into the water. There, the industrial pollutants mingled with the raw sewage and household waste discharged from the nearby worker’s homes.
Due to a lack of sanitary methods and sound management practices, the canal rapidly became stagnant and poisonous. By the time of the outbreak of World War II, it had gained fame as one of the world’s dirtiest bodies of water, a foul, opaque pool locally referred to as “Lavender Lake.” The filthy passageway was renowned both for the stench that rose from its depths and the debris, including corpses, that often rose to the surface.
In recent decades, governmental agencies, technological developments and community activists have combined forces to improve the quality of the water. Their efforts are bearing fruit, as the waterway is widely acknowledged as “stinking a lot less.”
Many of the large commercial buildings and warehouses along the canal, no longer needed to support the much-diminished shipping industry, have been converted into residences, shops, restaurants, bars and — most notably — scores of artists’ studios.
This weekend, more than 130 of the visual artists in 26 different Gowanus-area locations invited the public into their studios, free of charge. Visitors were able to meet with painters, sculptors, photographers, printmakers, glassblowers, videographers and others in their working environments and gain insight into their creative philosophies and processes.
Joshua Dov Levy
Ilan N. Jacobsohn