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To Mars And Back? Probably Not.

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INTRO: If you had the chance to go to Mars, would you do it even if you could never come back? The Dutch non-profit Mars One plans to fly four astronauts to the Red Planet in 2023 to start a permanent human settlement. And you don’t have to be a trained scientist to go. Already thousands of people have submitted videos saying why they deserve a one-way ticket. Here’s what they’re saying:

VIDEO: I have been dreaming of a moment like this my entire life.

I would like to go to Mars…

I would like to go to Mars…

…because it is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

…because I like adventure

I want to go to another planet.

That’s the cowboy side in me.

There’s no doubt- the crew that’s chosen will live and die together on Mars. I spoke with Emily Lakdawalla, Senior Editor of the Planetary Society. She explained why when you go to Mars, you stay there.

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Argentine Dispute a Concern on World Press Freedom Day

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HOST INTRO: Today is World Press Freedom Day. Journalists from South America gathered on the campus of Columbia University today to debate one of the continent’s most heated disputes between a government and journalists. It pits Argentina’s left-wing government against a media conglomerate that opponents say has grown too big and too powerful. Alexandra Hall reports.


Clarín is Argentina’s biggest and most influential multimedia conglomerate. It has 44% of the market share in Argentina. Argentineans consume more news produced by Clarín than any other media company. Four years ago, the government said that media in the country was too concentrated, making it impossible for smaller broadcasters to compete. So it enacted a law to break down monopolies and increase the number of voices in the media. It requires Clarín to get rid of most of its holdings. But the company says its being unfairly targeted, according to Miguel Winaski, editor of El Clarín newspapers.

MIGUEL WINASKI: They feel fear of our investigations. Freedom of speech is under attack, so and we are under attack as journalists.

But Damian Loreti disagrees. He’s Secretary of the Center of Legal and Social Studies, an Argentine human rights NGO, and he helped draft the law.

DAMIEN LORETI: In Argentina, there is no press restrictions, there is no censorship, there is no journalists killed, there is no journalists imprisoned.

Clarín’s first reaction when the law was enacted four years ago was to take legal action, but it was unsuccessful. It wasn’t until two weeks ago that a federal appeals court granted Clarín’s request saying that clauses of the law, which apply to the company, are unconstitutional violations of private property rights. This was a triumph for supporters of Clarín, who argue that it has been unfairly singled out for political reasons. Columbia University political science professor Victoria Murillo isn’t convinced.

VICTORIA MURILLO: I don’t know to what extent their fear is warranted. Monopolies are not good anywhere, so in that sense, the law is not bad, it’s good.

She thinks that Clarín is a monopoly.

MURILLO: What’s bad is that the enforcement of the law is uneven in the sense that there are other monopolies and the government doesn’t seem to be paying attention to those.

This would have been a rare opportunity for representatives of Clarín and the leftist administration of President Christina Kirchner to talk openly about media reform. But no government representatives were present. Roberto Saba is Dean of Palermo University School of Law in Buenos Aires. He says that’s one reason why the conflict is still ongoing.

ROBERTO SABA: The big media and the government cannot even talk to each other. Which makes things very difficult.

Columbia University will make one more effort to bring the two sides together again this fall.

Alexandra Hall, Columbia Radio News.

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Veterans Find Peace from Post-Traumatic Stress

Veterans Find Peace from Post-Traumatic Stress


A statue dedicated to the veterans of Rhinebeck, New York. (Alexandra Hall/Uptown Radio)


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HOST INTRO: Each day, 22 U-S veterans kill themselves – that’s according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Suicides have increased so much that last year, more active-duty troops killed themselves than troops who died in combat in Afghanistan. Alexandra Hall found some vets are turning to meditation to help.

Alexandra Hall: The Omega Center in Rhinebeck is known for offering spiritual retreats.


Hall: This weekend’s retreat is different: It’s called “The Real Cost of War.” And early on Saturday morning about 50 veterans make their way to the the Main Hall for morning meditation.

The men and women take off their shoes.


Hall: They enter the large room and sit in chairs or on cushions on the floor.


Hall: The sound of the bell means the meditation has begun. Many of the veterans are old enough to have served in Vietnam, but some are young. For most, this is their first time meditating. Many close their eyes- and other than the occasional cough, the room is quiet for twenty minutes.


Hall: The bell reminds veterans to return to the present moment and begin walking meditation.


Hall: The group walks slowly around the open room. The idea is to inhale and exhale with every step.

One large man remains sitting on a cushion. Alongside him lies a prosthetic leg. Elliot James served in Iraq. He lost his right leg below the knee in 2005 when an American tank accidentally crashed into him as he was guiding it around a barrier. He says when he got back, he was hyper-vigilant- a common symptom of PTSD.  

ELLIOT JAMES: Every morning I woke up I’m reaching for a broom in the room, just anything to be the weapon that I had to reach for every day for seven months.

Hall: He self-medicated so that he wouldn’t have to face what he went through. He eventually tried to kill himself, but woke up in a hospital that offered treatment for PTSD. He’s been practicing meditation ever since.

JAMES: Meditation and mindful breathing helps me sit still with this stuff. To allow that time to pass and to not just feel like I have to react to this feeling.

Hall: Rather than numb him, meditation allows James to be consciously aware of of his symptoms. With veteran suicides at an all time high, mindfulness meditation is being used to treat veterans with post-traumatic stress. The U.S. Office of Veterans Affairs is studying how mindfulness, in addition to traditional therapies, such as medication and psychotherapy, is helping veterans after they come home from war.

CLAUDE ANSHIN THOMAS:  I have guys come here taking twenty-seven different kinds of medications.

Hall: Claude Anshin Thomas is leading the retreat. He’s not your typical buddhist monk. He’s a Vietnam vet himself – something that helps him relate to these vets in a way that others can’t.

THOMAS: With this group of people there are certain expressions of character that I identify with immediately.

Hall: Thomas was a door gunner in the Vietnam war. Door gunners were responsible for shooting out the open side of a helicopter with a machine gun. Thomas and his crew used to make bets about who could kill the most people. He says several hundred Vietnamese died because of his actions and it’s left lasting scars.

THOMAS: The real cost of war is that it never goes away.


Hall: In the main hall after breakfast, the men and women are more lively as they settle for a group session with Thomas. It’s informal.

THOMAS: Question!

Hall: Hands pop up.  

THOMAS: In the way back, right here. Yeah go ahead.

Hall: A large older bald man with a deep, southern drawl asks Thomas how to apologize.

MAN: I lost my temper at our senior club meeting. I cussed this guy out. I wanted to take him out and beat the crap out of him and then my wife said I should apologize and I got mad at her.


MAN: I still feel ashamed, how do you handle situations like that? I don’t want to apologize.

THOMAS: Well, whether I want to or not, I do.

Hall: The point of mindfulness is not to be attach to, nor reject, what you think and feel. So Thomas tells veterans to allow flashbacks, anxiety, and depression to happen.

THOMAS: Anger rises – just be present with the anger.

Hall: He tells the group to be aware and observe your symptoms – all of them –  without judgment, and then, just let them be.

THOMAS: Rather than punch them, I ought to bow to them. That takes some skill and practice. First we start with not punching.

Hall: Of the veterans who kill themselves, the majority are 50 years and older. Looking around the room, it’s these men and women who returned from war over thirty years ago who are most at risk. Elliot James – The Iraq war veteran who lost his leg – knows this. He says he’s learning mindfulness now so that that doesn’t happen to him.

JAMES: The more that I sweep stuff under the rug, the more it grows, the worse it gets and then I’ll be dealing with it maybe at 40 or 50 and who knows what I’ll do to somebody or myself by then.

James says he hopes meditation will be a way younger veterans like him to get help before it’s too late.

Alexandra Hall, Columbia Radio News.

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New Madonna Photo Exhibition Gives Insight Into The Star’s Life

New Madonna Photo Exhibition Gives Insight Into The Star’s Life

Photograph by Richard Corman of Madonna and a group of boys in the Lower East Side, 1982. The photo is part of a series on display at the Times Square W Hotel until May 12

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HOST INTRO: As a pop icon, Madonna is known for being, well, revealing. Now a new photo exhibit gives fans some additional insight into the star.  Alexandra Hall has the details.

ALEXANDRA HALL: Black and white portraits of Madonna are all over the lobby of the W Hotel in Times Square. In one, she’s on a rooftop with a group of scowling, school-aged boys in tough, cut-off jeans. She’s the only one smiling, holding a boom box with one hand behind her head. In another, she lies on a rock in jeans and studded belts. Photographer Richard Corman shot the photos of Madonna at her Lower East Side apartment in 1982- and they’ve never been shown. Jody is a journalist from Australia staying at the W hotel with her children. Looking at the photos, what stands out to her most is Madonna’s trend-setting style.

JODY: The armbands and the bangles, the hair with the tie, the makeup, um and the torn jeans. You know, so it was just that look.

HALL: Her young son Amon stands nearby.

AMON: From looking at these pictures, I think she kind of looks like almost wild and out there.

HALL: Like a good wild?

AMON: Yeah, different to today’s wild.

HALL: Looking at the photographs, Jody notices a difference between pop artists in the 1980’s and now.

JODY: Especially looking at these photos, you know, it came from Madonna. It didn’t seem to be that somebody else found her and made her into something else that she wasn’t already.

HALL: Jason Knowles and Pedro Vabuena are also in the lobby. Knowles says that Madonna was ahead of her time.

JASON KNOWLES: She was very cutting edge. What she was singing about and all that was what other people were thinking but she was actually doing what other people were thinking.

HALL: What was she singing about?

KNOWLES: (whisper) Sex! And provocativeness and freedom.

HALL: The two reminisce about the first time they saw her.

KNOWLES: He and I saw Madonna in concert back in 1981 or 2 at a place called Club Illusions in Hialeah, Florida.

PEDRO VABUENA: It was pretty awesome to see her like that because it was before she was famous, it was a small nightclub, it cost 5 dollars to get in.

HALL: Jody Britt is the head of photographer relations and sales at Rock Paper Photo- that’s the group that’s curating the show. She says that the photographer Richard Corman and Madonna met purely by luck.

BRITT: His mother was a casting director. She was casting a film for martin Scorsese- a remake of Cinderella, and Madonna had come in as one of the potential actresses. And Richard’s mother said, you need to shoot this girl.

HALL: She didn’t end up acting in the film. Their photo shoot was one year before Madonna released her first, self-titled album- the one that made her famous. Pedro Vabuena says the photos remind him of what he likes about music from that time.

VABUENA: If you listened to the lyrics that they had back then, it had more meaning and it had something to it.

HALL: The photos will be on display at the Times Square W Hotel lobby until May 12.

Alexandra Hall, Columbia Radio News.

(TIME 2:58)

Posted in City Life, Culture, Featured1 Comment

Wanted: Space Telescope to Hunt For Asteroids

Wanted: Space Telescope to Hunt For Asteroids

CEO Ed Lu of B612 Foundation holds a model of the Sentinel telescope, now under construction, June 28, 2012. B612 aspires to launch the first privately-funded deep space mission with this telescope. It would map 90 percent of so called “city killer” near Earth asteroids. (Paul Sakuma/AP)

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In February, a 60-foot wide asteroid exploded over the Russian town of Chelyabinsk. Scientists and astronomers are calling for a space telescope that would look out for other dangerous asteroids before they crash to Earth. But it won’t be cheap. Alexandra Hall reports.

ALEXANDRA HALL: Nobody saw it coming until it was too late.

CUE AMBI (sound of asteroid explosion over Chelyabinsk, Russia in February)

HALL: The meteor’s blast shattered windows and caused 1,000 injuries. The explosion released energy equivalent to 300,000 tons of TNT. That’s 20 times the force of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. Even though no one died from the explosion in February, the Earth’s history is a warning that the next time could be worse.

An icy meteoroid that hit Siberia in 1908 flattened an expanse of forest the size of the San Francisco bay area.  Its explosion was 1,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. Even larger asteroids could wipe out all life on the planet.

For two years now, NASA’s near Earth object program has tracked nearly all asteroids at least one kilometer in diameter that could end civilization. These big, bright asteroids are easy to detect with Earth bound telescopes. In 2005, congress ordered NASA to track 90% of objects smaller than one kilometer, but larger than 140 meters in diameter. On the low end that’s a rock the width of about one and a half football fields. Still- they’re difficult to see from telescopes on Earth.

As of now, out of the tens of thousands of objects that could wipe out a large city, NASA has only detected 10%. Ed Lu is a veteran NASA astronaut and CEO of the privately funded non-profit B612 Foundation. Last month He told a senate subcommittee that the odds aren’t in planet Earth’s favor.

ED LU: “There’s a thirty percent chance that there’s a five megaton or so impact that’s going to happen in a random location on this planet, this century. So this is not hypothetical.”

HALL: B612 Foundation is a privately funded non-profit that wants to launch an infrared telescope into space that would look out for these so-called “city killers”. Founders named B612 after the house-sized asteroid in the children’s book, The Little Prince. The foundation’s Sentinel telescope would look outwards across the Solar System with its back to the sun, and scan for objects that could slam into the Earth. Tim Spahr is Director of the Minor Planet Center- the organization that professional and amateur astronomers alert with observational data on near Earth asteroids. He says that only space-based infrared telescopes will be able to spot dangerous objects.

TIM SPAHR: “For the smallest objects, quite often there will be no warning for them unless we have an extremely expensive, sophisticated telescope system.”

HALL: NASA has been working on this, too, but funds are low.  A team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has proposed the NEOCam mission- another infrared telescope that like B612’s Sentinel, would map 90% of the so-called “city killer” asteroids. These missions are essentially the same, except that NEOCam would revolve in an orbit closer to the Earth and would rely on government funding. But that funding hasn’t materialized.

RUSTY SCHWEICKART: “NASA has many, many other priorities that they have to satisfy. And that’s part of the problem.”

HALL: Rusty Schweickart (shwike-art) is Chairman emeritus of B612 and is a former astronaut on the 1969 Apollo 9 mission. Although NASA’s near Earth object budget has increased five-fold since 2009- from 4 million, to 20 million dollars, he says that an infrared telescope will cost billions. So B612 decided to act on its own.

SCHWEICKART: “Rather than it being an iffy situation, we have just decided to go ahead and do it. 20 million dollars is less than one tenth of one percent of NASA’s budget. It is not a major program in NASA by any means.”

HALL: NASA has already made an agreement to provide communications, personnel, and data processing to B612. But not everyone in Washington is ready to leave the project to the foundation science. Texas Republican Lamar Smith is Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. At a hearing last month, he urged his colleagues to make it work for NASA, despite the budget sequester

LAMAR SMITH: “I do not believe that NASA is somehow going to defy budget gravity and get an increase when everyone else is getting cuts. But we need to find a way to prioritize NASA’s projects and squeeze as much productivity as we can out of the funds we have.”

HALL: Detecting an incoming asteroid is only the first step. In the event that Sentinel or NEOCam did detect a near Earth object on a path to crash into the Earth, scientists say they would need a good 10-year lead to be able to deflect it. And that project would cost billions more. Alexandra Hall, Columbia Radio News.

(TIME 4:40)


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How Threatening is North Korea?

HOST INTRO: Tensions are always high in the Korean peninsula. This week they got worse. Today, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un put rockets aimed at the United States and South Korea on standby. This comes after two US stealth bombers flew over South Korea yesterday during a military exercise.  I spoke with Sung-Yoon Lee, a Korean Studies Professor at Tufts University, to hear what the countries are trying to communicate with this show of force.

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A Rainbow In My Coffee

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HOST INTRO: What’s it like to be a faceless employee working at one of the world’s biggest chains? Commentator Alexandra Hall remembers the time she tried to add some color to your morning coffee.

My Starbucks work station was a little cubby- sized counter right inside the entrance to Target- a welcoming gesture to customers who need a java chip frappacino while they browse toothpaste and packets of shirts.

Starbucks is highly efficient. Every drink is made as if on a GM assembly line. But instead of mufflers, fenders, and airbags we used pre-measured packets of milk and espresso. One ingredient that Starbucks does make is whipped cream. Throughout the day, baristas fill stainless steel canisters with heavy whipping cream and vanilla syrup. A little metal bullet filled with carbon dioxide on the lid, plus a good shake, makes it ready for topping a beverage. Unlike transparent vanilla, Starbucks’ raspberry syrup is a deep red. Swapping one for the other, I started making pink whipped cream instead of white. Customers loved it. I expected my manager to be impressed. Instead, she said, “That’s not what Starbucks wants.”

I was leaving to college anyway, so on my last night on the job, I decided to do something about Starbucks’ no color, no creativity policy. My plan was to drop food coloring into each canister of the next day’s batch of whipped cream. I would leave the first three or four white so that when they discovered my rainbow garnish, they would be too busy not to use it.

That night I added 5 drops of blue to one canister. 6 drops of green to another right beside it. I was giddy with excitement. I imagined the look on my boss’s face when she served a thrilled customer their grande iced mocha with extra purple whipped cream. She would probably have to call in the CEO of Starbucks so they could strategize about adding multi-colored whipped cream to the menu.

Unfortunately that’s not the way it worked out. Just before leaving, a coworker who was in on my plan ran in. He told me that the manager of Target had discovered my plan and that I should get out of the store quick. I completely panicked. I grabbed my stuff and booked it to the parking lot. A security guard started chasing me- probably just because he saw a person running. He yelled for me to stop, but I didn’t. I jumped in my car and took off.

For weeks, Target called my house and left messages. This message was for Alexandra Hall. They needed me to come in. There was something about  “tampering with food.” I held the cordless phone at arms length, whisper screaming to my mom.
“What if they call the cops?” I asked.
“For whipped cream? No” she said.
Every day I thought the FBI was seconds away from banging down the door. I even considered covering my license plate with a plastic bag. At 18, the wrath of Target was the end of my world.

That summer after high school, I wanted pink whipped cream to be my enduring legacy to Starbucks. But I ended up feeling too scared to leave the house. It turns out Starbucks was too big for my small plans. Still, I’m glad that I tried. And even happier that I didn’t end up in jail.

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To Frack or Not to Frack, That Is the Question for Cuomo

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HOST INTRO: On Wednesday, the New York state assembly passed a bill that would impose a moratorium on fracking in New York for two more years. This increases the pressure on NY Governor Andrew Cuomo who is due to make a decision on the controversial method of natural gas extraction soon. Alexandra Hall reports.

Fracking involves injecting thousands of gallons of water laced with sand and chemicals into the ground at high pressures. That fractures shale rock and releases natural gas. Gas companies have been using this method to extract natural gas in North Dakota, Texas, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere. But in 2008, then NY Governor David Paterson issued moratorium on the practice. Proponents are enthusiastic about the revenue and energy it would generate. But opponents fear that the chemicals used in fracking could spill or contaminate nearby drinking water supplies.

Last month, the New York Health Commissioner announced that he would make a recommendation in a few weeks. After he had consulted studies, which evaluate the health histories of people who live near fracking wells. Cuomo will base his decision on the commissioner’s recommendation.

Steven Cohen is the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He says whatever the governor’s decision is, it won’t please everyone.

COHEN ACT: If he doesn’t lift the moratorium, then all of the people who are looking for all of the economic benefits of this gas will be very disappointed and he’ll be hearing it from the business community and the editorial pages of the New York Post.

Cuomo has stated that he’ll let the science, not emotions guide his decision. But the science is disputed. John Krohn is a representative of Energy in Depth, the public relations organization of the Independent Petroleum Association of America. He says there’s no reason to worry that companies wouldn’t be able to prevent fracking fluid from flowing into rivers and streams.

This idea that flowback fluid management, which has existed in this country for over a hundred years, is misunderstood or is a weak link in the natural gas development system that can cause public health impacts, I think is misguided.

Steven Cohen at the Earth Institute disagrees.

COHEN ACT: I think the industry believes that all these issues have been settled. But the science I think hasn’t been comprehensive and complete enough and in enough locations. So the scientists I talk to say, there probably is no real problem, but we have no evidence of that.

Research won’t be the only thing that guides this decision. John Williams is a Hydrologist from the US Geological Survey. Even more than the potential for environmental contamination, he expects public opinion to play a role.

WILLIAMS ACT: I think New York state is 50/50 on the whole issue. So it’s gonna be science, but it’s hard to ignore the economics and it’s hard to ignore the politics as well.

A Siena College poll CONFIRMS that New Yorkers are split evenly on the issue. Meanwhile, gas companies offer six figure checks for the right to drill on land in other states. So in areas of NYS where fracking could take place, bitter disputes have errupted.

PRESTIDGE ACT: There are people who have cut off talking to each other because of this issue.

Acadia Prestidge is an organic farmer in the Sullivan County town of Calicoon. She says that signs of the fracking dispute- literally- are everywhere.

PRESTIDGE ACT- Everybody has road signs now that are either anti-fracking or pro-fracking. Like there’s road signs that say, ‘Friends of natural gas.’ And then there are signs that say, ‘Drilling isn’t safe.

Cuomo is expected to make his decision shortly after he receives a recommendation from the state health commissioner.

Alexandra Hall, Columbia Radio News.

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Bringing Art Back After Hurricane Sandy

Bringing Art Back After Hurricane Sandy

Marlene McCarty

Artist Marlene McCarty displays one of her damaged drawings. McCarty is one of thousands of artists whose work was destroyed by flooding during Hurricane Sandy.
(Alexandra Hall/Uptown Radio)


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When Hurricane Sandy hit lower Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood last October, art galleries and artists studios suffered overwhelming flooding and damages. Since then, a community of art foundations and conservators has quickly put together resources and funds to aid artists in need. Alexandra Hall has the story.

ALEXANDRA HALL: Marlene McCarty’s new studio is a small, white-walled cube with high ceilings and square windows that overlook the waterfront in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park.

MARLENE MCCARTY: “Well this is obviously-it’s obvious what the damage was.”

HALL: Her entire life’s work lies within stacks of paper and plastic on the floor or in rows of cardboard cylinder tubes along the wall. She unrolls a large blue pen drawing of a cross-legged ape with orange hands. Blotted watermarks run over the stiff curves of the paper.

MCCARTY: “All of this blue bled from other places. This warping was totally from the water.”

HALL: Marlene is one of thousands of artists whose work was damaged by flooding. Her studio was in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, which houses hundreds of artists’ studios and art galleries. The neighborhood is in a low-lying area along the Hudson River. During the hurricane, this area was referred to as Flood Zone A.

Before the storm, Marlene elevated her pieces one foot above the floor. But floodwaters rose to five feet. She points out the damaged remains of drawings that she had planned to show in Berlin this September.

MCCARTY: “That’s all I have left now. It’s from a series from the early ‘90’s called the deliverance series that had never been shown. And I had actually just started talking to some people about the possibility of showing it. WHEW! So, that’s done.”

HALL: A few weeks after the storm, conservators from the Museum of Modern Art, art foundations, and private donors put together a plan to help artists who were affected. The Foundation for the American Institute for Conservation used a grant from Sotheby’s to set up the Cultural Resource Center. Anna Studebaker is the Manager at the center. She says that artists go to this large warehouse in Sunset Park to consult experts and try fixing their damaged work.

ANNA STUDEBAKER: “A lot of the artists affected didn’t know, a lot of people don’t know about conservation, so it was kind of a way to help artists who previously would have been told just throw everything out if it has mold, to basically learn how to take care of their art.”

HALL: The New York Foundation for the Arts has also been helping. After Hurricane Sandy, the foundation raised $1.5 million for affected artists. Marie Williams, who is in charge of the project, says that the foundation has already awarded $900,000 to over 300 artists, actors and musicians.

MARIE WILLIAMS: “For us we realized that an artist losing their entire body of work is so freaking devastating. That is everything they’ve ever created destroyed in a week, a day, a storm. And we wanted to be able to provide a portion of that to be given back to them.”

HALL: Artist Caroline M. Sun is one grant recipient who lost her artist materials and her cat in a fire during the hurricane. The foundation gave her $5,000. She’s grateful, and she says she understands that when a natural disaster threatens human safety, most people’s last concern is the welfare of art and artists.

CAROLINE M. SUN: “I’m sure a lot of people think, oh artists, who cares what happens to their art. They can always make more. And it’s not like that when you’re making art. When you’re making art it really is like your babies, like your children.”

HALL: The New York Foundation for the Arts still has $600,000 to give to artists, and the Cultural Recovery Center will be open for a few more weeks. In the meantime, they’re preparing artists for the next storm.

This is Alexandra Hall, Columbia Radio News.

(TIME 3:54)


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