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After the storm: Putting Eyebeam back together

The largest not-for-profit art and technology center in the US was devastated by Hurricane Sandy, and you can help

Thanksgiving has come and gone and many of us are busy preparing for the winter holidays. For most of us, Hurricane Sandy is about to become a footnote to a crazy series of news cycles around the 2012 presidential election. But for many individuals and institutions, the cleanup has barely begun.

One of these institutions is the Eyebeam Art + Technology Center in New York, a not-for-profit incubator of new media and design. Each year, Eyebeam hosts two groups of residents for five months each, in addition to several fellows for the full year. Almost 250 artists, designers, and technologists have spent time there since Eyebeam first opened in 1997, many of whom we at O’Reilly have known and admired.

Hurricane Sandy brought more than three feet of water, chemicals, and outside debris sweeping into the streets and buildings on the west side of Manhattan. At Eyebeam, this spelled disaster for much of the equipment and archives on their ground floor. The disaster was compounded by the fact that none of this material was covered by flood insurance.

The main space is currently filled with dried-out computers, projectors, mixers and other audio equipment, and two scissor-lifts used for accessing the upper reaches of their 18-foot-high space. Volunteers are looking over and hand-inspecting it all to figure out what can be salvaged; ultimately, they’ll have to find ways to repair, replace, or do without each item.

As for the archives, volunteers have sorted and washed each piece, and begun the task of cataloging what can be preserved. Alumni will be contacted to see if they can provide copies of their work, but most of the material is now very fragile and will need to be digitized and transferred to more stable formats, a time-consuming and expensive process that is expected to take a year or more.

But with all of this comes the opportunity for Eyebeam to reconsider their goals and how they can make their archives available to a wider audience than before.

Events at Eyebeam will resume this week with an #ArtsTech Meetup on 3D printing; larger public events will resume in December. They’re also planning a special series of events to present material from the archives during the week of January 7. Stay tuned to their events page for forthcoming details on that series.

In the meantime, please consider making a donation. Some of you may have enjoyed Eyebeam’s space when they hosted our Data After Dark event celebrating data visualization as part of the 2011 Strata conference in New York. We at O’Reilly appreciate and support all they add to the tech community, and hope you will too.

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