June 6, 2016
Resilient and Ready
As I write this column, officials have shut down two iconic Paris museums, the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay. The flood level alert in Paris is at yellow and is expected to be upgraded to orange. The Seine River is still rising. In its emergency plan, the Louvre has 72 hours to remove artworks in its underground reserve. The Musée d’Orsay has 96 hours. Both museums held drills earlier this year to deal with the threat of floods.
Eleven years ago, Hurricane Katrina hurled an unprecedented disaster on the U.S. Gulf Coast. State arts agencies in the affected areas, national arts philanthropies and others worked tirelessly on the recovery of artists and arts communities. Organizations came to the rescue; one example is New Orleans based Ashé Cultural Arts Center, which came back as a community based center for the activities of ReBuild New Orleans. It assumed a leadership role in implementing strategies to repopulate its Central City neighborhood and provide critical programming to former residents and new neighbors seeking a much-needed sense of community.
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy stormed the east coast. Classified as the deadliest and most destructive hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, it was also the second-costliest hurricane in U.S. history. Not unlike Katrina recovery efforts seven years earlier, the arts community devastated by Hurricane Sandy managed its own survival and recovery, while providing essential services needed by affected communities.
More recently, in the wake of the Flint, Michigan, water crisis, we find artists and arts organizations responding to community needs. Their diverse programs are helping residents overcome grief and resurrect a sense of normalcy in the face of crisis. As Flint awaits a significant increase in the number of children with cognitive and behavioral challenges to due to lead exposure, arts and cultural institutions are preparing to become part of the long-term solution by expanding educational programs and services that have proven track records of using the arts to increase children’s ability to learn.
In Flint, as in Baltimore, Sandy Hook, Columbine and many other areas, artists and arts organizations—often supported by their state arts agencies—bring unique talents and resources to bear to boost resiliency after disasters of all kinds. As a cornerstone in the ecosystem that supports the arts, our state arts agency field should be mindful that it’s necessary to maintain the health and resilience of artists and arts organizations in order to empower them to take on their vital role in community resiliency after crises.
Ever timely, our colleagues at the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) recently hosted a cross-sector convening on arts readiness and resilience. Arts leaders discussed how to advance more collaborative and comprehensive emergency management strategies for artists and arts and cultural organizations. Participants took stock of many preparedness and emergency management efforts that have taken place since Hurricane Katrina; this was a turning point for our field, and after a decade of learning and maturation, it’s important to take time to look back at what we’ve achieved and challenges yet to overcome.
The creation of the National Coalition for Arts Preparedness and Emergency Response is one of those important achievements that represents good opportunities for collaboration in this work. As the coalition grows, so do its prospects for encouraging a more resilient arts community. Participants in the NEA’s convening also identified challenges to arts community readiness and resiliency. Arts and cultural organizations are often undercapitalized, and many artists lack significant cash reserves; this reality makes it difficult to prioritize readiness. Much of the arts and culture sector is informal; this makes it tough to include them in the policy infrastructure of emergency management, both in response and planning.
Here’s what’s clear: it’s time for a strategic, coordinated movement toward arts readiness and resiliency. The movement must work within our sector as well as beyond it. Within our field, we must better integrate readiness and resiliency within our practices—a tall but critical order. On the outside, enhanced competencies in the emergency management field are needed to better serve the arts and culture sector. This work within and beyond our sector is complex and nuanced, but essential to the state of resiliency the arts community deserves.
I am grateful to the NEA for convening this important conversation; it was a great start. In particular, thanks to Chairman Jane Chu for encouraging leadership conversations important to the future of the arts in America; thanks as well to Director of Local Arts Agencies and Challenge America Michael Killoren for organizing the arts readiness and resiliency conversation.
In this Issue
State to State
- Missouri: Alchemy Award
- Idaho: Idaho Writer in Residence
- New Hampshire: Commission to Study the Economic Impact of Arts and Culture
More Notes from NASAA
From the CEO
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