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Katrina and the Arts
October 14, 2005

Sculpture by Kenneth Snelson

Kenneth Snelson, Maquette for Tree I, 1979, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 1980.49.11

While focusing on providing material aid and relief to the thousands displaced by Hurricane Katrina, it's certainly the case that much in the way of charity will be required to rebuild the unique cultural capital that is New Orleans and to restore the many Gulf Coast arts institutions damaged by the storm and subsequent flood. The American Association of Museums compiled a list of first reports regarding the status of various Gulf-area collections; the organization continues to update the list as new information is received. Though some sites suffered extensive damage, many more escaped with only moderate injury, and several museums along the coast have already reopened. Arts Journal and in particular Tyler Green have compiled comprehensive links related to the effects of the hurricane on arts institutions and how you can extend aid to those affected.

A few more things: Hoping to find out information about the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans (a place I always, always try to visit when I'm in town), I found that CACNO staff set up a blog for staff, friends, and area artists to check in. It seems that people are still leaving comments and noting sources for assistance—which reminded me that a small army of people who facilitate the arts were also evicted by the storm. Here's hoping they have all made speedy progress back home.

I also wanted to pass along a remarkable August story from the New Orleans Times Picayune concerning the New Orleans Museum of Art:

The New Orleans Museum of Art survived Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath without significant damage.

But when Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives arrived in the area Wednesday, NOMA employees holed up inside the museum were left in a quandary:
FEMA wanted those evacuees to move to a safer location, but there was no way to secure the artwork inside.

Six security and maintenance employees remained on duty during the hurricane and were joined by 30 evacuees, including the families of some employees.

Very real dedication—I'd love to hear a followup to that story.

That same article reports that, despite the best efforts of the staff to prepare the sculpture garden for the storm, unfortunately, the New Orleans Museum of Art lost a major sculptural work: Virlane Tower, a "tensegrity" sculpture by Kenneth Snelson. Washington, D.C., sports two similar works by the artist: Needle Tower, in the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden, and the piece pictured above from the American Art collection.

Finally, you don't want to miss this story about Katrina-related conservation efforts:

These works and many others — paintings and frames crusted with mold and fungus, bits of debris, even a few feathers — are [in Chicago] to be repaired and revived by art conservationists participating in their own version of hurricane recovery.

They're part of The Chicago Conservation Center, a team of experts working in a sprawling seventh-floor studio more than 800 miles from New Orleans and the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina. They have much to do: A giant multicolored abstract is splattered with grime, an autumn landscape is flaking, canvases are sagging.

Courtesy of Modern Kicks. I imagine it's been some time since the principle obstacle in conservation was mud.

Connection: Katrina Alters the View for New Orleans Artists (via NPR)

Posted by Kriston on October 14, 2005 in American Art Elsewhere


SAAM's Art Information Resources through its online reference service Ask Joan of Art has been fielding questions from hurricane-damaged areas and referring patrons to appropriate sources for information. They have also devised a "rapid condition assessment form" for outdoor sculpture, which builds on information the museum has collected through the Save Outdoor Sculpture! program. Heritage Preservation, our national co-sponsor for Save Outdoor Sculpture!, has also played a key role with FEMA in addressing needs of cultural resources in the Gulf Coast area.

While much of New Orleans' great art was in museums, there is a portion that probably suffered much more from the recent storm: vernacular art and architecture. John Vlach, a scholar of folk art, explains that the art and architecture in New Orleans is a unique fusion of African, Caribbean, and European influences (see Vlach's books "The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts" for more). Countless examples of such art, from shotgun houses to intricate wrought iron, were likely ruined by Katrina. There's an article in the San Francisco Chronicle that addresses this issue ( This realm of art is one of the many things that will be sorely missed in New Orleans.

I frankly hope that we don't have repeat disaster as we did from previous hurricanes.

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