Statement on the Arts and the Recovery of Communities After Disasters
In August and September 2017, major hurricanes, fires, and floods have affected large portions of the United States, including the landfalls of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. Americans for the Arts expresses its deepest concern for all those impacted by these powerful natural disasters; the devastation to life, property, livelihood, and cultural heritage has been, and will be, monumental.
Community recovery in the aftermath of such disasters is a crucial challenge, and the arts have a strong role to play. At a local, state, and federal level, decisionmakers must remember that the arts and creative workers are crucial to the successful economic and emotional reconstruction of communities devastated by disasters—but are often as profoundly impacted by these events as other small businesses, and have a more difficult time receiving funding and resources to both rebound and participate in community recovery in the aftermath.
The long-term effects on the economies of Houston and other areas affected by Harvey—particularly on the $1.1 billion cultural tourism sector—will continue until arts and culture in the community rebound. This will be the case in the communities impacted by Irma, as well, and for other future disasters. Beyond that, the cultural fabric of the impacted communities will remain frayed. This is bad for the community, bad for the economy, and bad for the stability and harmony of those whose lives are already so disrupted.
Americans for the Arts calls on local, state, and federal decisionmakers and government agencies—particularly FEMA and the Small Business Administration—to recognize the crucial role of arts and cultural organizations and workers, and to prioritize immediate and streamlined disaster relief assistance so that they may fulfill their role as healing nexus points for affected communities. While it is always paramount to assist in survival when disaster hits, after the basic needs of health, food, and shelter are met, the cultural and civic assets of a community must come into focus, and their preservation and reconstruction is just as paramount and deserves just as much attention and support.
Implications for the Arts
The arts are a vital component of the revitalization of disaster-affected communities. The arts illuminate the human condition, bring people together, and provide a crucial vehicle for healing. Disaster recovery includes addressing the emotional and spiritual healing of the community in addition to material necessities such as food and shelter; research shows that arts-based therapies in the aftermath of earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, and other disasters reduce rates of distress, depression, and anxiety and increase hope, feelings of well-being and safety, and overall confidence.
The arts make recovery more possible, more quickly, for those affected:
- In Monmouth, NJ, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the arts community responded to support community needs. Arts institutions became recharging stations and places of respite, the local arts center opened a temporary school program until the students’ schools were reopened, and the creative community immediately, and on into the present, participates in all preparedness and recovery planning and works to help the community process its loss and envision a stronger, resilient future.
- In New Orleans, LA, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the city developed a new way of highlighting its emergency evacuation routes using public art, in a unique collaboration that drastically improved the visibility and utility of the system.
- In Miami, FL—a frequent victim of flooding and major storms that is also in the path of Hurricane Irma—the Department of Cultural Affairs, in conjunction with artists, museums, libraries, cultural institutions, and emergency responders in South Florida collaborated to create The Alliance for Response South Florida, which provides a forum for community-oriented information and cultural heritage protection in the face of disaster events.
Artists and creative workers are an essential component of any community’s health and vibrancy—particularly when that community is required to rebuild not only their physical, but their cultural and communal, infrastructure. In the greater Houston area, over 50,000 professional artists and cultural organizations have been impacted by Hurricane Harvey. There are over 58,000 creative industries businesses and 238,000 creative workers in the prospective path of Hurricane Irma.
In the months and years it will take to rebuild these communities, Americans for the Arts urges policymakers on the local, state, and federal level to ensure that the cultural infrastructure is as cared for as the physical needs of these places. These nonprofit cultural organizations and creative workers are the lynchpin to the future vitality of these communities, and they need financial assistance to conduct assessments and develop strategies toward rebuilding their capacity to serve their communities.
What You Can Do
- Lend your support to impact arts organizations in Texas by considering contributing to the Harvey Arts Recovery Fund.
- Join an Americans for the Arts member-exclusive Member Briefing on disaster relief and recovery on Tuesday, September 19th at 3pm. Learn more here.
- Be prepared to protect and repair your community’s arts and culture. Visit Americans for the Arts’ page on Disaster Preparedness, the website of the National Coalition for Arts Preparedness and Emergency Response (NCAPER) and the “Essential Guidelines for Arts Responders Organizing in the Aftermath of Disaster.”
- Join the Arts Action Fund to take political action. It’s free, and it’s an opportunity to remind your legislators that the creative vitality of a community is as important as its physical infrastructure.
- Tell your story about the power of the arts! How have arts and culture carried you through disasters and hard times? The arts are a powerful glue to hold us all together against adversity—let’s not let anyone forget that!
- You are not alone. Let us know if you need help, and check out the list of tips and resources below. For those organizations directly impacted by Hurricane Harvey, please follow this link to a special listing of tips for self-employed artists & nonprofit arts organizations in that area.