In Puerto Rico and the Caribbean islands, cultural organizations are still struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria. In Brazil, curators and historians are only beginning to reckon with the damage caused when its National Museum burned last September. Disasters and the corresponding damage to historical and cultural collections are inevitable—but they can also be predicted and prepared for. This work is undertaken by the Alliance for Response (AFR), a network of cultural organizations that is supported by the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artist Works (FAIC) and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The AFR encourages disaster preparedness among cultural organizations throughout the United States, with chapters in 27 cities and regions from the Mississippi Gulf Coast to Seattle and Vermont. Its goal is to connect cultural resource professionals with each other and with local governments, particularly first responders and emergency management. By encouraging organizations to develop emergency disaster plans and providing them with the tools to do so, the AFR boosts their individual capacity to deal with disasters. And by encouraging staff members to meet face-to-face, swap business cards, and share resources, the program breaks down the barriers between organizations, increasing the likelihood that cultural heritage stewards within the community will be able to protect or salvage collections in the future.
Many AFR networks have already been tested. In 2017, Hurricane Irma struck Florida shortly after the inaugural meeting in Miami and local organizations were able to take advantage of the connections they had made. In Washington, members of the Seattle’s network were able to offer assistance after the Aberdeen Museum of History was severely damaged by fire earlier this year. And the New York City-area AFR was able to mount a quick and effective response to Hurricane Sandy in 2012, helping to salvage numerous works of art that had been stored in galleries and studios in Lower Manhattan. These successes are a testament to both the power of these networks and our great need for them to ensure that our cultural heritage and communities are resilient in the face of disasters.
Thumbnail image: At the Mississippi Gulf Coast Alliance for Response Forum, representatives from collecting institutions met with their county first responders and emergency managers. Image courtesy of FAIC.: At the Mississippi Gulf Coast Alliance for Response Forum, representatives from collecting institutions met with their county first responders and emergency managers. Image courtesy of FAIC.