When disaster strikes, fortunately for our communities first responders and volunteers come to the rescue. As we know from many tragic examples of great heroism and ultimate sacrifice, unfortunately first responders and volunteers are often not sufficiently protected and during an emergency put the safety of their community first, over their own health and safety.
Before responding to an emergency, think about Personal Protective Equipment that will protect you as you are generously helping your community.
Regarding tight fitting air-purifying respirators, necessary in case of volatile chemicals such as organic solvents, please be aware that you have to undergo a medical check up and an annual respirator fit test to ascertain that using the respirator will not tax your heart and respiratory system and that you are trained to wearing it correctly. A Conservator’s Guide to Respiratory Protection by Craig E. Colton offers an exhaustive explanation:
Two important websites to guide you in understanding how to prevent infestations or control and eliminate pests once they’ve unintentionally entered your collection.
The MuseumPests Working Group was formed by collection managers, conservators, entomologists and other professionals for the implementation of integrated pest management in museums, libraries, archives, and other collection-holding institutions: https://museumpests.net/
2. What’s Eating Your Collection is a website by the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery dedicated to integrated pest management with guidance to its implementation and to the identification of the insects that you may find with recommendations in case you need to take action. http://www.whatseatingyourcollection.com/
(Note: this website requires Flash)
The Foundation for Advancement in Conservation (FAIC) is offering a series of webinars through its Connecting to Collection Care program.
On July 9, 2 – 3:30 pm (EDT) the topic will be temperature and humidity control through heating, ventilation and air conditioning. If you are considering upgrading your system or would like to gain a better understanding of the parameters you can modify to optimize your existing system, follow the link for additional information and to register:
Discussion will include an introduction to updates in the 2019 American Society for Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Handbook – Applications, Chapter 24: Museums, Galleries, Archives, and Libraries.
TX-CERA stands ready to serve in case of future disasters, not only in their home state, but in other areas of the nation in need of help. Indeed, as recovery work continued in Texas, a TX-CERA representative made two trips to Puerto Rico in October and December 2017, to assist art museums, artists, and libraries with storm mitigation following Hurricane Maria. Today, there are still some institutions engaging in the long recovery work from disaster. TX-CERA’s first responder efforts put many on the path to recovery.
In surveying the challenges and success of actions taken by TX-CERA during Hurricane Harvey recovery—and in recognition of additional challenges in the coming years for cultural heritage resources along the Gulf Coast—the FAIC and TX-CERA were prompted to approach the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for support to increase the number of museum and library professionals trained to respond safely and professionally to future local and regional disasters. On October 25, 2017, The Mellon Foundation awarded $100,000 to the FAIC to support emergency training for staff in collecting institutions from three key at-risk cities nationwide: Houston, Miami, and Seattle. In Texas, the grant supported a program to train and establish a state response team of thirty-five collections professionals in collaboration with TX-CERA. The cost-free training program used a curriculum similar to that used to train FAIC’s National Heritage Responders (NHR), and was conducted using both hands-on instruction and distance learning. The selection of participants were made on a competitive basis. This new team, Texas Heritage Responders (THR), formed of volunteers from across the state, will not only be a ready resource for response at the state level but will also be available to supplement the NHR team members elsewhere, if need be. The THR group is attached to the Texas Emergency Management Assistance Team (TEMAT). This is the forward response and recovery team for the Texas Department of Public Safety. The program serves as a state resource with multi-disciplined, multi-talented, and highly qualified members. A TEMAT member is a subject matter expert with a mastery of all phases of their area of expertise. TEMAT is deployed under the direction of the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM), as required to support local entities in the event of a catastrophic incident or event. The response teams are recruited from various disciplines at the local level, and coordinated with other state agencies. https://www.preparingtexas.org/Resources/documents/2017%20Conference/Texas%20Emergency%20Management%20Assitance%20Team%20(TEMAT).pdf
Additionally, TX-CERA is collaborating with the Houston Arts Alliance (HAA)—the city’s designated local arts and culture agency—in an effort to create and disseminate information through the Houston Area Arts and History Disaster Resilience Plan. Recognizing that the vast majority of artists, cultural practitioners, and arts and culture organizations are unprepared for the next sudden or historic disruption, the HAA secured funds to hire an experienced disaster planning professional and to create an advisory committee of cultural nonprofit leaders and artists, funders, and public-sector disaster professionals. In creating the plan, the working group sorted through the dozens of opportunities, needs, and questions that surfaced during the recovery period following Hurricane Harvey and assessed needs and paths forward to create disaster response elements, such as communication databases and vehicles; damages assessment systems; engagement with existing public and private disaster resources at the City of Houston, Harris County, and the region; ongoing training for nonprofits and individuals; and corps of expert disaster responders to help in recovery efforts. TX-CERA’s Steven Pine sits on the HAA’s advisory committee. TX-CERA also has been part of the planning process and agreed to be content experts during training workshops designed for artists and arts and history organizations. https://ready.haatx.com/
Through education and advocacy, TX-CERA strives to serve as a resource for cultural institutions in order to mitigate loss of cultural and heritage collections due to disaster. Hurricane Harvey and the resultant flooding in August 2017 was historic in nature. Key support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and its Chairman’s Emergency Grant program helped TX-CERA effectively respond to the crisis. Through their actions, TX-CERA was able to offer immediate help and advice to arts and cultural heritage organizations in need, and spread knowledge on mitigation and recovery efforts to both the community and their peers. The continued effort to create a master list of arts and cultural organizations in the Texas Gulf Coast region not only positively impacts hundreds of arts and heritage groups in the wake of Harvey, but also should be an invaluable tool to facilitate quicker response in case of future disasters. https://txcera.org/
Past posting of a successful Hurricane Harvey collaboration in Houston, 2017
Hurricane Harvey peppered the John Biggers 1953 mural, Contribution of Negro Women to American Life and Education, with bursts of black mold.
National heritage responders – experts activated when art has been compromised by disasters – showed up Saturday to evaluate the damage on the painting that covers a wall inside the Blue Triangle Multi-Cultural Association’s headquarters in Houston’s Third Ward. The work featuring Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Phillis Wheatley was painted when the building housed the Blue Triangle YWCA.
For years, a leaky roof threatened the mural.
What was an emergency will become a catastrophe without immediate intervention.
Saving the Biggers mural will require a multi-pronged approach: A construction solution for the damaged building, which includes the roof; an art restoration fix for mold on the mural; and a hefty financial infusion to support those projects.
Caretakers went public in January 2016 to plead for contributions to repair the roof – $50,000 for a patch job and $200,000 for a complete restoration. The funding never came. Now, the resolution will cost much more.
Two weeks ago, Harvey’s unrelenting rain sent water through the roof and walls of the historic building at 3005 McGowen St.
What were warped, discolored ceiling tiles have come down or are inundated with mold. Walls are damp with telltale trickle trails. There are dozens of receptacles throughout the building still catching water.
In a room off the main hallway, the Biggers mural is scarred but stable.
“I am absolutely astonished at the damage that has been done,” said Charlotte Kelly Bryant, the association’s founding president. She noted that the mural has been “perfectly kept” for more than six decades, including the association’s 17 years of owning the building.
Members of an emergency response team from the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works have come to Houston to assess the mural, as well as the flooded collection of props at the Alley Theatre in downtown’s Theater District. Art conservators and a property damage restoration expert wore respirator masks inside the Blue Triangle building.
The mural can be saved. The preliminary diagnosis credits Biggers’ use of two coats of white paint to prime the wall, which protected the colors from moisture.
“I am happy to say that, from a structural point of view, the mural looks OK. The paint is all right, and it’s not flaking, which would have been a much bigger problem,” said Elizabeth Mehlin, a painting conservator from the Boston area who came as part of the emergency response team. “I believe that the mural is salvageable, and now we just need the funding to go ahead and get the building squared away and the humidity levels reduced so that the mural won’t be in jeopardy in the future – once we get the immediate mold issue resolved.”
Asking for prayers
The mural restoration plan will involve conservation scientists sampling the mold, examining the fungus under a microscope, then applying the same solutions that would repair a similarly injured Picasso or Rembrandt.
Also on site Saturday was Steve Pine, a senior decorative arts conservator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, who works with the Texas Cultural Emergency Response Alliance. National heritage responders traveled to New Orleans in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina. They also provided services following the 2010 Haiti earthquake and on the East Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Pine said.
The Blue Triangle building, a state historic landmark registered with the Texas Historical Commission, includes a gymnasium, commercial kitchen, meeting rooms and indoor pool. Association supporters are working to preserve the community center, its programs and the mural.
“I ask the prayers of everybody as we beg for assistance,” Bryant said.
Biggers, who founded the art department at Texas Southern University, died in 2001 at 76. His is considered one of the foremost artists whose work captured the black experience of the 20th century. Biggers also mentored several generations of Houston artists, particularly muralists.