Waterlogged Texas Museums Assess the Damage Caused by Hurricane Harvey

The Rockport Center for the Arts has been particularly hard hit.

A flooded parking lot on the campus of Rice University, which has several public artworks, following Hurricane Harvey. Courtesy of Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Since Hurricane Harvey made landfall near Corpus Christi, Texas, on Friday, August 25, large swaths of the state have been battered by torrential downpours, leaving at least five people dead and many more injured. Homes and businesses across the region have been flooded by rains that could total up to 50 inches, a record for the state. Houston—the fourth-largest city in the US—was particularly hard hit.

Harvey has now been downgraded to a tropical storm, but flood threats are expected to continue over the next few days as heavy rainfall persists across Texas and Louisiana. Some cultural institutions will be unable to assess the extent of the damage until the rains subside, while others have miraculously managed to avoid the worst of the storm.

Others, however, have not been so lucky. The Rockport Center for the Arts, an art center and 10,000-square-foot sculpture park near Corpus Christi, has sustained “serious external damage,” wrote director Luis Purón in a Facebook message. “It remains unclear if all the sculptures in the Sculpture Garden collection survived the 130 miles-per-hour winds of Harvey’s category 4 direct impact.”

The Rockport Center for the Arts as seen after Hurricane Harvey. Courtesy of the Rockport Center for the Arts.

The Rockport Center for the Arts as seen after Hurricane Harvey. Courtesy of the Rockport Center for the Arts.

“For an art colony as important as Rockport’s, this storm has had a tremendous impact,” Purón added in an email to artnet News. He noted that as the forecast changed, the institution had little time to prepare the facilities.

Stunningly, considering the extent of the storm, many of the region’s other museums have survived relatively unscathed. “Advance preparations by the museum’s Hurricane Planning Group—including sandbagging, floodgates and stationing of emergency pumping equipment—have greatly mitigated impact to our facilities so far,” Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, head of marketing Mary Haus told artnet News in an email, noting that there was some flooding but that “our on-site staff is safe and our collections have not had any damage.”

The Rockport Center for the Arts as seen after Hurricane Harvey. Courtesy of the Rockport Center for the Arts.

The Rockport Center for the Arts as seen after Hurricane Harvey. Courtesy of the Rockport Center for the Arts.

Also in good shape is the Menil Collection, which is being regularly monitored by security and maintenance staff. They have secured the Menil Drawing Institute’s construction site as well as basements and skylights in the main building. The Dan Flavin installation at Richmond Hall and the Byzantine Fresco Chapel are also under careful watch, according to assistant director of communications Tommy Napier. The museum plans to remain closed to the public and staff through Wednesday, August 30.

The Rothko Chapel is temporarily closed but safe, too. “We are fortunate that there has been no damage to the chapel or power outages, and the neighborhood has only seen flooding to sidewalk level thus far, which has since receded,” Alison Pruitt, the director of operations, told artnet News.

The Rothko Chapel is a non-denominational chapel in Houston, Texas. Courtesy of the Rothko Chapel.

The Rothko Chapel is a non-denominational chapel in Houston, Texas. Courtesy of the Rothko Chapel.

Galveston Arts Center curator Dennis Nance, meanwhile, told ARTnews “the building has not taken on flood water or lost power,” thanks in part to upgrades made following 2008’s Hurricane Ike, which saw it lose over $100,000 worth of art. Nevertheless, the August 26 openings for its three fall exhibitions, as well as the bimonthly Galveston Artwalk, have been rescheduled for September 9.

Some institutions have not yet been able to confirm the extent of the damage. The Rice University campus—home to an impressive public art collection, including James Turrell’s Twilight Epiphany, a rare two-story skyspace by the artist—is on lockdown until midnight August 29.

“We won’t be able to assess the status of public art across campus until the university reopens and we’re able to move around the campus safely,” Jeff Falk, the school’s associate director of national media relations, wrote to artnet News.

James Turrell, <em>Twilight Epiphany</em> (2012). Courtesy of Rice University.

James Turrell, Twilight Epiphany (2012). Courtesy of Rice University.

The new Glade Arts Foundation, a new cultural center located north of Houston in the Woodlands, does not expect that the storm will affect its scheduled November debut. “We are obviously at a standstill right now, but the good news is that the foundation is safe,” board member Dragos Tapu emailed artnet News. “The site is not flooded, and it appears that it will weather it well.”

As of press time, artnet News had not heard back from the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, the Houston Museum District, the Project Row Houses, or the Houston-based FotoFest photography biennial. Other institutions that have temporarily closed due to the storm include the Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston, the Art Museum of South Texas in Corpus Christi, the Art Museum of Southeast Texas in Beaumont, and the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin.

The full scope of the damage may not be clear for several days. The National Weather Service said on Twitter yesterday, “This event is unprecedented & all impacts are unknown & beyond anything experienced.” An administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency told CNN that a full recovery would take years.

A flooded parking lot on the campus of Rice University, which has several public artworks, following Hurricane Harvey. Courtesy of Scott Olson/Getty Images.

A flooded parking lot on the campus of Rice University, which has several public artworks, following Hurricane Harvey. Courtesy of Scott Olson/Getty Images.

As the region starts down that long road, at least one museum is looking to lend a hand. According to a local ABC affiliate, the Museum of Flight in Hixon, Texas, will be flying in cargo planes full of supplies from its hangar in Rome, Georgia, to offer aid to hard-to-access areas hit by the storm.

Meanwhile, Pruitt promised that “the Rothko Chapel will reopen its doors as soon as it is safe for our staff and visitors, so that those in need of solace can gather and come together during the road to recovery ahead.”


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