As Florida Reels From Hurricane Irma, Museums Have Been Spared Its Devastating Wrath

Early reports suggest that art institutions may have come through the storm relatively unscathed.

A stop signs sits in the street following Hurricane Irma in downtown Miami, Florida, September 11, 2017. Courtesy of Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

After battering the Caribbean and Florida last week and over the weekend, Hurricane Irma has been downgraded to a tropical storm, as it now moves inland toward parts of Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and the Carolinas. Despite the terrifying strength of the storm—which has reportedly killed 40 people and left millions without power—art museums and organizations in Florida seem to have escaped relatively unscathed, early reports suggest.

Irma first made landfall in the continental US on Sunday morning as a category four hurricane in the Florida Keys. Museums in the Keys include the Key West Art & Historical Society, the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, and the Key West outpost of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium.

“Reports are very, very preliminary,” Key West Art & Historical Society executive director Michael F. Gieda told artnet News, noting that it was not yet safe to conduct a full inspection of the property. “Overall, the society’s museums appear to be okay and intact. Minimal damages to the buildings with the exception of some damaged windows.… Power is out so climate control is an issue.”

Hurricane Irma. Courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The storm made a second landfall later Sunday afternoon, on Marco Island, off the coast of Naples in Collier County. Irma then moved north toward Tampa, home to the Salvador Dalí Museum and the Tampa Museum of Art.

In an email, chief marketing officer Kathy Greif told artnet News that the Dalí Museum’s building had not been damaged. “As you can imagine, we had some minor damage to our gardens—some tall cypress trees were knocked down,” she wrote, noting that they will soon replant their fallen Wish Tree, full of wishes written on visitors’ admission wristbands. “The entire Tampa Bay area was really lucky to be spared; it could have been much worse.”

The Tampa Museum of Art plans to reopen Wednesday, with executive director Michael A. Tomor telling artnet News in an email that “the museum and our immediate downtown region never saw a power outage and the parks and properties surrounding the museum were spared downed trees and structural damages.”

Collier Country Museums has announced that all local institutions, including the Marco Island Historical Society, will be closed Monday and Tuesday, instructing the public to follow the county emergency website for additional updates. Artis—Naples, home of the Baker Museum and the Naples Philharmonic, also closed in advance of the storm.

“Initial assessments are that Irma was kind to us, and we are grateful for all of the efforts made in our pre-storm preparations,” Artis—Naples CEO Kathleen van Bergen told artnet News in an email, noting that artist Arik Levy was able to personally oversee precautions taken to protect the work in his solo show, which opened September 5. “As far as we can tell after an initial assessment, the five buildings on our campus fared well. Until full power is restored, a complete inspection is not possible, nor is a return to our scheduled cultural activities.”

The storm was initially forecast to make landfall further east, which would have placed Miami directly in the path of the storm. Despite avoiding a direct hit, Miami was still subject to heavy flooding, particularly in the downtown Brickell neighborhood, where the streets became rushing rivers.

There was also flooding in the basement of the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, a historic mansion in Coconut Grove. “The good news is there are no art collections stored” in the affected areas, museum spokesperson Luis Espinoza told the Miami Herald.

Ahead of the storm’s arrival in the US, artnet News checked in with the Bass Museum of ArtICA Miami, the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), and the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, all of which took precautions and closed their doors. The city and its arts institutions will play host to the international art world come December, during the annual Art Basel in Miami Beach art fair, the centerpiece of Miami Art Week.

“PAMM sustained no damage to the building, and suffered no flooding,” the museum’s associate director of marketing, Alexa Ferra, told artnet News in an email, noting that all PAMM employees were safe following the storm. “The roof held well, and there was no problem with the hurricane-resistant windows.  Surge from Biscayne Bay did not reach the building, even at high tide.”

“Safety and security are top priorities at PAMM, and storm preparation is something we focus on year-round,” added CFO Mark Rosenblum. “Every spring, we fine tune our policies and procedures, and implement training so we are ready for the hurricane season.”

Down in Miami Beach, Bass director Silvia Karman Cubiñá reports that “the museum is in the process of assessing the extent of Irma’s impact. We are thankful that our staff is safe and accounted for and our thoughts are with those who are still battling the aftermath of the storm.”

Although Miami appears to have escaped the worst of the devastation—as of press time the Norton and ICA had not returned artnet News’s request for comment—the hurricane carved a path of destruction earlier in the week, striking parts of the northeast Caribbean as a category five storm, the strongest ever seen in the Atlantic.

Irma ravaged the Bahamas, where the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas plans to reopen on Tuesday after it somehow “weathered the storm without incident,” according to chief curator Holly Bynoe.

In a turn of good fortune, the storm’s eye ultimately bypassed museum’s New Providence location, sparing it the worst. “Our national collection and all of our assets are in good order and good standing,” Bynoe wrote in an email to artnet News. “I am hoping that other institutions in the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Florida, fared as well as we did.”

Others local institutions include the Antiquities, Monuments and Museum Corporation National Museum of the Bahamas, the Heritage Museum of the Bahamas, and the Junkanoo World Museum & Arts Centre Ltd. Whether they fared as well as NAGB is still uncertain. Two of the museums could not be reached for comment, and the third did not immediately respond to an inquiry.

Beyond the Bahamas, Hurricane Irma also barreled through Puerto Rico, home of the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico in Santurce, which Tweeted “thankfully, we’re doing good; collections, facilities, and staff,” and Cuba, home of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana. Earlier in the week, at its most violent, the storm plowed through Antigua and Barbuda, St. Martin and Saint Barthélemy, Anguilla, the Leeward Islands, Turks and Caicos, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and the Virgin Islands, leaving devastation in its wake.

Irma marked the second category four hurricane to make landfall in the continental US this year, following Hurricane Harvey, which caused severe flooding in Texas in late August. It is the first recorded instance that two storms of such magnitude have descended on the country in a single hurricane season.

This story has been updated to add additional comments from affected museums.

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