Miami Artists and Museums Brace for Hurricane Irma

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A report by Isaac Kaplan for Artsy.

Hurricane Irma, among the most powerful storms ever recorded in the Atlantic, battered Barbuda and other Caribbean islands early Wednesday. The final path of the Category 5 storm is uncertain, but projections that it could slam south Florida later this week have state and local authorities readying emergency plans.

Museums and cultural institutions across Miami are preparing as well, announcing widespread closures and watching the weather in advance of potential landfall. Artists, too, are bracing for the storm, protecting their artwork as best possible, even if that means tying it to trees.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez announced a raft of school and governmental closures over the coming days. The Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) is following their lead, closing through Sunday but aiming to open on Monday at 10 a.m. “as long as the property is safe and accessible,” wrote Mark Rosenblum, its chief financial officer, in an email to Artsy.

On Wednesday morning, The Wolfsonian took to Twitter to announced its closure and cancellation of all events “until further notice.” Dimensions Variable, an artist-run gallery on the campus of Miami Dade College, will also be closed. Unless the storm shifts directions or drastically weakens in intensity, other cultural institutions are expected to follow suit.

Irma comes a few short weeks after Hurricane Harvey made devastating and protracted landfall on the Gulf Coast, flooding large areas but leaving Houston’s cultural institutions relatively unscathed. As with Houston museums, many of which avoided damage through good luck and preparation, museums in Miami have well-developed plans for securing and transporting artworks in the event of extreme weather.

Irma prompted the The Bass, the contemporary art museum slated to reopen this fall after extensive renovations, to draw from its Emergency Preparedness Plan and undertaking “precautionary measures,” such as de-installing the Sylvie Fleury neon Eternity Now from its facade, wrote Executive Director Silvia Karman Cubiñá in a statement.

Some museums in the region also feature built-in structural safeguards for storm resistance. PAMM, which relocated to a new building in 2013, is sited on an elevated platform to protect against storm flooding, with the first floor above Hurricane Andrew’s devastating flood plane of 18 feet. The institution also boasts hurricane-resistant glass, a continually running HVAC system, and backup generators. The structure containing the museum’s hanging gardens is constructed of fiberglass, reinforced with stainless steel, engineered to withstand Category 5 winds (though plants might have to be replaced).

“Every spring, we fine tune our policies and procedures, and implement training so we are ready for the hurricane season,” wrote Rosenblum.

Meanwhile, individual artists are taking Irma in stride and—at least while the storm remains several days away—with a dose of humor. But they are also stocking up on supplies and securing their work. “There’s definitely a sentiment of anxiousness,” said artist Jillian Mayer, who keeps two studios in the city.

Her second-floor indoor space in South Beach is particularly vulnerable, located on a street that floods even after light rain. Working with studio assistants, Mayer has removed all work from the floor to avoid water damage from leaks and unplugged electronics. At her outdoor studio, Mayer tied numerous large fiberglass sculptures, in different phases of completion, to nearby trees and fences.

“They’re very recognizable,” she noted. “If they do fly away maybe someone will give me a tip if they see one a mile away.”

Reached early Wednesday afternoon, artist Adler Guerrier was packing up his studio, located in the same building as Mayer’s, and moving works away from the windows. With Irma disrupting his preparations for an upcoming show, Guerrier was prioritizing finished pieces that must be removed from the studio, and finding ways to shelter others.

“Most artists I’ve been in contact with are taking this very seriously,” he said, adding that even for storm-weary Miami residents, a Category 5 like Irma should give pause.

Anne Rappa, senior vice president with fine arts insurer Huntington T. Block, urged anxious artists and collectors to look to museums for guidance, namely by developing a straightforward plan—such as compiling conservator or art storage facility contact information and assessing what physical protections are needed for the work. And, she stressed, be sure to write everything down.

“When you use the words ‘disaster mitigation’ or ‘disaster planning,’ it sounds complicated,” Rappa said. “But those plans are created based on very simple pieces of information that are culled together and put in one place. It’s the advanced thought that is so important.”

One simple tip, she said, for artists and art owners facing water damage: Buy some blotting paper.

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