A military vehicle, left, and a truck pulling a boat pass in front of flooded businesses under water along U.S. 67, on May 3, 2017, in the heavily flooded East Pocahontas, Ark. (Photo: Stephen B. Thornton, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP)
Story I wrote published in The Lawton Constitution years ago regarding preparation for flooding and wildfires.
As the rainy season approaches, it’s pretty common for folks who live on a flood plain, businesses, schools, government agencies, and emergency officials to begin preparing for the inevitability of at least a few disasters. But, just as vulnerable to natural and unforeseen disasters — although perhaps overlooked — are those who participate in the arts.
Each year, the Lawton Community Theatre has had to check weather predictions on the internet every single day as spring approaches. Each year, they have had to pile sandbag upon sandbag all the way around the building and in front of the door to decrease the potential for flooding — and every year it cost a lot of money. “Every flood — aside from the labor of sandbagging (and the ugliness of sandbags around the building) — cost us $2,000 each flood,” said Lawton Community Theatre Director Cynthia Kent.
Since the theater is on a floodplain this is not something they prepare for lightly — it’s an arduous process. “We would lose days of work,” said Kent.
Each time it floods, if any water gets inside the building, the theater had to pay for water removal as well … and, that costs more money.
However, this year, the theatre has purchased new dams for their doors — they’re going to see if they work this season and suspect they will do the trick. “They should stop the water. They’re very easy to set up within 45 minutes. They’re cleaner and will keep water out until we come up with a better plan.”
But, exactly how does the theatre prepare for the fact that they will be flooded? How do others in the arts community prepare for flooding or other disasters? It’s something artists may not always be thinking about — but, in our area it’s important.
Kent said the theater simply does not put anything on the floor during rainy season as water around the building can reach up to 12” high. That includes filing cabinets which are up on blocks. She said if the weather experts are predicting two inches of water in an hour there is no doubt the theatre will flood.
Year after year, Kent said they had to re-build their wooden stage due to flooding. “Now we have metal framed platforms underneath the stage,” she said. “It was labor intensive to install but we no longer spend the amount of money we did.”
Museum of the Great Plains Head Curator Deborah Baroff advises artists to protect their work — or any heirloom — as they would protect themselves.
“Where would you go if you were trying to keep away from the elements? Wherever you would go is probably where valuable work should go,” she said. “Storing in the attic or basement are not good places. If you’re an artist I would keep those things in boxes, off the ground, and in an interior room.”
Baroff suggests keeping drawings and photographs safe from water damage by storing in acid free sleeves, inside an envelope, then wrapped in plastic, and finally in a box — off the floor.
“Add as many layers as possible,” she said. She adds, though, that while a flood can potentially cause disaster it’s not as bad as a fire could be. “Water is a forgiving element, but the best thing is to keep it off the ground.”
Leslie Powell Gallery Director Nancy Anderson was faced with a wildfire threatening the field behind her house at one time and she came up with her own master plan to safeguard her personal and professional items. She said she has a plan for both her home and the gallery.
At the gallery, Anderson said the first two or three things she would grab before escaping a fire would be her paper files, her computer, and her pocket drive.
“One of the most vital things I can have on my person would be my pocket drive. It has my mailing list and Quicken on it. Everything else is covered by insurance,” she said.
When Anderson’s home was threatened by an approaching wildfire, she said she was systematic in her approach to safeguard irreplaceable items.
“I took all of the irreplaceable items — including disks and photos — and put them in the trunk of my car. Then, I went through the house and with red stickers chose the most important pieces of art for me … they would be the first to go,” she said. “Next were the second most important which got yellow stickers; third were green and everything else blue — even my dogs had red stickers on their little noses,” she laughed.
Anderson said she plans ahead all the time. “I thought, ‘What happens if the back of the house catches fire?’ and I decided to make the choice when I was not under duress. I can see how when you’re stressed you might make unreasonable decisions. I think the clue is that as we approach these seasons we take note of it and prepare for things,” she said.
Both Anderson and Kent expressed the importance of digital copies of important documents — and digital images — to be stored at a location other than at the theater or gallery, and so does a website called www.studioprotector.org.
The not for profit “Craft Emergency Relief Fund” (CERF) links directly to the site from its own. The organization’s website is a group specially created to assist artists and crafts people in the event of emergencies.
According to its website: “CERF accomplishes its mission through direct financial and educational assistance to craft artists, including emergency relief assistance, business development support, and resources and referrals on topics such as health, safety, and insurance.”
And, they’ve even helped folks in our area. The site goes on to say, “Making some advance preparations such as safeguarding computer files, documents, and photographs can lessen the impact of a fire, flood, or natural disaster on a business.”
This includes shopping around for insurance. Just as with insurance on property in general, there are experts out there who specialize in insuring artists and their supplies.
All three experts, Anderson, Kent, and Baroff agree and said planning for these disasters can save a lot of heartache. “Art is expensive, protecting it is expensive — but losing it is even more expensive,” said Anderson.