Hurricane Preparedness and Your Art

The Atlantic hurricane season begins annually on June 1st and continues until November 30. To date, the 2020 season has set a new precedent in terms of having the earliest forming storms and occurrence of two active storms in the region simultaneously – and we haven’t reached the peak of the season yet! Hurricanes and tropical storms are comprised of winds rotating around a low pressure centre, and are formed over warm waters. In the Caribbean, extreme winds, flooding and lightning strikes are common and in many cases cause significant threat to human life, property, and major infrastructure. Based on this once a storm threat has been identified, governments and businesses put strategies in place to manage the effects of these natural phenomena on their operations and hasten recovery.

In addition, museums and heritage institutions housing important cultural items have also developed disaster management plans for this annual storm season, which is composed of conservation and risk management methodologies. With the understanding that hurricane winds can escalate to speeds of more than 119 km/h as well as, the volume of water can increase 0.6 inches/665km radius, heritage 2 professionals apply that knowledge to build effective disaster prevention plans for their collections. Many plans, regardless of the institution, contain similar or general rules such as “never store artwork on the floor” in case of flooding or “avoid placing artwork near exposed windows” in case of water and wind damage. Equally, museums and heritage institutions tailor their disaster plans to the specific challenges that they face.

These methodologies provide the necessary framework for protection and preservation of our priceless tangible assets, and ensure their longevity for future generations to enjoy. 

So what measures can we use to protect our tangible cultural heritage? 

While it is difficult to plan for every possible outcome, conducting risk management assessments can go a long way in mitigating the amount of damage our cherished valuables receive. Much of this mitigation involves practicing preventive measures in light of the many “what if’s” that may trouble the mind, once a tropical storm announcement is made. With an extremely active hurricane season predicted for the remainder of 2020, the National Gallery of Jamaica would like to share some of our tips to help protect your art and valuables during this hurricane season. To assist your preparations, we’ve separated our checklist into two sections for your benefit, these are: Before and After. We invite you to read through and prepare appropriate to your needs.

  • Develop a hurricane preparedness plan for your artwork.
    • If one already exists, review to ensure information is accurate and up to date.
    • Ensure that individual/employee responsibilities are outlined in a clear and concise manner. Eg. In the event of a power failure, who is responsible for the operation of the generator?
  • Photograph all of your artwork and store the photos safely.
    • Take photos of their placement in their current placement and up close photos of artwork itself.
    • Take photos of the painted image (the face) along with the reverse (verso) of the work for comparison.
    • Be sure to label each photo appropriately and upload them to an online storage platform like google or one drive for safekeeping. You can email the photos to yourself as well.
    • If you prefer or do not have access to an online storage platform, you can store your images on a secondary storage device like an SD card or flash drive and store the physical devices in a waterproof location.
    • You may also print the photographs, if you prefer, but be sure to label and store them in a ziplock bag or waterproof location.
  • Record the condition of your works.
    • This should involve documenting the artist name, dimensions, and current condition of the work (good, fair, poor). Document everything associated with the work to the best of your ability.
    • If you are not sure what to do, contact a heritage professional or a conservator for advice.
  • Get an appraisal of your artwork. In the case where your collection carries significant value, get a certified art appraiser to give you an estimated value. Secure this documentation as it will be crucial for your insurance at a later date.
  • Identify the safest room in your home or business to store your art:
    • Ensure windows are sealed and watertight, that there are no leaks or weakened areas of the roof.
  • Remove art from the walls and store elevated from the floor (at least 3 ft):
    • If possible, stack paintings vertically from largest to smallest, ensuring the frames of the preceding and succeeding works rest comfortably on each other. If unframed, place a sheet of acid free tissue paper where edges of the work touch to mitigate sticking and paint loss.
  • Cover your art stack with a plastic sheeting or tarp:
    • Secure edges of the plastic sheeting at the same time allowing some air to pass under the sheet. It is essential that you do not create a microclimate which will encourage mold growth and moisture damage.
  • If possible, consider crating your art:
    • Building specialized art storage will go a long way in ensuring the safety of your collection.
  • In the case of outdoor sculptures consider building a support or securely anchoring the work with rope to a concrete beam:
    • Where possible avoid anchoring to the ground as the earth could become waterlogged.
  • Consult your disaster management plan.
    • Contact all those involved according to the tasks delegated in the plan.
  • Remove plastic sheeting, and relocate collection to a safe but brightly lit and ventilated area and conduct an inspection.
    • Use photographs taken before the event to determine any condition changes to the artworks.
    • If damage is identified contact a conservation professional or depending on the extent of the damage you can carry the work to a local framer for advice.
    • Be on guard for water or moisture damage around the fame and on the matte or linen liner if present.
  • Conduct a condition report.
    • Using the same format as the condition report documented before the event, note the current condition of the artwork. Document any changes noted during your inspection. If no changes are noted secure your condition report for future reference – it will be needed in the event of another Hurricane or Natural disaster.
  • Contact your insurance company and inform them of damage if present.
    • The conservator will provide you with a condition report which along with the appraisal should be handed over to our insurance company with your claim documentation.
  • If damage is superficial ( only to the frame for exterior parts of the work), lightly dust the artwork with a soft brush or microfibre cloth and return to the hanging position on the wall.
    • If this is not possible, return the artworks to the storage stack or to the crate until it is safe to display them.

1 Matthew Cappucci. (2020) “ Tropical storm Nana forms in Caribbean, could make landfall as hurricane in Belize. Omar forms off East Coast.” The Washington Post. September 1, 2020. URL:https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2020/09/01/tropical-storm-nana-nears-formation-caribbean-atlantic-hurricane-season-stays-unusually-active/ [September 2, 2020]

2 According to Meteorologist William M. Gray, former head of the Tropical Meteorology Project.

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