ICYMI: Resilience through the Arts

"It is understandable that Puerto Rico might be experiencing a strong case of déjà vu. Hurricane Fiona raging across the island in September 2022 was bound to bring back bad memories of the two-punch devastation of Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017, from which they were still recovering. Among the local governmental organizations to first start recovery efforts back then was the island’s arts agency, Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña (ICP), or Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. “We were the first state agency issuing checks in Puerto Rico” after the 2017 hurricanes, stated Freddy E. Vélez, deputy director at ICP," said Brian Lusher in an interview with the National Endowment for the Arts.

While Puerto Rico suffered from a complete loss of electricity, much as it has with the 2022 storm, and blocked roadways, ICP managed to work with federal agencies and local organizations to facilitate access to the arts through the program Cultura Rodante (Culture on Wheels). The idea was to provide communities with comfort and help them find some normality by bringing artists and arts organizations to different places throughout the island to work with local constituents. Even Poetry Out Loud, the NEA’s national poetry recitation contest for high school students, continued with ICP’s assistance despite the power outages.

In addition to being Puerto Rico’s arts agency, ICP also oversees the General Archives of Puerto Rico, which contains important historical public documents; the National Library; and the Collections Unit, which stores artworks and historical objects that are often loaned to other institutions, all of which required damage assessments and recovery recommendations.

The NEA, working with ICP and partnering with local organizations and other federal agencies, such as the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), has conducted numerous workshops on funding opportunities for cultural nonprofit organizations. In addition, the NEA worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Interior, National Archives and Records Administration, and the National Park Service, along with ICP, to conduct important historical preservation workshops on topics such as cemetery repair work at historic sites and climate considerations for the management of historic properties, especially those vulnerable to flooding and projected sea level rise.

Read the full interview here.