The Role of Artists in Recovery

(3-16-2010) I’m going to the Katrina@5 conference in New Orleans hosted by the Association of Small Foundations, March 22-24. Many funding affinity groups have partnered on this conference whose main purpose is to look at the lessons learned during Katrina and how the philanthropic community can respond efficiently and effectively in the future. Since there is no scarcity of emergencies and disasters in the world, this is a pretty good idea.

I got involved in the planning of this conference because I wanted there to be sessions demonstrating the role of artists and arts organizations who have worked so effectively in New Orleans. One of the great organizations I’ve asked to present at the conference is CERF (Craft Emergency Relief Fund) and their executive director Cornelia Carey. CERF has recently put out a new tool to help individual artists prepare for emergencies. It is an extremely clever and useful tool entitled Studio Protector: The Artist’s Guide to Emergencies. You can get a glimpse or order this tool (it is very inexpensive) through their CERF’s website. Artists are unique in their tools and the product of their labor. The idea that water, fire, wind or tumbling buildings could destroy years of someone’s work is frightening. This tool helps artists understand what they need to do and how to do it. Every artist should have one and every funder of individual artists should know about it.

Cornelia will be talking about this and other emergency preparedness issues during a session with South Arts’ Gerri Comb and Mollie Lakin-Hayes. South Arts is a regional (multi-state) arts agency that was involved helping artists and arts organizations before Katrina but rose to a level of expertise in disaster recovery and preparedness through the ordeal in New Orleans.

There will also be a learning lab on arts and culture where New Orleans artists and funders will talk about their role in recovery. The work continues in New Orleans and the arts organizations and artists that have dedicated themselves to rebuilding and reconnecting with neighbors are truly heroes and civic leaders. Involved in the session will be funders, artists and arts organization leaders who are working to transform New Orleans: M.K. Wegmann, National Performance Network; Mary Len Costa, Arts Council of New Orleans; Carolyn Somers, Joan Mitchell Foundation; artists Rashida Ferdinand, Edward Buckner and Jeanne Nathan.

As we look back at Katrina and now at the earthquakes in Haiti and Chili, we understand that the basic needs of food, water and shelter are paramount. We also understand that the soul needs to be healed, treasures lost and saved need to be honored and people need a sense of purpose, spiritual guidance and, in many ways, a path back to beauty and peace. To say there are artists born for this work sounds trite and simplistic but I believe it. There is a healing nature in our work that much of the world doesn’t recognize or give witness to. But then, I guess that’s our job as arts advocates and funders.