Three weeks after the category four Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico on 20 September, devastating the US Island, knocking out power and killing an as yet undetermined number of residents, local museums are back to work and helping with community relief efforts.
The Museo de Arte de Ponce—home to the British artist Frederic Leighton’s masterpiece, Flaming June (1895)—on the hard-hit southern coast of Puerto Rico, reopened to the public on 28 September and is providing free admission and programmes through 9 October, including guided tours of all the exhibitions and art workshops for children and families. The museum is currently hosting a travelling show centred on Flaming June, arguably the island’s most famous work of art, called Frederic Leighton and the Eternal Mediterranean (until 15 January 2018). The Leighton House Museum has also confirmed that five drawings they have lent the Ponce Museum for the exhibition are “completely fine and unharmed”.
Puerto Rico’s museums had already been through Hurricane Irma, which struck the island two weeks before Maria, on 6 September. Lisa Ortega, the museum educator at the Museo de Historia, Antropología y Arte at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan, told The Art Newspaper in an email that the museum had already closed for a week in September following Irma. “When we returned ‘to normal’, it was to prepare yet again [for a hurricane],” Ortega wrote. “We took all the precautions to protect the patrimony and equipment.” The museum’s building “suffered very little damage” during Maria, she said. The collection has not been harmed, and all of the staff are safe. The museum has mapped out a volunteer schedule for the week on its Facebook page, asking for members of the university community to help with cleanup efforts, such as clearing pathways.
The Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico (MACPR) in San Juan is serving the community through its programming, including free workshops, music and dance performances. “Today more than ever we are sure that art and culture will be important tools that will help our people cope and recover from this crisis,” the museum wrote in a Facebook post on 30 September. It is also helping in material ways, collecting water, food, medicine and other necessities in its main hall, which it will distribute to people in need.
The San Juan-based Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña—whose staff were ordered back to work on 26 September by the government—has launched an initiative for local artists to volunteer their time to run cultural programmes for those affected by the hurricane (“Culture is resilience” and “Culture is happiness”, it says on its Facebook posts), and so far has had over 50 artists sign up. Read more