A week before the flood, a time that seems so long ago now, the East building roof leaked… again.
A relatively minor issue, especially when compared to the widespread disaster that devastated our community a few days later, it was still a frustrating, and messy, nuisance. Of course it just had to happen right before we were having “company!” We scrambled to sop up the water, scoop and hide the wet towels and try to pretend that there wasn’t a big ol’ bucket collecting dirty water dripping through the bowed and stained ceiling right smack in the middle of the K-12 Artists’ Reception.
For all of our fuss and bother, no one seemed to really notice! The focus that day was not on the goofy leak caused by an even goofier winter, and the massive ice dam that formed on our roof. It was on Art and the accomplishments of the young artists and the incredible teachers in our schools!
Fast forward to the phone call on the next Thursday afternoon: “You had better try to get home… NOW!” “Huh?” Then came the surreal saga of the Perfect Storm of Floods: rapidly rising temps, deeply frozen ground, unprecedented snow melt and raging rivers. Each new report was more outrageous than the one minutes before…
Amid such widespread chaos and extreme conditions, I was truly grateful that the Gallery has been spared, and remained dry. I started to question, though, just where Art and the Gallery fit into this picture. For as important as I have always felt art is, it suddenly seemed superfluous, almost even inappropriate.
As roads gradually re-opened, I inched carefully back to town behind a pilot car. I followed a whole stream of people determined to not merely endure a new “normal,” but rather to begin building a “Better,” a “Stronger,” a “Friendlier.”
That first afternoon back at the Gallery, an artist whose home was still trading water, came in to work in the Pottery Studio for a few hours. It was familiar. It was relaxing. It filled the suspended time waiting for the lake to recede.
A man taking a break from his volunteer flood-relief duties at the city auditorium came in looking for his son’s artwork. He lingered. His steps became less labored. His shoulders relaxed. He chuckled and smiled. “Thanks for the recess!”
In addition to providing entertainment or cultural uplift, the “art part” of disaster recovery is to remind soggy, sagging citizens that they aren’t just victims. Art has the power to restore some whole-ness to psyches and souls shaken by disaster. It can allow people to enjoy themselves and remind themselves that their lives were larger than what they’ve undergone.
Perhaps why we ultimately need Art is because the arts do something that nothing else does: art offers refuge away from the stresses of the rest of the world; it comforts us in grief and energizes us in celebration; Art is a powerful glue that can hold us all together against adversity!
The creative vitality of a community is just as important a sits physical infrastructure: It is not about ignoring the monumental challenges of rebuilding homes, getting essential services reconnected and securing a roof over everyone’s head. But Art can be a powerful tool in the recovery process, when the basic essentials of food and shelter have been secured and we are scrambling to try to reconnect, reflect on what has happened, and express what we have been through in ways that sometimes words cannot do alone.
The arts illuminate the human condition, bring people together, and provide a crucial vehicle for healing. Disaster recovery includes addressing the emotional and spiritual healing in addition to material necessities; research shows that arts-based therapies in the aftermath of disasters reduce rates of distress, depression, and anxiety and increase hope, feelings of well0being and safety, and overall confidence.
While the crisis has crested, the full scope of the devastation is just beginning to unfold. People who were once strangers have become Family. We can overcome adversity when we face it together. Maybe Gallery 92 West can reach beyond recess and respite; let’s think of a creative way to flood our community with hope and healing.
Let’s do our pART!
See you in the Galleries!