Two Years After Harvey: Resilience is the New Buzzword for Artists and Nonprofits

Houston artist Avisheh Mohsenin returned home after Tropical Storm Harvey to find her studio flooded.
Houston artist Avisheh Mohsenin returned home after Tropical Storm Harvey to find her studio flooded.
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As we approach the two year anniversary of Tropical Storm Harvey, more than a few lessons have been learned. Homeowners who never before considered flood insurance are now solid policy holders, we know to do some investigatory work before buying a used car (where did all those flood-damaged cars go, anyway?), and many of us have been humbled by the loss of home, furnishings, family heirlooms or even a loved one.

After the flooding, restaurants, musicians, theater, and arts organizations were deeply affected by the loss of property, equipment and paying customers. Season schedules were interrupted or cancelled altogether, smaller theater companies lost their venues, and the financial toll was devastating.

Houston artist Avisheh Mohsenin knew about the hurricane warnings and moved her furnishings to higher shelves before leaving on vacation. But she couldn't move her artist's studio, which was in the basement. When she was finally able to access her home two weeks after Tropical Storm Harvey, she found that her works of art, photographs, letters and mementos had all been damaged.

Under the category of turning lemons into lemonade, a year after the storm she mounted an exhibit of collages from those flood-damaged objects, titled "Resurface," with a percentage of the proceeds benefiting the Harvey Arts Recovery Fund.

Harvey Arts Recovery was formed by a collection of entities: CultureWorks Houston, Dance Source Houston, Fresh Arts, Galveston Historical Foundation, Houston Arts Alliance, the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, Preservation Houston, the University of Houston Center for Art and Social Engagement, and Houston Endowment. An investment of $100,000 from the Houston Endowment allowed Fresh Arts to establish the HAR fund, while $25,000 from the Houston Arts Alliance seeded that fund.

Mohsenin is making lemonade again and is about to open another exhibit on August 10, this time at Box13 ArtSpace. For "Resurface.Letters," She plans to reprint damaged family letters in an oversize scale and hang them in layers from the ceiling, like clothes on a clothesline.

The artist is a board member of the Houston Arts Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving Houston's 400+ city-owned artworks. But that's not all; Mohsenin also is one of the difference-makers behind a new disaster resilience website that has been launched by the Houston Arts Alliance, furthering the project through her individual contribution.

Like Mohsenin we may all be worse for wear, but we're also wiser, though that doesn't mean we can't benefit from more information. HAA's disaster resilience website for artists and nonprofits provides short videos and succinct text with information about what to do before and after a disaster.

Topics and suggestions useful before a disaster include: Assess risk and protect your studio. Make plans for evacuating or sheltering in place and keep emergency supplies on hand. Document your stuff and back up vital records; evaluate cloud storage and the risk of cybersecurity threats. Learn what types of insurance are needed and how to preserve your work.

The curated information also addresses what to do after a disaster: Learn how to calculate loss and document the damaged property. Learn what resources are available locally and nationally.

The website's architecture was built for busy people. It's not bogged down with long essays and has found a way to deliver complex information quickly and easily. A lot of cooks went into creating content or funding this information soup: Performing Arts Readiness, the Rebuild Texas Fund, Southwest Airlines, CERF+, The Anchorage Foundation, and Texas Commission on the Arts. Individual contributors included Jack and Anne Moriniere, the late commercial developer Ed Wulfe, Leigh and Reggie Smith, and artist Mohsenin.

We're still in the middle of hurricane season, so artists and nonprofits should take the time to noodle around the website, just in case. After all, once the power goes out and roads become impassible, everything becomes much more difficult.

For more information about Houston Arts Alliance's Disaster Resilience for Artists and Non-Profits website, visit ready.haatx.com.

Avisheh Mohsenin's "Resurface.Letters" is scheduled for August 10 through October 5, open 1-5 p.m. Saturdays, with an opening reception from 7-9 p.m. August 10, at Box13 ArtSpace, 6700 Harrisburg. For information, visit box13artspace.com/category/exhibitions.

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