Gulf Coast Museums Prepare for Hurricane Season, At Least One With Liquor

If you think you've got a lot to do getting ready for the season's first hurricane, imagine if you had a museum full of millions of dollars in art you had to protect. Gulf Coast area museums don't have to imagine -- they do. Among the most prepared is the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, but it's the Aurora Picture Show where visitors will have the most fun.

The Aurora Picture Show can afford to be a little more lax than AMSET -- it's hard to drown DVDs. "It would take a massive storm," laughs Associate Director Rachel Tepper. "Everything [in the DVD library] is up off of the floor and they're in cases. So it would take the destruction of the building before it would affect the DVDs."

Hurricane Ike, which pretty much shut Houston down for a couple of weeks, didn't affect the Aurora Picture Show's programming schedule last year. "We continued with the screening we had planned," says Tepper. "The city was still a wreck and the turnout was extremely modest, but we went ahead. We actually served Hurricanes, the drink, during the show. A lot of people still weren't driving after the storm, so it was just people from the area. Everyone came over; we had air-conditioning and Hurricanes. It actually was a fun, little community event."

What are the group's preparations for this year's storm season? "Our plan," Tepper jokes, "is 'We'll serve Hurricanes.'"

AMSET has a slightly more formal plan that goes into effect the moment a storm is predicted to hit the Beaumont area. In addition to its own permanent collection, the museum has rotating exhibits made up of artwork on loan from other organizations but the museum's been fortunate so far and never lost any art (although 2007's Hurricane Umberto caused some leaking in the building, the artwork was unaffected).

Once a storm is imminent, the museum staff, board members and volunteers all pitch in to secure the art and office equipment. Curators fill sandbags, board members and volunteers cover storage racks with protective sheeting. "Planning in advance has been a big part of our success," says AMSET public relations coordinator Melissa Tilley. "Up until it's time to evacuate, we're working on securing the museum."

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and Contemporary Arts Museum Houston have similar plans in place, utilizing generators, sand bags and water pumping systems. As with AMSET, curators become maintenance workers, moving art away from vulnerable areas and setting up protections. (Senior CAMH staff members spent Hurricane Ike holed up in the museum just in case the building's water pumping system failed.)

Sadly, of the four organizations who spoke to Hair Balls, only Aurora Picture Show's recovery plans include the serving of alcoholic beverages to the public.

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Olivia Flores Alvarez