Cultural organizations can play an important role in healing and rebuilding communities. Here’s how to help.
Hurricane Irma hit Florida and other southern states this week, and the processes of assessing the damage caused by this event are now underway. Information is coming in, and though there’s much that we still don’t know, there are things that we can reasonably guess: There will be people to care for, homes to be rebuilt, and communities to mend.
Cultural organizations – museums, botanic gardens, aquariums, zoos, historic sites, ballets, orchestras, symphonies, theaters, and parks – can serve as places for solace, connection, community, and inspiration. Their spirits may be bigger than the structures that house them, but – in our minds – they may be places. They are places for people, and recent natural disasters in Texas, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina have negatively impacted them.
I snapped a photo of this sign at Naples Botanical Garden during my last visit. It moves me because I think that it summarizes the work of cultural entities. They educate and inspire, but they are made possible and thrive because people care about one another.
These words have inspired me to take a break from sharing data this week, and to rally this tribe of forward-facing cultural leaders to focus on something that matters much more right now: How much we care.
There’s much more to uncover regarding the impacts of Hurricane Irma, and we are still reeling from Hurricane Harvey. The immediate needs of the people impacted are paramount – and, as those needs are met, communities may come back together to rebuild. People will need the spirit of their treasured places. Here are some ideas of how to help support impacted organizations so that they can, in turn, play their role in rebuilding community and providing comfort and hope.
1) Support immediate or ongoing relief needs
Most immediately, those of us outside of impacted areas can pay attention to the needs of the people affected and provide support through donations to organizations aiding health and safety efforts. There are a whole host of organizations that provide support in the way of general relief, medical needs, food, shelter, and water. There are also organizations that focus on animals, kids, seniors, or those with disabilities. After Hurricane Harvey hit, I found this list particularly helpful. Here’s another list of some organizations providing urgent relief to Florida.
Safety and immediate needs come first. We can help cultural organizations (and those impacted in general) by continuing to realize this, and supporting these immediate needs and concerns.
Let’s step forward – and keep stepping forward – to help.
2) Give to impacted cultural organizations
Give to aid in immediate relief, but also consider making a monetary donation to your favorite cultural organizations in impacted areas once immediate needs are being addressed. These organizations are mostly nonprofit entities that are now in an area with pressing financial needs. Not only will many organizations need to invest in repairing physical damage to buildings, art, and artifacts, but they may be in an environment in which securing these funds is particularly difficult. Indeed, “rebuild” and “repair” are words on the tips of all of our tongues.
Cultural organizations may be places, and many of them may have or perform “things,” but cultural organizations are about people. A donation to a cultural organization is a donation to rebuilding a community. It’s an investment in people.
Please consider that many cultural organizations will be strapped for funds to repair, rebuild, and continue their important work of educating, inspiring, comforting, and bringing people together.
3) Visit impacted cultural organizations
When it comes to cultural organizations, people “vote” for inspiration, education, and community with their feet. Let’s vote for the power of cultural organizations.
Those impacted by recent natural disasters have lost more than the visitation from their closures. For every one visit lost due to an unplanned closure, the net annual impact on market potential is a decline of 1.25 visitors. It’s a double whammy. Cultural organizations that experience unforeseen closures not only do not make back lost visitation, but they miss out on folks sharing their positive experiences and the important word of mouth endorsement that drives visitation.
On top of needs for potential repairs and difficulties securing funds during a time with so many important hurricane impact-related causes, it is likely that revenues have also suffered. It risks being its own battle against a different kind of circling hurricane.
Got winter getaway or spring break plans yet? Let’s plan to visit Texas, Florida, and other states impacted by recent hurricanes. Let’s see that play, visit that museum, or pay in-person respect to our favorite animal at the zoo that weathered the storm (and the people who hunkered down to care for them). Once damage is assessed and organizations reopen the doors to their exhibits or performances, let’s go.
4) Share positive visitation experiences
When you donate to a cultural organization impacted by recent natural disasters, share word of your gift with others, and tell folks why you did it. Share photos on social media or talk at a dinner party about the important work that the cultural organization does to educate, inspire, and connect people. Discuss the role of cultural organizations as places to connect friends and family, or share your favorite memory. Talk about the mission-driven work that the organization is doing to support the community, and the role that the organization has played in your life and the lives of others.
When you visit a cultural organization, share your favorite parts of your visit on social media. Tell your friends. Share your positive experience with your dentist in that awkward time period where you make conversation before she cleans your teeth, and encourage her to take their spring break in Florida or Texas. She might not have even considered it.
Tell people you are going, and when you do, tell them that you went.
5) Connect with impacted professionals
Cultural professionals: Connect with other cultural professionals in impacted areas and ask what they need to help their organization be the best safe space for visitors that it can be in this difficult time. As they are striving to help their communities, they may need help in their helping.
Cultural, visitor-serving organizations are a big industry with many sub-categories- historic sites, science centers, university art museums, community theater, professional ballet, etc. Now is the time to support others in the industry, and the members of our own, professional community.
We all are generally bonded together by work for the cause of educating and inspiring people around a topic area or art form for which we care deeply, and we strive to change the world…one “spark moment of wonder” at a time. If you ask me, I think that’s a darn powerful thing to have in common. Let’s be there for one another.
The Naples Botanical Garden is but one of many, many important organizations impacted by recent happenings. Thankfully, they are reporting – like some others – that damage is not as bad as they feared. (Let’s hope for more news like this from more institutions!) The Naples Botanical Garden has an Irma Garden. The Irma Garden “features plants that can only be described as charismatic.” The garden “encourages you to see plants chosen for their striking form, intriguing flowers, captivating colors, and ever changing surprises.”
This, I think, may also be part of our mission as cultural professionals during a time when the whole nation (and beyond) seems to be reeling from natural disasters: To help encourage others to find beauty and peace, especially amidst life’s not-so-happy, but indeed ever changing surprises.
Folks in Florida, Texas, and other areas recently impacted by natural disasters who are reading this: I see you. I see you on my subscriber list and thank you for being here. I have received your “out of office” messages when I send out these articles, reminding those who contact you to stay safe and even letting them know that you are praying for the sender. I am so moved that – even in times of ultimate uncertainty and distress – you still aim to inspire and connect.
Please let me know if there’s anything that I can add to this list, or if there are any national data cuts that I may look into that could help you and your organization repair and rebuild.
Know this: We care.