Hurricane Harvey, estimated to be the second-costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, generated more than 50 inches of rain over some parts of Texas, breaking records for the U.S. mainland.
In addition to displacing tens of thousands of people and causing an estimated $75 billion in damage, flooding from Harvey affected many of Houston’s cultural institutions, especially in the city’s Theater District. The flood water compromised museum archives, caused structural damage and knocked out electricity and the Internet. How extensive was the damage? We talked with representatives and gathered information from some of major Houston’s arts centers to find out.
The Wortham Center, Houston Grand Opera and Houston Ballet
The Wortham Center, home to Houston Grand Opera and Houston Ballet, consists of two theaters, the Brown and the Cullen, which experienced flooding in front-of-house areas. The water has since receded leaving residual dirt. The stages of the Alice and George Brown Theater and the Lillie and Roy Cullen Theater suffered water damage and the dressing room corridor also experienced minimal flooding. The basement of the building is completely full of flood water.
A message on the Houston Grand Opera’s website said, “HGO’s power sources, Internet and website connectivity have been badly damaged as well as the Costume Shop and Wig Shop. We hope to be back in our offices soon after Labor Day but HGO’s administrative functions are facing major challenges.”
The website also mentions that the team is working to bring its Storybook Opera for young children into the shelters next week. The opera still plans to open its season Oct. 20.
Meanwhile, the Houston Ballet, which uses the Brown Theater, has canceled its “Poetry in Motion” performances, which had been scheduled to run Sept. 8 through 17. At this point, performances of Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s narrative ballet “Mayerling” are still planned to begin Sept. 21.
Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, Houston Symphony
Home to the Houston Symphony and the Society for the Performing Arts, the Jones Hall for the Performing Arts “had some water penetration,” according to a letter on the symphony’s website from Janet F. Clark, Houston Symphony Society board president. But “the stage and auditorium appear to be untouched.” The basement, which houses the rehearsal room, did flood, but Clark said “the most valuable and hard-to-replace items” were moved “to higher floors prior to Harvey’s arrival.” In addition, Theater District garages flooded on multiple levels and were “completely unusable” for the time being, according to an update released by Kathryn McNiel, chief executive of the Theater District Houston and Perryn Leech, Theater District Houston board chair and managing director of Houston Grand Opera. For these reasons, the symphony has canceled its early September performances, including its opening night concert and gala. It now plans on launching its season Sept. 14.
The resident performing arts company Alley Theatre has two stages in its building, the Hubbard and the Neuhaus. The Hubbard stage sustained no water damage, but the Neuhaus lobby and theater filled with floodwater, and electrical systems for both theaters flooded as well. While repairs are made, the Alley’s fall season will proceed at the Quintero Theatre at the University of Houston.
The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
There was some water penetration in the Hobby Center’s Zilkha Hall through the loading dock areas of the foyer. There was flooding on the first floor of the parking garage but the water has since subsided.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
The main campus of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston suffered no significant damage, and the collections are safe, according to Museum and Guest Services attendant Matthew Glover. The institution’s satellite museums, the Rienzi and Bayou Bend, did have some flooding, but only in the gardens, and the structures remain safe. The museum’s main campus reopened Tuesday, and admission fees are waived through Sept. 7.
The Menil Collection
The Menil Collection’s website reports that Harvey did not impact the museum’s buildings or collection, and thanks its staff for monitoring the situation on the ground around the clock.
Houston Museum of Natural Science
None of the exhibits at the Houston Museum of Natural Science suffered any damage, though water came into the basement near a lobby and some classrooms. Museum archives are housed in a separate facility “built to withstand a level-5 hurricane,” and are completely fine, according to the museum’s vice president of marketing and communications, Latha Thomas.
Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs
Although City Hall was flooded, the Office of Cultural Affairs had only minimal damage, according to Director Debbie McNulty. Employees will be able to occupy City Hall in the coming days. Flooding doesn’t appear to have affected the office’s rotating exhibitions, though a couple of art pieces have yet to be located.
Woodson Research Center at Rice University
The Rice University Art Gallery had closed on May 14, but its physical archives are housed at the Woodson Research Center Special Collections & Archives at Rice’s Fondren Library. The Research Center did not experience any damage, and the building did not lose power during or after the storm, said B.J. Almond, senior director of news at media relations at the university.
Blaffer Art Museum
There doesn’t appear to be any wind or water damage to the University of Houston’s Blaffer Art Museum, according to Deputy Director James Rosengren. “Storms like this can be so unpredictable and fickle,” he said. “In this case, the museum dodged any damage to its infrastructure or to exhibitions on view.”
Wharton County Historical Museum and 20th Century Technology Museum
One of the most dramatic images of flood damage inflicted on a Texas museum complex comes from Wharton, more than an hour’s drive from Houston’s City Hall. An aerial photo of the complex shows that muddy floodwater rose inundated the buildings, which house the Wharton County Historical Museum and the 20th Century Technology Museum. No one from the Historical Museum was reachable by phone, but Mark Schulze, technical director of the 20th Century Technology Museum, which is closed indefinitely talked about the damage in an email to The Times.
“Fortunately, damage to the collection appears to be minimal at this time, although we have not been able to spend much time on the premises as the waterlogged carpet and sheetrock are awaiting removal (hopefully on Wednesday),” he wrote. Yet the museum faces other challenges.
“The future of the museum is uncertain at this point since FEMA says it only provides funds for residential assistance,” Schulze wrote, “and Wharton County (who owns the museum building) says it will not pay for repairs to make the building habitable again, and conventional occupancy insurance almost never covers flood damage. Preliminary estimates for full remediation of the existing building are on par or exceed the cost of building an entirely new building.”
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