The Chairman's Corner: Hurricane Katrina

In the time since Hurricane Katrina left much of the Gulf Coast region in ruins, more concrete assessments of cultural loss, devastation, and need are being brought to the National Endowment for the Arts in the hope that we can help rebuild the unique and vital cultural milieu.

Let me assure you that the National Endowment for the Arts is working to communicate the need for an effective recovery program to help artists, arts educators, arts organizations, and public cultural agencies in Louisiana,Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida - as well as assist the many thousands of evacuees from the disaster areas.

Recently, I convened a series of meetings with the key leaders of all state and regional arts agencies affected by the disaster to discuss the need for the arts to be included in federal aid packages for economic and artistic recovery. As the Art Endowment's partners at a state and local level, these agencies were able to provide a sense of what kind of assistance is most needed. In purely economic terms, the arts are one of the biggest industries in the Gulf Coast region. They also drive tourism. There is no way to rebuild the local economies in cities like New Orleans without providing aid to the arts.We recognize that this disaster raised more than economic issues. The needs of the displaced people are not only for material things. Here the arts can play an essential role in human and community recovery.

We are doing our best to bring attention to displaced artists and to rebuild ruined infrastructures. Repair of the artistic and cultural fabric of life in the Gulf Coast region and recognition of the arts as a major industry is essential to economic health and social well-being in the area.We recognize the need for reestablishing employment opportunities for displaced artists and arts educators—both to serve their communities as well as the evacuees.

The arts never have been included in federal disaster aid packages.We hope these efforts will not only help the victims of Katrina, but will also set a positive precedent for the inclusion of the arts in future aid to other disaster areas. Sadly, the NEA has experience with helping rebuild the arts community after disasters.We created programs in the aftermath of 9/11 as well as recently in Texas and Florida following hurricanes. Indeed, because of those experiences, we have published a new booklet titled Before and After Disasters. Created by the NEA, FEMA, and Heritage Preservation, it is a guide to federal resources for disaster relief. If you know people who need it, tell them about it. The booklet is available online on the NEA web site in the Publications section.