After the Disaster

Reclaiming the Culture of the Gulf Coast

Hurricane Katrina was a disaster of almost unimaginable proportions. More than a year after the rains, winds, and floods upended -- and indeed ended -- the lives of so many people along the Gulf coasts of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, it is clear that much remains to be done to restore these devastated regions.

It is also clear that there are motivated, dedicated people working to restore and preserve the artistic resources that are the cultural hallmarks of America's Gulf Coast.

Within days following the hurricane and the floods, arts advocates were mobilizing for recovery efforts. Coincidentally -- and fortuitously -- hundreds of people from state arts agencies across the country were gathered in Boise, Idaho, in September 2005 for the annual conference of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. It was there that we began gathering information on what was lost and how the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) could help.

In many cases, infrastructures and organizational capacity were wiped out, leaving many artists and arts organizations unable to accurately assess their losses, let alone map out plans for the future. In many cases, bad situations turned worse when Hurricanes Rita and Wilma came calling only months later. Still, in an amazing show of fortitude, people put one foot in front of the other and moved forward to reclaim their culture and traditions -- without which, the economies, not to mention the personalities, of these communities could never be expected to recover fully.

NEA staff immediately traveled to the region to get firsthand assessments and testimonies to the artistic and cultural needs and in fewer than six months, the NEA invested more than $700,000 in direct grants and support to the Gulf Coast.

Recently, I was able to see some of the results of that investment. And while it's gratifying to see what a relatively small amount of money could do, it was even more inspiring to see what committed people can do.

This issue of NEA Arts is dedicated to the arts and culture of the Gulf Coast and the people working so hard to help them flourish once again.

Dana Gioia
Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts