As Hurricane Harvey headed towards southeast Texas, an emergency crew at the Menil prepared to weather the storm, checking one last time on their own homes and families before moving into the museum for an indefinite period. Insurers and lenders were contacted. Caches of emergency supplies were deposited throughout the main building and satellite galleries for easy access. Contingency plans were discussed. How would a prolonged emergency with loss of power affect artwork? A removable pin was placed in the base Michael Heizer’s Charmstone (just outside the main entrance), which prevents the sculpture from moving in strong winds. Before leaving on the afternoon of Friday, August 25, Assistant Objects Conservator Kari Dodson set the pin in place.
By Sunday morning the storm had begun dumping millions of gallons of water on Houston. Steve McConathy, Manager of Facilities and Security, and his hurricane preparedness team felt the weight of their responsibility to care for priceless works of art, state of the art buildings and an in-progress one-of-a-kind drawing institute. McConathy recalled rigorously preparing the main collection building materials thirty years ago, “we placed mock-up wall and window-wall sections in a wind tunnel to make sure they could withstand hurricane level wind force.” Basement pumps were re-tested. Dataloggers that monitor climate control gave staff updates in real time, as air mattresses were inflated.
The team positioned themselves and waited. As the storm evolved, its potential impact was reassessed. Possible water problems became wind problems. Earl Harris, a member of the security team, manned the control room for a record number of days. Jack Patterson, Ernest Flores, Nick Cedillo, and Javier Verduzco repeatedly checked and inspected the facilities in the driving rain.
Any good team is constantly reviewing procedures. “There are definitely things we will do next time,” says McConathy, who conducted routine inspections throughout the storm. “Chips and granola bars get monotonous after a few days. We really appreciated the hot food that staff members brought in to us once the flood waters receded. And toothpaste will be added to our emergency preparedness kits.”
The Menil Collection thanks all of you who reached out to us during the storm and continue to lend a hand. We hope that you find inspiration from the works of art on view here at the Menil. We look forward to your next visit.