On the night of September 20, Puerto Rico was directly hit by category 4 Hurricane Maria, which packed wind in excess of 150 mph, resulting in catastrophic failure of the Island's power, water and communications infrastructures and the collapse of basic services throughout Puerto Rico. The Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico (MAPR) was left structurally damaged, with a ravaged garden and no electricity to safeguard its most valuable possession: the collection of works of art from the 17th century to the present.
To face the emergency, MAPR depended on a power generator that was itself damaged by the strong winds and fallen trees, and which consumes hundreds of gallons of diesel daily. The initial assistance of the Smithsonian Institution, to which the Museum is affiliated, allowed museum staff to fix and run the generator and to protect MAPR collections.
The museum then decided to undertake further rescue efforts of the artistic and cultural heritage of Puerto Rico. Dozens of museums and cultural institutions on the island do not have generators and were left in the dark and helpless against heat, humidity, and other forces that can be catastrophic to collections. With the generator up and running, MAPR transformed itself into a great cultural vault in order to guarantee the permanence of Puerto Rico's artistic heritage for future generations.
Around noon on Tuesday, November 7, electricity was restored to the Museum, albeit only briefly. The same night, a torrential downpour fell in San Juan, which, combined with the sodden terrain and the debris still stuck in the city's drainage system, led to massive flooding. The water rose 4 feet on the lowest floor of the building, completely destroying the museum's education department. Art workshops, audiovisual rooms, staff work spaces, materials, equipment, and the museum library were ruined in a matter of hours.
The damage to the building, gardens, and collection from Hurricane Maria, the subsequent flooding, and other environmental factors will cost the museum more than 3 million dollars in unexpected debt. This has been coupled with diminishing support from the Puerto Rico Government and fragile economy of Puerto Rico because of its ongoing fiscal crisis, which has led to a ''perfect storm'' for the MAPR.
Looking for other ways to support museums in disaster-affected areas?
The Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation's "National Heritage Responders" is a team of trained conservators and collections-care professionals available 24/7 to provide advice via a hotline.
Click HERE to donate.