Woman in white suit points towards a table covered in conservation materials

PUERTO RICO: 2017 Hurricanes Maria and Irma

Cultural Institutions in Puerto Rico Convene Partnerships to Protect Heritage

When Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, causing widespread damage and threatening priceless artworks and archives, the Smithsonian sprang into action. We pooled funds from across several Smithsonian museums to cover the cost of diesel fuel for the Museum of Art Puerto Rico (MAPR) in San Juan, a Smithsonian Affiliate and the largest museum on the island, to keep its generator and air conditioning running.

Once power was restored and the immediate risk had passed, the museum became a critical temporary resource for other museums across the island, many of which remained without power for weeks. At one point, MAPR housed more than 200 artworks and artifacts from seven different collections.

The Smithsonian and Puerto Rico’s cultural community came together to organize a response. They joined the work of the Heritage Emergency National Force (HENTF), a public-private partnership of 60 federal agencies and service organizations which is co-chaired by the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative and FEMA.

This stakeholder led coordination is critical to cultural heritage rescue work and helps broaden the discussion of what can be done in response and recovery. 

Image: Smithsonian and FEMA staff working with colleagues at the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico. FEMA