It’s going to have to meet new standards. In the wake of the devastation in Alberta, the underwriter for the Canadian Museums Association insurance program – which has paid out nearly $3-million as a result of the catastrophe – is now excluding from coverage flood losses or damage sustained in basements or subterranean locations.
The change went into effect this year for all renewals (although museums not in a flood zone may qualify for an exemption). The CMA is asking the insurer to review the policy.
The Highwood’s experience has become a case study for other museums. Among the lessons learned: make sure tags are attached to items so they can’t be separated from the artifacts, their provenance suddenly becoming a mystery.
“Many museums are reviewing their contingency plans, their storage plans, their standards – and the insurance industry is probably going to demand that. And as we continue to see strange weather patterns, we can’t take anything for granted any more,” says CMA executive director John McAvity.
“I hate to be the guinea pig,” says Kerr. “But if something good comes out of it, that would be one [positive] thing.”
Incalculable loss of heritage
The losses at the National Music Centre in Calgary were also staggering: $2.5-million to its collection (based on the insured value of the artifacts; the historical value, the museum says, is incalculable).
“Some things went right into the garbage bin,” says president and CEO Andrew Mosker, including pianos, organs, electronic instruments and archives – all stored in the basement. Most of the collection was safe, because water never reached the public exhibition space on the second floor, where you can find precious artifacts including a 16th-century harpsichord, and Elton John’s old piano. But 10 per cent of the collection was damaged; they’re still going through it to see what can be salvaged.
There was also a loss of revenue; with the building closed for 42 days, 21 events were cancelled.
The NMC has insurance coverage, but the slog of the recovery effort and the heartbreak of tossing out historic instruments comes with a different kind of cost. Further, the NMC is in the middle of constructing a splashy new facility, set to open in 2016. Some of the collections team, preparing for a huge move and launch, was suddenly diverted to a massive conservation effort.
If there is some good news, the new facility wasn’t damaged – the construction site took in 1.54 million gallons of water, but it drained naturally. The NMC figures the flood probably gave the centre some profile, resulting in an increase in donations – although they were careful not to solicit funds after the flood. The support they received – from donors, volunteers, the public – gave weary staff a vital boost.
“To go through the flood for me, it was nourishment to keep going,” says Mosker. “People do really care about what we’re doing.”
‘Nobody rains on our parade’
The return of Sled Island this week was triumphant and far from a certainty. The alternative music and arts festival could have easily succumbed to its terrible luck, after most of the 2013 festival was washed out by the flood. It survived thanks to a generous lifeline thrown out by its fans and others.
As the festival’s basement offices were evacuated that Thursday afternoon, the team was also mobilizing to move shows planned for venues that were being shut down. So John K. Samson performed that night at a movie theatre, a sound system sourced and hastily connected. At the Fairmont Palliser hotel – where Sled Island set up a temporary office and many of the 250 acts were staying – musicians hung out, lit by flashlights and glow sticks; the festival’s executive director, Maud Salvi, remembers Joel Plaskett playing in the darkened lobby. It was a magical night before the misery of the next morning, when Salvi woke up to an e-mail from the city, cancelling Sled Island’s permit for Olympic Plaza.
“When I read that, I knew what it meant,” she says. The festival had to be cancelled, full stop.