Partners in Preparedness, Rallying for Recovery

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

An Unprecedented Year

During autumn 2017, almost every corner of the United States has experienced emergencies and disasters.  From the hurricanes in Texas, Florida, Mississippi, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands to the wildfires in the West and the mass shootings in Las Vegas and Northern California, many of the disasters have affected performing and visual arts venues and organizations.

A group of performing arts service organizations and preservation/conservation service providers from the cultural heritage community (traditionally working with libraries, archives, and museums) have banded together to provide disaster assistance to performing arts organizations.  This new initiative, the Performing Arts Readiness project, is providing education, grant funding, tools, and information on emergency preparedness to the field.

Surveying the Disaster Environment

The initiative began in 2016 with a Planning Grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, to research the need for disaster preparedness planning in the performing arts community.

A series of surveys found that a majority of performing arts organizations do not have disaster plans, and even fewer have continuity of operations plans that will allow them to resume business quickly.  When asked why they lack plans, representatives of these organizations said they do not have the time or expertise to develop disaster plans, and planning is not an institutional priority for organizations that are focused on staging their next performance.  For those that did have plans, the documents were mainly focused on human safety and communications, and often did not cover business continuity issues, business records, sets, props, or other important materials.

But, many of the surveyed organizations had experienced a disaster, and some incidents were at a large enough scale to disrupt business, force performance cancellations, and have financial repercussions.  In addition to the damages to buildings/venues, sets, costumes, and business records, the disruptions caused loss of business for performing arts organizations, which had to determine ways to recover from lost revenue. 

Survey and focus group results showed a need for assistance in development of Business Continuity/Continuity of Operations plans, as well as disaster planning assistance and training.  The planning project partners decided to address organizations from across the performing arts spectrum, including both producing and presenting organizations, and those with and without facilities.

The environmental scan showed that organizations need information on resources and best practices for disaster planning and recovery.  And, they had interest in disaster preparedness and recovery training, in working with existing disaster networks in the performing arts and cultural heritage fields, and in archiving their organizational history (ranging from business and production records to playbills and programs).  

The Project Partners

To address these research findings, the Mellon Foundation provided an Implementation Grant, running from 2017 through 2019, to a partnership of ten organizations.  These service providers bring years of experience in working with their members on a variety of issues, from strategic planning to strategies to battle disasters.  The Performing Arts Readiness project partners include:

  • ArtsReady at South Arts
  • Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts
  • LYRASIS (the host organization for the project)
  • Midwest Art Conservation Center
  • National Coalition for Arts' Preparedness and Emergency Response
  • National Performance Network
  • New Jersey State Council on the Arts
  • Northeast Document Conservation Center
  • Performing Arts Alliance
  • Western States and Territories Preservation Assistance Service

An Array of Activities

From Portland, Oregon to New Jersey, PAR representatives have been reaching out and engaging the performing arts community in discussions on the importance of disaster planning.  Meeting with local and state arts councils, and exhibiting and presenting at conferences ranging from Western Arts Alliance to the Performing Arts Exchange, PAR is involving stakeholders to ensure that disaster preparedness is on organizations’ agendas.

The latest updates on current disasters, and information on new developments in disaster preparedness are available at the initiative’s website,, as well as on social media.  Recently, the partners introduced a “Loss of Income Calculator” on the website, which helps organizations, their boards, and their insurers determine the potential loss of revenue which could be caused by an emergency or disaster at their facility.

One of the most important activities from the PAR project is a series of workshops and webinars available for free to the performing arts and cultural heritage communities.  National experts on a variety of disaster preparedness issues offer webinars on a monthly basis including topics such as:

  • An Introduction to Emergency Preparedness for Performing Arts Organizations
  • Networking for Disaster Management in the Performing Arts
  • Risk Assessment (determining your vulnerabilities to emergencies and disasters)
  • Protecting Your Assets:  Managing Archives for Performing Arts Organizations
  • Understanding Cybersecurity for Performing Arts Organizations

Other webinars in development include:

  • Basics of Business Continuity Plans
  • Disaster Response Strategies
  • Crisis Communications
  • Venue Safety and Security
  • Health and Human Safety
  • Community Response Planning

The partners are also planning to offer many of these topics in a live workshop setting.

Because the organizations involved in the PAR project realize that performing arts organization can be especially vulnerable to disasters and emergencies of many kinds, which can result in destabilizing or catastrophic loss of income and assets, a key part of the project is to build disaster preparedness and recovery networks between performing arts organizations, and with other arts and cultural heritage institutions.  The project is offering two categories of networking grants: Two “New Network Grants” of up to $15,000 are available to support the development of newly-formed disaster networks, enabling performing arts organizations to provide resources to help their communities prepare for and recover from emergencies and disasters.  The funding can be used for meeting expenses, consultants and speakers, and travel, for example.  Twelve “Existing Network Grants” of up to $7,500 are available for 12-month projects to support the integration of performing arts institutions into existing network plans and programs.  This funding can help performing arts organizations improve planning for and recovery from emergencies striking their organizations.  In 2018, up to forty “Individual Institution Disaster Planning Grants” of $7,250 each will be available to provide performing arts organizations, with help from consultants and new and existing planning tools, development funding for emergency preparedness plans specifically tailored to their institutions.

Also in 2018, a tool to help organizations develop disaster plans will be available from PAR.  Combining the best aspects of SouthArts’ “ArtsReady” tool, and dPlan, a longstanding planning tool from the Northeast Document Conservation Center, the new tool will help organizations consider all aspects of disaster planning needs within their organizations.

A new and interesting approach to helping organizations develop their plans is the PAR project’s pilot “Circuit Rider” program, providing Emergency Preparedness Consultants to assist institutions with their disaster preparedness planning.  In 2017-18, these consultants are serving in two locations – the Northeast Ohio region, based at ICA-Art Conservation in Cleveland, and in New Jersey, working out of the NJ State Council on the Arts.  Based on highly successful circuit rider programs to train archivists in Massachusetts and Vermont, this service provides communities with local disaster training, one-on-one assistance in disaster plan development, and assistance in working with local and regional resources when a disaster occurs in the region.  In addition, the two current emergency preparedness consultants are helping to build and expand local, state, and regional disaster preparedness and recovery networks.  Especially important to the Western U.S. is that there is the opportunity for four Circuit Rider emergency preparedness consultants to be hired and available from July 2018-June 2019, and we ask WAA organizations to consider applying to host one of these consultants.

Answering the Call in Fall 2017

While developing and offering these programs to the performing arts community in 2017, the Performing Arts Readiness Partners are also working together on a variety of other efforts to assist the field.  Most important are a series of weekly conference calls with affected institutions in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, as well as organizations that have been damaged by wildfires in Northern California and in other parts of the U.S.   Led by the National Coalition for Arts' Preparedness and Emergency Response (NCAPER), these calls are matching organizations that can assist in disaster recovery efforts with institutions in their greatest time of need.   Working with local, state, and national funders to target recovery money to the arts and cultural sectors, and encouraging city, county, and state governments to work with performing arts organizations are some of the recent advances in disaster response which the NCAPER calls are helping to achieve.

How the PAR Project Can Help You

Does your organization, or do others in your community, need assistance, information, and funding to improve your state of disaster preparedness?  Does your city or region have a disaster response network, and if so, could it be improved to provide more assistance to performing arts organizations? Could you and your organization help others during emergency or disaster situations?   The Performing Arts Readiness project can help you answer all of these questions.  For further information on PAR, please contact Project Director Tom Clareson at, call him at 614-439-1796, or visit the project website at 


Tom Clareson, Performing Arts Readiness project