It’s not that it took Hurricanes Rita and Katrina to put a fine point on the need for arts organizations to have crisis management plans, but the enormity of the damage caused by the hurricanes of 2005 did make it clear to South Arts (a regional organization) that there was a huge need for a national arts readiness initiative. That initiative has become ArtsReady, an online toolkit, application, and resource designed to guide arts organizations through developing and maintaining disaster plans.
“What we discovered,” says ArtsReady Project Manager, Katy Malone, “was that many galleries, museums, dance companies, theaters, film studios and other arts organizations had little or no preparedness plans for dealing with crisis. Most arts administrators haven’t been trained that way, and they are generally too overwhelmed with day-to-day work to seek out the additional skill set, so we looked for a way to provide a resource that could help them better protect their organizational assets and activities when disaster strikes.
“It’s important to realize that there are many types of crisis that can occur. Murphy’s Law is that it’s most likely to be the thing that you don’t expect to happen that actually does happen. While it’s true that if you’re in California, you know to prepare for an earthquake, and in Oklahoma you’ll prepare for tornadoes, anywhere you are you also need to be prepared for burglary, arson, or any other situation that might even be more likely to happen than large-scale events. That is why we modeled ArtsReady after an all-hazards planning approach.
“We do that through two levels of membership with ArtsReady. A free Basic Membership educates organizations about all-hazards readiness through our newsletter, Alert emails and readiness tips, and a community-built resource library. However, organizations can actually build a plan with ArtsReady through a Premium Membership, which provides access to the full online application. The application guides organizations through an assessment of their readiness. Then, the organization receives a custom set of self-paced action items to help develop and maintain a plan. The application also has the Battle Buddy Network, where organizations can seek out and develop reciprocal relationships agreeing to help one another during times of need. There are also opportunities to share lessons learned, templates, planning tips, strategies for handling difficult situations, and other resources.
“And throughout the ArtsReady platform Members are shown how to safeguard their organization’s resources, activities and assets no matter what happens, rather than considering just one type of crisis or another. Through this method they quickly see that preparedness is not just about handling a specific major disaster, but about knowing where the organization’s vulnerable points are, and addressing them.”
ArtsReady’s online platform assists in identifying and addressing those needs in advance. This includes advising on or providing off-site storage for key data; advice on having a communications plan to reach staff, board members and volunteers; and enabling alternate phone, email and web-based outreach capabilities, so the organization can react quickly and minimize downtime. The self-assessment survey and advice help the Members start to formulate a business continuity plan.
ArtsReady also provides information and recovery resources to enable quick response when a crisis occurs. Elements include safety – making sure staff, artists, and audiences are cared for; ensuring that resources, financial assets and core activities can be protected or the damage mitigated; and setting up proper insurance to cover damages, or to help the organization rebuild if necessary.
“It’s true that, particularly after this past year when hurricanes hit New York City, organizations understand that bad things can happen to anyone, and the people in charge must be prepared to respond. It’s critical in the arts because the nature of what we do. Our organizations possess cultural treasures and present unique experiences that are fragile, irreplaceable, and susceptible to being lost. We must do everything we can to protect against that and minimize the impact of the unexpected.”
ArtsReady is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and state, regional and national partner organizations. To learn more, visit https://www.artsready.org.