When New York was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy late last month many of the state’s cultural organizations sustained major damage: libraries lost collections, historic sites were compromised, and museums were forced to close their doors for extensive clean up. At the New York Council for the Humanities , one small silver lining to this devastating disaster was that Hurricane Irene last August had given them a road map for how to assist these affected cultural organizations.
Despite being shut out of their own office in lower Manhattan, Council staff was able to work with the Federal/State Partnership office to secure $30,000 in emergency funds from NEH Chairman Jim Leach within a week and a half after Sandy hit. With these funds the Council launched a grant program modeled on the successful one they used in the aftermath of Irene. Small, effective, and fast grants to New York State cultural groups whose buildings or collections were affected by the hurricane. Grants of up to $1,000 were made available to defray salary and overtime costs for staff members working on storm related clean up. “As with Irene, we chose this focus because we know that the most valuable, and often under-supported, resource these organizations have is their dedicated staff members.” says Council Executive Director, Sara Ogger.
In the two weeks since these grants were announced, over 20 organizations including the South Street Seaport Museum Museum in lower Manhattan, the Snug Harbor Cultural Center in Staten Island, the East Rockaway Center in Staten Island, the East Rockaway Library, Arm-of-the Sea Productions in Westchester, and Coney Island USA have applied for and received these emergency grants. With more applications arriving each day, the Council is actively looking for additional funds to support its state’s damaged cultural infrastructure.
In early 2013 the Council plans to offer a workshop about recovering from a natural disaster for Hurricane Sandy grantees; recipients of Council Irene funds from the Council have already volunteered to share their experiences and lessons learned with their downstate neighbors.
Kate Weller, Executive Director of the Slate Valley Museum  wrote to the NYCH: "I just wanted to send a quick note to let you know that many of us who were helped by [the Council] last year are now thinking of you this year. Please let me know if there is anything upstate institutions can do to support you or New York City’s cultural institutions impacted by Hurricane Sandy."