Disaster Planning and Cultural Institutions

The Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, CT, June 2010.  Image via: CT Post

As New York City prepares for a potential hit by Hurricane Sandy, many of the local museums and institutions have been reviewing their disaster plans to ensure that they are ready in the event of an emergency.  Last summer on the very day that we were shaken by a rare earthquake, I sat in on a somewhat ironically, pre-scheduled disaster preparedness meeting at the Museum of the City of New York.  Although admittedly, emergency preparation can be a tedious topic, the recent focus on emergency planning has reminded me of the creative and engaging programming that the Barnum Museum has put together since they have been in recovery mode from tornado damage to their institution in June of 2010.

X-Ray Images of objects from the Barnum Museum collection that were damaged during the tornado, via: The Barnum Museum Website

Located in Bridgeport, CT, the hometown of P.T. Barnum, the Barnum Museum is located in a building that was completed in 1893 by the architectural firm Longstaff and Hurd.  While the building itself is a point of interest occupying a place on the National Register of Historic Places, the collection that it contains is filled with a variety of historic, unique, and sometimes, bizarre artifacts that speak to the eclecticism and imagination of its namesake.  I was first introduced to the collection while I was conducting my master’s thesis research, and I was incredibly impressed with the enthusiastic and innovative approach that the museum staff took towards their recovery efforts from the Tornado damage, as well as with their ability to include the public with their progress and utilize a tragedy as a way to bring up important issues about conservation, object care and the time and expertise that is required to properly restore fragile items.

In addition to maintaining and regularly updating a museum blog that highlights objects from their collection and creating online exhibits, the Barnum Museum has re-opened for two days a week to present an exhibit called: Recovery in ActionEvery Thursday and Friday between 11am-3pm visitors can come to the temporary home of the museum collection at the adjacent People’s United Bank building, where viewers will see objects in various stages of conservation, as well as have the opportunity to watch conservators at work.  The museum has also organized additional programming that focuses on disaster recovery, conservation issues, and other related topics.

The ruins of Barnum’s American Museum in New York City, after the 2nd fire in March of 1868, via the Barnum Museum blog.

While I highly recommend that those who can pay a visit to the Museum to see this programming in person do so, the Barnum Museum website also chronicles much of their progress. It is a resource that has much to offer in terms of general interest visitors, as well as museum professionals who might want to look at an inspiring model.   For those in the New York City area, many interesting objects from the Barnum Museum collection are also currently on view as part of the Circus and the City: New York, 1793-2010 exhibition that is up at the Bard Graduate Center Galleries.  This includes objects like a court suit that belonged to Charles Sherwood Stratton (otherwise known as General Tom Thumb) and a top hat from the head of P.T. Barnum himself.

Please see Barnum Museum website for more information or to donate to their recovery efforts.

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1 Comment

  • Eric D Lehman October 30, 2012 10.46 am

    This is a great exhibit. Thanks for blogging about the work the Barnum Museum is doing.


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