Damaged boat sitting on shore, seen through blown-out building (© Ramon Espinosa/AP Images)
A ship run aground by the winds of Hurricane Dorian is seen through the broken wall of a house destroyed by the storm, in the Abaco Islands in The Bahamas. (© Ramon Espinosa/AP Images)

Almost a year after Hurricane Dorian battered The Bahamas, a partnership between Bahamian and U.S. museum officials continues to save damaged cultural objects.

In September 2019, the Category 5 Atlantic hurricane — The Bahamas’ worst natural disaster on record — slammed the Abaco Islands and the Grand Bahama Islands and left them without electricity and running water, placing local museums’ collections in peril.

Hurricane-damaged island seen from the air (© Sjoerd Hilckmann/Dutch Defense Ministry/AP Images)
The rubble-strewn aftermath of Hurricane Dorian is seen on the Abaco Islands in The Bahamas. (© Sjoerd Hilckmann/Dutch Defense Ministry/AP Images)

A team of Smithsonian Institution conservation experts traveled through The Bahamas from October 29 through November 2, 2019, conducting preliminary damage assessments at almost 20 sites affiliated with the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB) and the National Museum of The Bahamas, Antiquities, Monuments and Museum Corporation.

The Smithsonian’s relationship with the Bahamian cultural community was established in 1994, when curators developed the Bahamas program for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. During their 2019 visits, Smithsonian experts found local museum staffers overwhelmed by the damage, a lack of supplies and their own limited experience in salvage work.

Old, worn moisture-damaged book with stains on its tooled cover (© Katie Wagner/Smithsonian Institution)
This damaged hymnal, likely from the mid-1800s, is from a historic community museum on the Abaco Islands. (© Katie Wagner/Smithsonian Institution)

The Smithsonian team brought some needed conservation supplies and taught conservation techniques to their Bahamian peers. Soon afterward, a $42,000 grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) provided additional conservation supplies to two community museums on the Abaco Islands that suffered extensive damage to their structures and collections.

A former museum curator identified a hand-drawn map and a hymnal as among collection priorities. Both items had suffered moisture damage.

The AFCP grant is providing HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) vacuums and brushes to gently remove mold spores, conservation-quality storage materials for rehousing objects, and personal protective gear for staffers while they work with moldy collections.

In addition, the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative will consult with local experts on conservation, as requested, and track the shipment of supplies to The Bahamas, where NAGB partners will take charge.

Since its creation in 2001, the AFCP has provided financial support to 1,000 projects in 125 countries around the world.