Historic mural damaged by Harvey inspires new federal grant program

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Among the many tales of recovery from Hurricane Harvey’s wreckage, the devastating storm is reportedly creating an national saving grace for recovering priceless works of art damaged by natural disasters.

Jon Parrish Peede, acting chairman for National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), told the Houston Chronicle about the historic significance of an iconic mural in Houston prompting the department to create a new grant program.

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The mural titled “Contribution of Negro Women to American Life and Education” covers an interior wall of the Blue Triangle Multi-Cultural Association’s headquarters in Houston’s Third Ward. Artist John Biggers painted the mural in 1953 as a tribute to African-American female pioneers, such as Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Phyllis Wheatley.

“Absolutely, the Biggers mural played a decisive role in creating this new category at the agency,” said Peede. “It’s such an uncommon work for its time.”

A leaky roof first caused the wall to grow mold, which damaged the painting. An effort to raise $250,000 to fix the roof and repair the painting in January 2016 came up short, and when the rains of Harvey made landfall, the damage worsened.

The new NEH grant category would allow qualifying works of art to receive funding for restoration projects to repair damage caused by natural disasters.

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“Without the impact of Hurricane Harvey, we would not have had the infrastructure grants created at the agency so quickly and so comprehensively,” Peede said. “If we stabilize these artifacts but do not protect the physical structure, then we are not fully securing them for the future.”

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