Surveying the Gulf Coast's Cultural Losses The extent of the damage to museums, parks, galleries and theaters in areas affected by Katrina is not yet known. Leaders in the arts and cultural communities are starting to take stock of what survived.
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Surveying the Gulf Coast's Cultural Losses

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Surveying the Gulf Coast's Cultural Losses

Surveying the Gulf Coast's Cultural Losses

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Federal and state officials are tallying up the losses from Hurricane Katrina, and the costs keep going up. President Bush is expected to ask Congress for a second emergency budget request for hurricane relief. Congressional leaders say that next request could top $40 billion, and that would not be the end of it. The loss in culture caused by Hurricane Katrina is hard to quantify. How much damage has been done to museums, parks, galleries and theaters is not yet known. Leaders in the arts and cultural communities are starting to take stock of what survived and what may be gone forever. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.


After the Civil War, after he served time in prison, and after the charges of treason against him were dropped, Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, moved to Biloxi, Mississippi, where his home has become an important historical landmark.

Mr. KEN P'POOL (Mississippi Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer): Now regardless of whether you agree with Jefferson Davis and whether his decisions were correct or not, he definitely is an important figure in America's history.

BLAIR: Ken P'Pool is Mississippi's deputy state historic preservation officer.

Mr. P'POOL: He served in Congress, in both houses of Congress. He was secretary of War under President Pierce. He actually put in place many of the facilities that modernized the US Army that eventually were used against his efforts as president of the Confederacy.

BLAIR: Jefferson Davis retired to a beachfront mansion in Biloxi called Beauvoir. It became the site of his presidential library and housed many of his personal papers and other memorabilia. Ken P'Pool says much of the estate was completely destroyed by the storm.

Mr. P'POOL: The two flanking pavilions, one of which housed a guest house and the other, Jefferson Davis' library, were completely destroyed. We can find almost no evidence of them. And then the storm surge hit the main house and it completely blew out the basement area, which is an above-ground, raised basement. And waters rose up and also went through the main house, but it is so sturdily constructed and so cleverly constructed to adapt to such storms. The house survived intact, and although it's badly damaged, it's amazing that many of the portraits and things of that nature are still hanging on the walls in the house, or at least they were yesterday until we salvaged them and brought them to Jackson for safe storage.

BLAIR: P'Pool believes the house is restorable, and they're trying to salvage its contents.

Also damaged in Biloxi, a Frank Gehry addition to the Ohr O'Keefe Museum of Art. The addition was about a year from completion. A casino barge landed on it and killed some of the large oak trees that were part of a design.

The New Orleans Museum of Art fared much better. It's home to a large collection of European and American paintings, sculpture and photography, and works by Edgar Degas, who spent about six months visiting relatives in New Orleans after the Civil War. Museum director John Bullard says one outdoor sculpture collapsed, but for the most part the museum survived because it sits on high ground. He says the 100-year-old building has been shelter for museum staff in previous storms, and Katrina was no different.

Mr. JOHN BULLARD (Director, New Orleans Museum of Art): Six members of our staff agreed to stay, and some members of their families and families of other members came there, and they were there through the hurricane, and we spoke to them on Monday evening, and the museum survived the hurricane very well. The roof was intact. The windows were not damaged at all. There was no water in our basement, which was where our art storage rooms are. We lost telephone contact, but we did hear through The Times-Picayune Web site that a FEMA representative went to the museum on Tuesday to evacuate our staff, and they said, `No, we are not gonna go. This is our responsibility.' Unfortunately, we also heard that on Friday, National Guard troops arrived, and at gunpoint forced our staff and the other people in the museum to leave. Fortunately, we had already started to make arrangements with our insurance underwriters to bring in a private security force, an armed force, since we were, of course, very concerned about the looting.

BLAIR: Other cultural centers in New Orleans seem to have escaped the worst of the damage. To a lot of people, New Orleans is about music, architecture and food. The historic French Quarter and Garden District have largely escaped the flooding, as have many of the city's famous restaurants. The legendary jazz institution Preservation Hall is said to be dry and still standing, as is the club Tipitina's.

Mr. ADAM SHIPLEY (Music Director, Tipitina's): We kind of call it the musical soul of New Orleans. Its kind of patron musical saint was a man named Henry Roeland Byrd, who was known as Professor Longhair.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Tipitina, tra-la-la-la. Whoa, tra-la, tra-la-la. Tipitina, oola malla walla dalla, tra-la, tra-la-la.

BLAIR: Tipitina's music director, Adam Shipley, is hopeful that New Orleans will rebuild and once again attract visitors, not only to its clubs, but to the massive JazzFest that draws thousands of people from all over the world to New Orleans every spring.

Mr. SHIPLEY: I hope to God we can have a Mardi Gras, but I think that's in question. If we pull off a JazzFest here, it would be a beautiful thing, and I hope that we can do that, and that would be a great way where people could support the city as well. But right now, I think it's just survival and assessment and then taking it from there. But, I mean, mark my words that, you know, myself and probably most people around me will not abandon this city and we will rebuild this city, because it's just too much soul and too much of our hearts and our lives.

BLAIR: A spokesman for JazzFest says even though there's been some flooding on the festival grounds, the annual event will be back, and next year they're hoping it'll make Live 8 look like a house party.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: And you can get a look at some of the historic buildings Elizabeth spoke about at

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

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