Vizcaya Museum & Gardens

Built as a winter residence by early 20th-century agricultural industrialist James Deering, Miami's Vizcaya Museum and Gardens has been open to the public since the mid-1950s. The museum complex comprises a national historic landmark main house filled with art and artifacts, ten acres of gardens sited on Biscayne Bay, a hardwood hammock, and a historic village. The museum and grounds are open 364 days per year serving approximately 185,000 individuals annually. Vizcaya's public programs include guided tours, arts education activities for children and families, and a visiting artist program.

Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma caused approximately $3 million in damage to the museum, including the loss of 175 trees in the native hardwood forest, damage to 34 art objects in the indoor and outdoor collections, and the complete destruction of the museum's café and shop facilities. In addition, the complex lost more than $130,000 of expected income from visitors and special event rentals.

Sculpture hidden under fallen tree limbs   Restored sculpture in a clearing

Along the entrance drive of Miami, Florida's Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, a falling tree shattered a 17th century Italian figure of Neptune, Roman god of the sea, during Hurricane Wilma. The statue, restored by Conservation Solutions, Inc. with support from the NEA, was also cleaned to remove damaging salts and minerals deposited in the stone by driving rain and storm surge. Photos courtesy of Vizcaya Museum & Gardens.

Prior to the hurricanes, Vizcaya had been undergoing major age-related conservation efforts, including restoration of architectural and landscape details and improvements to visitor facilities. "Our restoration plans and project implementation have been delayed by about a year," says Dr. Laurie Ossman, the museum's Deputy Director for Collections and Curatorial Affairs. "Some areas of the facility will not receive restoration as soon as we had planned."

The Miami-Dade Department of Cultural Affairs, which owns Vizcaya, received an NEA emergency assistance grant of $8,900 to support post-hurricane damage assessment. Grant funds also are supporting the restoration of damaged 17th- and 18th-century statuary that were part of the museum's outdoor collection.

Having experienced the devastation of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the staff of the museum was somewhat prepared to withstand another catastrophe. Emergency preparedness plans included steel hurricane shutters, bulkhead protection, and basement pumps. Dr. Ossman notes, "As much as we in the modern world like to believe that we can manage all kind of risks, I believe there is no way to provide absolute protection against storm damage, which is multivalent and highly unpredictable."

She adds that the nature of the museum's collection also makes disaster preparedness and recovery a challenge. "At Vizcaya, we face the dual challenges of preserving cultural landscape and an historic structure. In both cases, the very qualities that are most integral to the character of the site are those which also make it most vulnerable."