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Museum Loan Network aids hurricane-affected institutions

An MIT-based organization is responding to the devastation caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita by granting funds to affected institutions that have been often overlooked: museums.

"Some museums are still working out of trailers," said Lori Gross, director of the Museum Loan Network (MLN), which began at MIT in 1995 to facilitate the long-term loan of art and objects of cultural heritage among U.S. institutions. Gross says the MLN was concerned not only with the museums' physical damage, but also with the collateral damage of decreased funding, staff reductions and drastic declines in museum attendance.

After a streamlined application process that began last December, travel grants of $4,500 each will be given to 10 museums in Louisiana and Mississippi. The travel grants help personnel visit prospective lending institutions to research possible loans and initiate loan negotiations.

By offering these special grants, said Gross, the MLN hopes to provide weary hurricane-affected museum staff the opportunity to work with colleagues in other places to plan for the future.

"Our travel grants have always been about getting people in museums to work together and develop collegiality," Gross said. "We thought these special grants might break down the huge challenge into more manageable bits as one museum collaborates with another in an effort to rebuild its spaces and audiences."

Marjorie Gowdy, executive director of the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi, Miss., one of the grant recipients, described 35 feet of water at their facility, which had five Frank Gehry buildings in various stages of construction.

Their collection was in off-site storage, but the structures -- which survived the initial flooding -- were destroyed when a giant casino barge broke loose and flattened them.

"We had to downsize our staff from 19 to six," said Gowdy. Thanks to the MLN grant, she said, "We were able to get out of disaster mode for a while and plan for the future."

Gross said she hopes museums that lend collections to the Gulf Coast institutions will be generous when making the arrangements.

For a complete list of grant recipients, visit

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 15, 2006 (download PDF).

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