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What Would You Save?
In a conversation about great masterpieces, I was explaining to my students how some of the most priceless works of art are now on display behind bullet proof glass. They were shocked. “How is bullet proof glass going to prevent theft?” they wanted to know. “Not theft. Vandalism.” I replied. And then I explained to them how Michelangelo ‘s Pieta had been vandalized and how it had prompted museums and collections all over the world to take preventative measures to safeguard their valuable works. It was one of those rare conversations in art class where all the students were engaged and listening. And then one young man, who had not only been listening, but thinking as well, said, “Oh yeah, that ‘s like the movie ‘2012 ‘. When they knew the world was going to end, the first thing they did was put all the art in a safe place, they switched the real Mona Lisa for a fake and put the real one in a safe storage.” Wow. He had touched on something that I had never even considered- what gets saved in the event of a catastrophic disaster?
Just a few short weeks ago Japan endured a disaster of epic proportions. With no time to save anything but themselves, homes, transportation, communication and entire communities were wiped out within minutes. In the past several years the earth has been ravaged by natural disasters; Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti, the floods in Pakistan and Australia. In the event of a natural disaster, there is little time to safeguard anything but human life. But what things, other than family and pets, do we try to salvage before escaping a flood, fire, hurricane or other natural disaster? We take what is irreplaceable- photos, scrapbooks, heirlooms, art. We don ‘t try to save the flat screen TV, or the laptop, or the ipad. Across all cultures what is important to save is not our technology, it is our humanity, our art, our creativity, our souls. Fine art was important enough to safeguard during World War II, and museums around the globe have contingency disaster plans in the event of a catastrophe. Our art has always been our social barometer, passed from generation to generation. Technologies change from age to age but the arts remain the heart and soul of humankind.