Whether through the passage of time or sheer fatigue, memories of Harvey's record-setting floods are receding. Developers are once again jonesing to build atop floodplains after that initial round of tut-tutting. Those dramatic evacuation stories now sound routine or even, in the eyes of a certain president, entirely preventable.
This normalization is something writer Lacy Johnson noticed as early as August 2017, just days after the rain finally stopped, when her family evacuated its West Houston neighborhood following the release of the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs. Johnson's home was ultimately spared, but she and her neighbors—"normal everyday people," she says—were still carrying elderly neighbors on their shoulders and kicking in garage doors to shut off breakers to prevent electrocution. At the same time, Johnson saw folks in other parts of the city posting on Facebook about getting their cars washed or tweeting about Game of Thrones. They were already moving on.
So Johnson, a published author and Rice assistant professor, started writing to process the post-disaster "dissonance" she observed. The resulting essays published on Facebook quickly garnered hundreds of reactions and shares. It wasn't long before the Houston Endowment approached her about harnessing that work for something greater.
Now, as the one-year anniversary of Harvey approaches, Johnson is part of a collaborative effort behind the Houston Flood Museum, an institution she says will "think about our collective relationship to land, one another, urban planning, the water, and see how we can move on together." In cooperation with the Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs, FotoFest, Houston Public Library, the Trust for Public Land, and more, the museum seeks to process and memorialize the experience of flooding through stories and art.
The initial focus will be on flooding related to Harvey. This August, HFM will begin collecting submissions of audio and photos and poems and pretty much anything else that can be curated and archived. Houston Public Media will contribute a multipart video series of local leaders looking back on the storm, as well as an additional podcast series that puts Harvey in historical context. Rice will preserve much of the material as part of the ongoing Harvey Memories Project. And while there are plans for pop-up exhibitions across the city, Johnson says a permanent brick-and-mortar presence is not in the cards.
"We’re kind of nomadic and ephemeral," Johnson says about the museum. "I like to think about it using the flood as a metaphor: We’re inundating spaces for a short time, and then we recede."
She says the museum's website will serve as the ultimate repository for what they gather—which will, eventually, expand beyond Harvey.
"My hope or ambition for this project is that it’s a think tank, but with art," she says. "With creative work, in the way that art is a form that research can take that we’re thinking through policy and working on people’s imaginations and compassion for one another. In the long run, we’ll expand the scope to the Gulf Coast, forward and backward in time, and perhaps look more broadly and globally."
In the meantime, you can keep track of developments with the project at houstonfloodmuseum.org. Submissions will be accepted via the website starting in August 2018.