Getting Organized

Salvaging your “A’s” — art, assets, archives — is a multi-step process that needs both quick planning and action plus coordination. When your studio has suffered water damage of any kind, the first 48-72 hours — when mold sets in — are critical to saving the contents.

The response to your emergency is going to depend on the size and scope of the event as well as your physical and mental capacities.  A leaky pipe with a few wet prints, drawings or paintings is something that you can cope with by yourself.  A studio fire, tornado, or hurricane that blows off your roof resulting in catastrophic damage will require assistance from a contractor or professional restoration company.

Whatever the disaster, prioritizing and carrying out salvage measures is demanding and will bring stress. So stay mindful of what’s possible, within the realities of your situation.


Artist-to-Artist Video

Triage: We had to make choices

Gary Spykman talks about salvaging tools and materials after his woodworking studio was flooded.

First Steps

  • Make a list of salvage priorities. Some guidelines:

  • Focus on general categories of your studio’s contents — art, assets, and archives — rather than the details of particular items.

  • Assess which career-related and business records are most vital to your creative practice, and which are duplicated elsewhere.

  • What tools and equipment are most essential to resuming your work? What can be replaced or easily repaired?

  • Evaluate the sentimental or monetary value of artwork (yours and others’).

  • Determine the resources you’re going to need:

  • Figure out how many volunteers you’ll need, what specialized skills will be most helpful, and line up the work crew(s).

  • Identify items that need professional attention as soon as possible. See “Salvaging Damaged Artwork: DIY or Hire a Pro?

  • Set up a dry, secure area with access to clean water for salvage operations. If no dry space is available, protect items with plastic sheeting.

  • Assemble salvage supplies (see List of Useful Salvage Supplies), including protective gear.

Second Steps

  • Get information about your community’s guidelines for hazardous waste disposal.

  • Review safety precautions — including the need to wear protective gear — with your work crew. (Remember: people with respiratory conditions or who have immunity impairment should not be exposed to mold).

  • Review moving and handling guidelines with your work crew:

  • Handle art objects as little as possible.

  • Be aware that damage from the heat of a fire may have weakened materials and/or adhesives.

  • When moving heavy textiles, provide physical support, such as a rigid board or heavy sling.

  • Leave delicate wet fabrics folded; don’t stack them.

  • Before removing soot or ash, protect floors with plastic.

  • Review general triage (sorting) guidelines and salvage priorities with your work crew:

  • Leave undamaged items in place (if environment is stable).

  • Isolate contaminated and unsalvageable items and materials, and arrange safe disposal as soon as possible. Do not dispose of toxic or contaminated materials by putting them in the trash or pouring them down the sink.

  • Separate wet, damp and dry items.

  • Separate moldy items, and cover them with plastic sheeting.

  • Separate damaged from undamaged items.

  • Separate out coated paper-based materials.


To learn more:

Heritage Emergency National Task Force has a link on their website devoted to “Disaster Response Resources.” The categories of  information (ex: “Getting Professional Help”) can be adapted to an artist’s studio, and there are downloadable forms and worksheets.

National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) has extensive technical bulletins on their website; look under the tab“Emergency Preparedness & Response.”