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When Hurricane Irma Closed Schools, Florida Museums Stepped In


Life is creeping back to normal in Miami as children are returning to school and parents are headed back to work. Still, after dealing with days of power outages, families are confronting damaged homes and cars and mold infestations. NPR's Neda Ulaby is in Miami, and she says museums have stepped up to help.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: The Young at Art museum in Davie, Fla., has been holding camps to give parents a much-needed break. It's a place for kids to get away, too.

AMANDA COVACHS: I need everybody to take a huge, deep breath.

ULABY: This museum near Fort Lauderdale is crammed with brightly colored mobiles and sculptures for kids to play with and play on. One is modeled on the Japanese woodprint "The Great Wave Of Kanagawa." These kids are blowing off steam after days of being cooped up because of floodwaters and dangerous conditions outside. Visitor Services Manager Amanda Covachs has been observing these kids, aged 4 through 9. I asked if they seemed stressed out.

COVACHS: They seem more hyped (laughter). They seem more excited, yeah. I think the parents seem a lot more stressed out than usual. But the kids just - they're super intense. Like, they're already off-the-walls for sure.

ULABY: At least three times as many kids than usual have showed have at camps here over the past week. On a recent day, there were 20. The Young at Art educators want to use art projects to help kids deal with the world around them, but they also want to keep things positive in the aftermath of a hurricane.

COVACHS: So we did an art project called Over the Rainbow where everybody just had, like - you know, after a big storm, there's usually, like - these things happen where light passes through water, and it creates these beautiful rainbows, so we're going to draw some rainbows today. And they talk about, like, translucency and transparency and light refraction and how that affects color.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I thought you colored that with marker.

ULABY: Most of the kids in this art class seem more preoccupied with coloring than the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Seven-year-old Max Batter has this to say about going through one.

MAX BATTER: It's kind of scary but not too much.

ULABY: Batter says the scoreboard at his school fell down, and he hasn't heard from all of his friends. Still, his family did not have to deal with too much damage.

MAX: Our fan broke. We didn't really care about it because it was old anyway.

ULABY: The Young at Art Museum also brings art education to homeless kids in shelters and to Broward County's most underserved schools. Amanda Covachs of the museum says educators are trying to help kids cope by incorporating images and things around them like boats and hurricane debris into their art.

COVACHS: You know, what to do with found objects? We might be finding a lot of objects on the sides of the road right now, right? We might be finding a lot of things that we weren't expecting. We might be, you know, trying to - what are we going to design to move forward? That's a boat. We're moving forward through something.

ULABY: Amanda Covachs says usually we think of museums as a refuge in the best of times. She wants them to be places of refuge at the worst of times as well. Neda Ulaby, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.