It’s been almost a decade since Nashville saw a record-breaking rainfall of more than thirteen inches causing major flooding throughout Middle Tennessee.
Nashvillians who remember looking outside their windows on Saturday, May 1, and Sunday, May 2 of 2010, remember the oceans of precipitation that wreaked havoc across the mid-state.
The Cumberland River crested almost twelve feet above flood stage, causing smaller waterways such as Browns Creek, Mill Creek, Richland Creek, Whites Creek, and the Harpeth River to also flood.
Thousands of homes and businesses, including the Grand Ole Opry, Opryland Hotel, and the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, were damaged or destroyed. Twenty-six people in the region died — eleven in Nashville.
In memory of the city’s historic natural disaster, the Frist Art Museum is presenting The Nashville Flood: Ten Years Later. The exhibit will be on view in the (always-free) Conte Community Arts Gallery from Jan. 10 – May 17, 2020.
Through photographs and excerpts of oral histories from the Nashville Public Library’s flood archive and The Tennessean, the exhibition will present a broad picture of both the destruction and the relief efforts from ten different neighborhoods in Davidson County — including Antioch, Belle Meade, Bellevue, Bordeaux, and others, in addition to downtown.
According to Frist Art Museum curator Katie Delmez, this exhibit focuses less on the negatives of the disaster, and more on the positives of the aftermath.
“Newcomers to Nashville may not be aware of the extent of destruction, as well as the resilience and comradery in the aftermath,” says Delmez. “Despite the severity of this historic event, it received little national media attention, primarily because of other major stories such as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the failed Times Square car bombing dominating prime-time news coverage.
Nashville residents who dubbed themselves “The Redneck Armada” used personal boats as search-and-rescue vessels, ferrying residents stranded in their homes to higher ground. In recordings made by the Nashville Public Library in 2011, many people recalled being saved by these strangers—often without exchanging names, as armada members went back out to check on others.
Delmez notes how effectively the city banded together in a time of crisis, something other cities have had difficulty replicating in comparable disaster.
“Compared to other natural disasters, the recovery process in Nashville was remarkably efficient,” Delmez continues. “When Anderson Cooper of CNN arrived on Thursday, May 6, the worst was over, and the recovery and cleanup had already begun.”
Another recurring theme is the community’s outpouring of aid, which came from churches, volunteer groups such as Hands On Nashville, and disaster relief agencies. The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee received over $14 million in donations for recovery work. More than 25,000 volunteers worked 375,000 hours; they helped distribute water, tear out drywall, make boxed lunches, and clean up people’s homes, among other efforts.
A section of “now and then” photos on an interactive display in the gallery will illustrate the recovery, or lack of progress, in each area. Volunteerism, rescue efforts, inequities in disaster relief, and the rebuilding process will be addressed.
“For Nashville residents who lived through this historic event, visiting the exhibition will be an opportunity to reflect on their own stories while seeing the perspective of others who share similar experiences,” says Delmez.
Organized by the Frist Art Museum in partnership with the Nashville Public Library. All images generously provided by The Tennessean and the Nashville Public Library, Special Collections.
The Nashville Flood is supported in part by SunTrust Foundation and the Frist Art Museum’s O’Keeffe Circle Members.
The Frist Art Museum is supported in part by the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, the Frist Art Museum is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit art exhibition center dedicated to presenting and originating high-quality exhibitions with related educational programs and community outreach activities. Located at 919 Broadway in downtown Nashville, Tenn., the Frist Art Museum offers the finest visual art from local, regional, national, and international sources in exhibitions that inspire people through art to look at their world in new ways. The Frist Art Museum’s Martin ArtQuest Gallery ® features interactive stations relating to Frist Art Museum exhibitions. Information on accessibility can be found at FristArtMuseum.org/Accessibility. Gallery admission is free for visitors 18 and younger and for members, $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and college students with ID, and $8 for active-duty and retired military. College students are admitted free Thursday and Friday evenings (with the exception of Frist Fridays), 5:00–9:00 p.m. Groups of 10 or more can receive discounts with advance reservations by calling 615-744-3247. The galleries, café, and gift shop are open seven days a week: Mondays through Wednesdays, and Saturdays, 10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays, 10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.; and Sundays, 1:00–5:30 p.m., with the café opening at noon. For additional information, call 615-244-3340 or visit FristArtMuseum.org.
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