The pictures of flood-related devastation to homes and businesses in Florida and coastal areas of Texas from the recent hurricane season—which only officially ended in November—may have been heartbreaking, but artworks in museums, art galleries, and private homes appear to have been spared significant damage, according to Colin Quinn, the director of claims management at AXA Art Insurance.
In a year of calamities of all sorts, a bit of good news.
“[Hurricane] Irma was a little weaker than predicted, especially as it went up the coast,” he said, and art owners in Houston “were pretty well prepared by the time Harvey hit, having taken preventive measures.” These measures included sending valuable objects to secured art storage facilities, as well as simply moving artwork from areas in their homes that could be flooded to upstairs rooms less likely to be affected by water damage.
“AXA art insurance policyholders were aware of the potential for flood damage and were better prepared than many people in the northeast when Superstorm Sandy hit in 2012,” he said. That hurricane caused approximately half a billion dollars in damage to artwork in private homes and commercial art galleries in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York, leading to rises in insurance premiums in the following year of between 5 and 20 percent, as well as some outright policy cancellations.
With hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, as well as others that may arise, “we are still triaging the losses, and it is too early to estimate the number of claims we will receive,” Quinn said, but the preparation on the part of art museums, galleries, and collectors for the hurricane season made an overall catastrophic event less of a disaster for works of art.
Disasters appear to have been a good teacher to the art world, noted Dorit Straus, a private art insurance advisor and former worldwide fine art manager for Chubb. “People in the Gulf states learned from Katrina,” the 2005 hurricane that caused extensive damage to property in New Orleans, “and galleries and homeowners in the northeast have learned from Sandy. These are people with means, and they have instituted preventive measures that are costly but effective in limiting or, in some cases, eliminating the possibility of damage to valuable artworks.”
As a result, she added, the 2017 hurricane season—as disruptive as it has been to many homes and businesses in cities and towns in Florida and the Gulf states—may prove to be “a non-event in the fine art insurance market.” As a result, she does not expect to see any significant hikes in premiums.
Part of what has relieved pressure from the insurance industry in general and the art insurance field in particular is the fact that private insurers no longer provide coverage for flood damage. Those who live or have businesses in flood-prone areas, and even those outside of flood zones, are required to obtain coverage from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance Program in order to receive compensation for claimed property losses. The cost of this coverage varies, based on where one lives and the likelihood of flooding, but annual premiums for this type of policy ranges from $400 to $2,500, based on available 2015 estimates.
Although art museums, art galleries, and individual owners of artwork appear to have heeded warnings from the insurance industry and others about protecting these objects, the belief that more violent hurricanes on the east coast, tornados in the Midwest, earthquakes throughout the United States, and the potential of terrorism almost anywhere should be considered expected events has taken hold. Quinn stated that Houston has prided itself on its lax zoning regulations, which may have contributed to the problem of building in known flood-zone areas, but now might look to rein in its free-for-all attitude toward where homes and businesses are located. “Right now, the resources in the city of Houston and the state of Texas are being severely taxed, but changes should be made going forward,” he said. Both AXA and Chubb are active in promoting research in climate change, recognizing that catastrophic natural events may prove to be an annual occurrence.