NASHVILLE, TN – Dec. 12, 2019 – The Frist Art Museum presents “The Nashville Flood: Ten Years Later,” an exhibition commemorating the city’s historic natural disaster in 2010, on display Jan. 10-May 17, 2020 in the always-free Conte Community Arts Gallery.
Through photographs and excerpts of oral histories from the Nashville Public Library’s flood archive and The Tennessean, the exhibition will present the destruction and the relief efforts from 10 neighborhoods in Davidson County, including Antioch, Belle Meade, Bellevue, Bordeaux, and others, in addition to downtown.
“Newcomers to Nashville may not be aware of the extent of destruction, as well as the resilience and comradery in the aftermath,” said Frist Art Museum curator Katie 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.
“Compared to other natural disasters, the recovery process in Nashville was remarkably efficient,” said Delmez. “When Anderson Cooper of CNN arrived on Thursday, May 6, the worst was over, and the recovery and cleanup had already begun.”
A record-breaking rainfall of more than 13 inches caused major flooding May 1-2, 2010 throughout Middle Tennessee. The Cumberland River crested almost 12 feet above flood stage, and smaller waterways such as Browns Creek, Mill Creek, Richland Creek, Whites Creek, and the Harpeth River also flooded, wreaking havoc across the city. 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—11 in Nashville.
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.
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.
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.
“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,” said 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.
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Ellen Jones Pryor