Museums, artists pick up pieces of Katrina

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For Smithsonian Institution curator David Shayt, ordinary objects - a chunk of concrete from a collapsed floodwall, a piece from a broken garden gate and a vintage 1930s clarinet that a local jazz musician rescued from the mud - help chronicle the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

Shayt will take these and other artifacts from one of the nation's worst natural disasters to the National Mall in Washington, where someday they will go on display.

Shayt wants objects that capture all that New Orleans is - and all that the storm damaged or destroyed.

He got a basket, for instance, that the Coast Guard used to rescue people stranded when the levees broke on Aug. 29. He has a cot from the Superdome, where people waited in misery to be evacuated from the city.

"Rather than generic objects, we want specific objects that tell individual stories of the hurricane, of survival, of the response and the recovery," Shayt says.

Many others also are looking for tactile remembrances of Katrina. Local museums, historians and artists are grabbing objects before they become part of the world's largest trash heap. They hope to create an evocative record of the tragedy for future generations.

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