As more and more art businesses around the world close amid concerns related to the new coronavirus (Covid-19), many of the hardest hit have been the small-business owners of art galleries and the living artists they represent. In an effort to combat the losses these artists and gallerists are experiencing, the New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA) has published an open letter on Change.org, addressed to several New York City and New York State public officials, demanding relief for those in the art world who have seen their sources of income decrease amid all the shutterings.
The letter—addressed to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York State Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and the New York City Council and New York State House—calls for the establishment of a relief program for galleries and similar businesses, exemptions for galleries to qualify for existing relief programs, emergency Medicare for all, and forgiveness on commercial rent, mortgage, utility, and insurance bills.
As of 9:30 a.m. on Friday, March 20, the letter had gathered more than 700 signatures, including those of New Museum curator Margot Norton, curator Lumi Tan of the Kitchen, and David Zwirner director Thor Shannon, as well as gallerists Maxwell Graham (Essex Street), Margaret Lee and Oliver Newton (47 Canal), and Stefania Bortolami (Bortolami).
“Without the financial support of the local, state, and federal government, these businesses will not be able to pay their employees, support the artists that they represent, pay their bills, and pay their rents and/or mortgages on the spaces in which they operate,” the letter reads. “If no action is taken, these businesses will not survive and many artists and art workers will be left without a system of support.”
Elyse Derosia, owner of the Lower East Side gallery Bodega and NADA board member, was among those who helped write the letter. She had been contacted by Gabrielle Giattino—the owner of New York’s Bureau gallery, who had reached out to several NADA-affiliated galleries—and Heather Hubbs, NADA executive director. “Like so many other people, we don’t have any income … but are still expected to pay bills, rent, etc.,” Derosia told ARTnews. “The artists we work with depend on sales for their income, but also work in food service or freelance.”
The closure of the physical gallery spaces and the cancellation of art fairs has caused galleries to lose some of their biggest sales. Derosia said that, even though Armory Week went off without a hitch this year, some of her colleagues who had placed works with collectors earlier this month had now begun to receive emails asking to cancel those sales. The letter is intended, in part, to remedy this.
On March 8, de Blasio established two relief programs for New York City’s small businesses: the NYC Employee Retention Grant Program, which covers 40 percent of payroll for two months (up to $27,000), and the NYC Small Business Continuity Fund, which provides a zero-interest loan of up to $75,000 to stymie profit losses. For both, businesses must be able to demonstrate a 25 percent decrease in revenue. Small galleries and nonprofits could potentially receive funds through these programs.
Acknowledging that the programs will likely work for some non-art businesses, Derosia said that many galleries “won’t be able to prove that type of loss for a few months even though we’re feeling the change now. People often have a lot of assumptions about what galleries are and what they do. In reality, most of us are operating on razor-thin margins. And it’s not just the galleries—the galleries are part of a whole ecosystem of freelancers and artists who rely on us.”
The letter speaks to larger systemic issues affecting America right now, Derosia said. “Politically, this crisis is laying bare a lot of the structural problems in this country. I feel lucky that we came together [to] address this in a collective way—and address larger issues like health care, sick leave, and paid time off.”