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 these 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 Kristen Gillibrand, and the New York City Council and New York State House—calls for the establishment of a relief program for businesses like galleries and similar enterprises, 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 over 700 signatures, including New Museum curator Margot Norton, curator Lumi Tan of the Kitchen, and Thor Shannon, a director at David Zwirner, as well as several gallerists, including Maxwell Graham (of 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, the owner of the Lower East Side gallery Bodega and who serves on NADA’s board, was among those who helped write the letter. She was contacted by Gabrielle Giattino—the owner of New York’s Bureau gallery, who had also reached out to several other NADA-affiliated galleries—as well as Heather Hubbs, NADA’s executive director. “Like so many other people, we don’t have any income coming in 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 cancelation of art fairs has meant that some galleries have lost out on some of their biggest sales. Derosia said that, even though Armory Week happened 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, in part, intended to remedy this.
On March 8, de Blasio established two relief programs that would be available 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 and address this in a collective way—and address larger issues like health care, sick leave, and paid time off.”