Dear Mayor Turner and Members of Houston City Council,
My name is Jonathan Hopson and I have a small art gallery business here in Houston.
I am contacting you because I am very concerned for our Houston arts community. As many are, we are also hard hit by the recent slow-down in the global economy, and as a result of the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The arts community is made up of many small businesses, including commercial art galleries and artist-run art exhibition spaces across the City of Houston.
These small businesses have been severely impacted by the recommended gathering size limitations and ultimate work-from-home order due to the communicable nature of COVID-19.
This pandemic has forced art galleries to close their doors to visitors, cancel or indefinitely postpone entire exhibitions, opening receptions, performances and all public events. The closing and the cancelation of these events limit the ability for these businesses to make the sales they rely on.
Arts galleries are often small businesses whose employees don't always fit traditional models of employment. Many of these laborers are freelancers who provide their services to multiple businesses throughout the community. They are artists, writers, actors, singers, web designers, graphic designers, preparators, art-handlers, installers, photographers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and consultants, just to name a few. Many that fill these roles do no have a steady paycheck or a stable history of employment at a specific place or for any extended period.
The longer the pandemic extends, the more difficult it will be for these businesses and organizations to survive and still support these workers and their employees. It will also have a ripple effect on the larger creative economy of Houston and surrounding areas.
These small businesses need the financial support of the local city government to pay their employees, support the artists that they represent, cover operational costs, and pay their rents and/or mortgages.
Arts spaces are an irreplaceable part of the cultural landscape. Through their exhibitions and events, many of these spaces provide a free public service for communities throughout the city. As common spaces for culture, they contribute to Houston’s reputation as an exciting destination for tourists to visit, and help make the city a competitive option for businesses of every sector in search of new locations to compete.
If no action is taken today, we will lose many of these cultural spaces, and many artists and freelance workers will be left without income or a system of support.
It is important to note that small art galleries do not generate income through a predictable stream of sales for goods the way other retail stores, bars, and restaurants do. They often generate their incomes through commercial invoices - sales of art works, which make their revenue irregular and dependent on a fluctuating stream of payments.
While you have expressed support for the restaurant, bar and nightclub industry, to date you have not expressed support for any of the vital small businesses in our community that make up the creative capital of our city.
While I am aware that national programs are being developed to provide aid to small businesses, I want to be sure we provide for the most vulnerable businesses that exist in the gaps between the inevitable tiers of said aid.
The unique business structure complexities of art galleries highlight the need for you to take action to provide financial relief for ALL small businesses with business structures similar to art galleries in Houston.
As such, I am specifically seeking:
- The immediate development of a grant relief initiative for small businesses with business structures similar to art galleries. This initiative must be designed to provide financial relief for small business owners with no employees as well as small businesses, like art galleries, who support their few full-time employees, part-time employees, contracted freelancers, and artists.
- The immediate development of an additional grant relief initiative for sole-proprietors and small businesses that may not be incorporated and have incomes that flow through an individual, family, or personal income.
- Zero interest loans for arts businesses whose losses may not be visible right away.
- Creation of special employee retention grants for smaller arts businesses and not-for-profit art spaces, whose losses may not be visible right away with 1-4 employees.
- Emergency Medicare for the uninsured in these arts sectors, to ensure that the public’s health, safety, and welfare in the face of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) is the highest priority of our government.
- Rent forgiveness for commercial tenants - small businesses or sole proprietors - until the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the resulting economic depression have ended. This could be offset by a property tax credit for landlords which would offset their loss in rent.
- A freeze on mortgage payments for small business owners who conduct business from within their own property until the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the resulting economic depression have ended.
- Utility bill (i.e. the cost of electricity, water, and gas) forgiveness until the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the resulting economic depression have ended.
- Insurance bill forgiveness for business related insurance policies until the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the resulting economic depression have ended.
Thank you for everything that you do for our fair city and for your consideration in these troubling times.
With warm regards,
Jonathan Hopson Gallery
904 Marshall St.
Houston, TX. 77006