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Jenie Gao Studio LLC Grand Opening + Gallery Night, photo by Bruce Fritz

Art + Small Business + Coronavirus, A Letter

This has been a wild, upside down week for so many of us. As a full-time artist and business owner for the last five years, I’m accustomed to being aggressively busy. This is the first time that things have ground totally to a halt, and frankly, it’s scary.

I have spent the last few days calling my clients about what can continue as we work from home and what timelines need to change, making decisions about cancellations, and coronavirus-safeguarding my business as best as I can before cocooning during this quarantine.

Here’s what the shutdown has meant at Jenie Gao Studio:

  1. Three client projects delayed.
  2. Woodcut workshops canceled.
  3. One solo show, (ironically titled The Untold Story) canceled.
  4. Three events canceled.

Shutting down is the right thing for all of us to do, for the health of our community. And it is hard. Our current societal systems are not designed for this type of economic fallout. When we reemerge on the other side, everything will be different.

How it feels, the calm before the storm

Besides money, the arts are the cultural ethos of our time. They are the social glue between people, the bonfire for our ideas, the embrace between our ancestors and our successors. So it’s a little frightening to see how quickly art experiences evaporate at the onset a crisis.

Having said that, it’s also really heartening how art is lifting people’s spirits in the midst of uncertainty.

We don’t know yet if this shutdown will be two weeks or two months. But as creative people, I want to remind my art community that we are built for resilience. Creativity always expands to fill the quiet space. While this wasn’t the way any of us wanted to get a break from busyness, we have this time and space now. We must choose to be proactive over reactive. Now is the time to take heart and be in solidarity with one another.

What can we do?

I’ve heard a lot of folks asking how they can support artists, which is awesome.

In the short-term, buy your entertainment from local artists and makers. We’re all going to be home for a while, so buy art to brighten your home. Buy gift cards from artists’ and artisans’ eCommerce stores. Buy books from local authors and poets (because I know you’re on your phone too much right now). Follow artists’ feeds for online classes, videos, and visual inspiration. Donate to art nonprofits to support community art services. Sponsor artists directly to support their careers.

Longer term, the arts industry is difficult during the best economic times because it lacks adequate public infrastructure and funding. As with the service industry, this downtime is revealing the cracks in our public infrastructure and welfare to protect people and keep this from turning into a depression. Arts businesses rely heavily on events and programming that have been canceled for the next month or more. These losses will be exacerbated if there’s a recession. We’re going to need economic stimulus. Not just loans, but small business grants and direct payouts to people. If we don’t get everyday people back on their feet, then it doesn’t matter if a handful buy some gift cards to support their favorite local artists, restaurants, and shops at the start of the recession. It’s not enough to limp along. A healthy ecosystem requires all of us to be strong and to trust in our community’s support.

So tell your local political representatives. If you’re a decision maker where you work, use your privilege to help. Inform your friends, who may not realize the impact this will have on the cultural richness and local health of their community. After a medical and financial crisis, having both public and private support could make the difference between some of us tumbling, some of us stumbling, and some of us getting back up and running. Help us tell our story.

All right, thanks for listening, everyone. Again, I’ll have an announcement from Jenie Gao Studio tomorrow. Stay safe. <3 

Creative Madison Show at AC Hotel featuring Bruce Fritz, Mark Weller, and Ken Halfmann, curated by Jenie Gao, photo by Brian Huynh
With Wisconsin Artists Biennial 2020 Winners and jurors. Can’t wait to gather with everyone again soon. <3

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