News Register for our weekly news digest here.

California Governor Gavin Newsom. Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr.
California Governor Gavin Newsom. Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr.

California Galleries Flout Stay-At-Home Orders, Declaring Art Essential

Despite the current shelter-at-home orders in effect in California, a number of businesses across the state are opening their doors, defying measures that were enacted to protect the public from the novel coronavirus, which has infected more than 60,600 people and caused 2,462 deaths at the time of publication. Among those refusing to stay closed are two Bay Area art galleries whose owners believe that shuttering for six weeks was enough.

“Public officials: know that we’re prepared to risk fines, arrest, or jail,” wrote dealers Quent and Linda Cordair of Quent Cordair Fine Art in Napa in an open letter published by the Napa Valley Register. “We’re pursuing resources for any necessary legal challenge, up to the Supreme Court if necessary.” Calling the current situation “unhealthy and unsustainable,” the letter concludes: “We must get back to work, back to living, as well and as quickly as possible, while continuing to observe reasonable precautionary measures. It’s time.”

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, over the weekend a number of other businesses in Napa also flouted the stay-at-home orders, including a restaurant, a dog groomer, and a gun shop. In response, Napa County public health officials told the newspaper that they are “currently looking at options of how to handle the situation.” The Codairs and other business owners have cited the low number of cases in Napa County as one of the reasons why they opted to take matters into their own hands—with seventy-eight confirmed cases, the area only reported two virus-related deaths as of Wednesday.

Katharina Powers, who owns Art Ventures Gallery in Menlo Park, reopened on Saturday with limited hours. “Art galleries are essential,” she told the Mercury News. “Art does something that nothing else can achieve, which is that it takes us away from our current mindset and everything that’s going on. People are getting desperate because they don’t know how long it’s going to take and they’re getting nervous.”

Last month, Powers wrote to California Governor Gavin Newsom asking him to make art galleries essential businesses, but she did not receive a response. While the controversial decision to open amid the ongoing Covid-19 crisis did not go over well with some—including law enforcement, who told her she must comply with the shutdown—others applauded the move.

Powers claims residents urged her to do so and that she spoke to other dealers who called to learn how her soft opening went and are considering reopening themselves. Powers stressed that she respects medical workers who are fighting the virus on the front lines and that she will enforce safety measures at the gallery, such as requiring visitors to wear masks and to keep six feet apart upon entering the arts space and holding virtual exhibition openings until it is deemed safe for large crowds to gather again.

On Monday, Newsom announced that retail stores may begin opening again as early as Friday as part of a four-part plan to lift restrictions. While book and music stores, toy shops, florists, and other retailers were given the green light to reopen with limited operations, galleries were not included. Art dealerships and other nonessential businesses may also have to wait to receive permission to open from their county officials. According to the Los Angeles Times, Newsom has given counties the power to decide whether to allow their residents to go back to work or to continue the quarantine.