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June 2, 2020

As stay-at-home orders lift, some Austin art galleries open by appointment

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As stay-at-home orders begin to lift and many businesses across Texas navigate re-opening, a handful of art galleries in Austin have opted to open by appointment.

And it wasn’t an easy decision to make.

At Wally Workman Gallery, assistant director Rachel H. Stephens said that the decision came down to balancing safety and the “financial health of our families as well as the artists that rely on us.”

“We have 50 artists that rely on us for their income,” Stephens said.

On May 5, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order allowing some businesses and services to open at 25% customer capacity including in-store retail services, movie theaters, museums and libraries, among others. The governor’s order supersedes any city or county stay-at-home orders.

Many Austin museums and independent movie theaters run by Austin Film Society and Alamo Drafthouse opted to remain closed.

Related: Austin museums, movie theaters react to Gov. Abbott’s reopening plan

At the Flatbed Center for the Contemporary Print founder Katherine Brimberry said the decision to open was a matter of squaring the financial viability of Flatbed’s fine art publishing and gallery operations with necessary health protocols.

“I interpret our gallery as being a retail business,” said Brimberry. “It seemed logical that a good and safe alternative would be to open by appointment with safety measures in place.”

Both Stephens and Brimberry report that they have had some online art sales since the shutdown began in mid-March.

Stephens said that sales for its Support The Artists poster campaign, launched last week, had so far helped many of its artist pay their May rent.

But buying, and viewing, art online can only go so far financially as well as aesthetically.

For gallery owner Troy Campa of Camiba Art the decision to begin by-appointment viewing was also motivated by the desire to offer people some relief from quarantine fatigue and digital offerings. In April, Camiba staged “Staying Home,” an online exhibit with a daily post of artists’ work.

“I envision that now someone may decide to come by for a quick art fix while on their weekly outing to the grocery store,” Campa said. “Or maybe someone is tired of staring at the blank walls at home and have decided it is time to buy something to fill that void, but they just can’t bring themselves to buy online.”

Beyond maintaining social distancing as well undertaking extra cleaning and sanitizing, protocols the three galleries have put in place include asking all visitors to wear masks and limiting the number of people per scheduled appointment.

At Flatbed, which recently moved into a new warehouse space in southeast Austin, scheduled visits are limited to no more than three people who must arrive together.

In addition to setting up appointments for its schedule exhibitions, at Wally Workman Stephens said they will request that those making appointments must ask in advance if they want additional artworks pulled for viewing, and then let people have the space to themselves. (The gallery is maintaining its previously planned schedule of exhibitions.)

At Camiba, people must be from the same household — that is a party visiting must be people who have already been sequestering together. And Campa will prop the door open for visitors so no one need touch the door handle.

Like many small business owners now, the gallerists are unsure about just how many people will take them up on the opportunity for a visit.

“Who knows, maybe people don’t need to see art in person as badly as we do,” said Campa.

“We will constantly re-evaluate the situation, and if at any point we decide the risk is too much for our guests or for our team, then we will make the appropriate changes.“

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The Texas Department of State Health Services has safety guidelines for businesses that plan to re-open. The city of Austin has an Economic Recovery Resources page at  ATXrecovers.com

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzinhttps://sightlinesmag.org
An award-winning arts journalist, Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Sightlines.

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