Update: After visits from the Menlo Park Police Department, Art Ventures Gallery owner Katharina Power has closed her downtown space until shelter-in-place orders are eased up after receiving warnings from the agency. Read the story here.
A Menlo Park art gallery owner is pushing back against the nonessential business shutdown, declaring that art is essential and opening gallery doors for visitors.
Art Ventures Gallery, located at 888 Santa Cruz Ave., is set to reopen Tuesday, May 5, with rules in place to minimize the risk of the spread of the new coronavirus. The gallery was also open on Saturday, May 3, Powers said.
Visitors will be expected to wear masks and maintain 12 feet of space between themselves and others. The number of visitors inside at a time will be restricted to two or three, according to owner Katharina Powers.
She said she believes that art galleries should be classified as essential businesses, and not subjected to forced closures by the state and region's shutdown orders.
"Today's misguided interpretation of what is 'Essential' really is a disservice for every artist that has created art through history," she wrote in a press release.
Galleries with few visitors can also be less crowded and potentially safer than grocery stores, she argued in a letter she sent to California Gov. Gavin Newsom about two weeks ago, she said in an interview. She didn't get a response.
She said she sees opening the gallery's doors right now as a way to serve the community, offering socially distanced, masked locals something to do to take their minds off of the pandemic between the grocery store and home.
"It's great to look at art. It gets you in a different mindset, a different spirit. It calms you down and takes away your stress and anxiety," she said. "I'm concerned about the anxiety out there."
So far, nobody's been much in the mood to buy art during the pandemic, she said, but ultimately, her gallery will need to make sales to survive.
In this struggle, though, she's not alone among local retailers. For instance, she said, some other Santa Cruz Avenue businesses are furniture stores that have been ordered to remain shuttered through May.
"I don't understand why they can't open by appointment," she said.
And while many museums around the world have pivoted to offering virtual art viewings, Powers said that's not what she wants. "Art can only be seen in person," she said. Falling in love with a piece requires an in-person experience with art, she added.
"I don't want people to just be on-screen all day long. It's messing up their brains," she said.
Find comprehensive coverage of the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.