Arts & Culture

Houston donates $250,000 to artists impacted by Winter Street Studios fire

The fire destroyed several studios in the Sawyer Yards complex west of downtown in the morning hours on December 20.


Mayor Sylvester Turner announced a $250,000 donation to Winter Street Studios.

The City of Houston announced a $250,000 donation on Thursday to the Houston Arts Alliance Emergency Relief Fund for artists impacted by the Winter Street Studios fire last December. The Houston Arts Alliance initiated the fund after the fire, to help the individuals recover from damaged artwork and personal belongings.

Over 100 artists’ work was destroyed during the fire that caused $2.5 million in damages. Some artists are still struggling to rebuild their careers and Mayor Sylvester Turner said he hopes the city's contribution will help the artists back to their livelihoods.

"I hope that these funds demonstrate our commitment and investment into the arts community and will go a long way in helping each artist find their footing again," he said. "We all know $250,000 to this fund is a substantial amount, but more is needed."

Community members have helped raise close to $70,000 so far, but even with the city’s new donation, it will take more funding to cover the loss of the hundred of artists. Turner challenged Houstonians to match the city's contribution and continue donating to the relief fund.

"I want to issue a challenge to all of us and I want us to collectively match the city's contribution to support these artists," he said. "What I do know in this city, that when we have faced tragedies in all different walks of our lives, that this city has always responded. It is my hope for those who can give, match what the city has given, I hope that you will."

The fire destroyed several studios in the Sawyer Yards complex west of downtown in the morning hours on December 20. Jon Deal, one of the co-owners said they're starting the rebuilding process, but one section of the building that suffered major damages will take several months to repair.

"I'm always optimistic and I always hold my guys to a high standard," he said. "I'm pushing them to get two-thirds of the building up and running in 60 to no more than 90 days; this section will take six to nine months."

The section Deal is referring to is the area where the fire was started in one the studios. Officials said the fire was so severe it blew out walls and doors, damaged cracked floors, and concrete pillars 12 inches thick. The smoke traveled hundreds of feet, filling the entire building.

Deal said he's helped the artist as much as he can and the city's contribution was right on time.

"Very, very much needed and very, very helpful," he said. "We've done all we can from the private section, [we've] moved them all, we have them storage spaces in our expenses," he said.

Holly Nowak was one the artists affected by the fire; she lost everything. Her studio was across from the studio where the fire started. She said for a lot of artists, it's their full-time job and she's grateful for all of the contributions."

"This has had a significant impact and so all of the help that we've received from our community, we just can't thank you enough."

Nowak said, all of the artists have been very resilient and they continue to push through while enduring a minor setback.

“Life doesn’t stop when there’s a tragedy and everybody knows that, so you just have to…you have to keep going," she said.

Turner said 64 artists applied for emergency assistance through the Houston Arts Alliance Emergency Relief Fund. The Houston Arts Alliance Board Chair, Michele Leah Farrah said the city's contribution will be distributed to the artist who applied for assistance this week.

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