Design a business plan for a mom and pop shop. Throw in all the extras, goodies, and toppings, like locally sourced content, community building, local economy boosting, and anything else that sounds good. Do not be shy, put it all in there. In fact, build your dream business. Have you got it in your head? OK, now take this business plan and put it in a blender. Throw in some COVID-19, a dash of uncertainty, maybe a teaspoon of stress. While you’re at it, add some lightning, unprecedented wildfires, smoke-filled air, evacuations, and record-breaking heat waves. If I really have you in a mood, throw in a pinch of political tension with AB 5 and upcoming elections. For good measure, add a few cups of economic stress.

“Artists and arts organization have a larger impact on social behavior and well-being than most citizens realize.”

Yeah…so, this has been a crazy year, and it is hardly halfway through. I am just glad the Mayan calendar ended in 2012 instead of 2020. I am not sure if I could deal with Armageddon right now. My wife, Dana, and I are the cofounders of a local business. It is a mom-and-pop-shop adventure, an art hub in San Jose called Visual Philosophy. Our business, which we started in 2013, is a school and an artist incubator on The Alameda. This is the third San Jose business—spanning four generations—in my family. My great grandfather had a car dealership on San Carlos Avenue, and my grandfather sold motorcycles in the ’60s, a few blocks from our current location. Like so many businesses, we have been drastically impacted by COVID. In effect, our business as we knew it ceased. I sometimes feel like I need Captain Jack Sparrow’s magic compass to help navigate the ever-changing tides, as our authorities implement and recant rules and guidelines for doing business within the fog of COVID. That is not meant to pass judgment. I recognize the challenges our city faces while they juggle the safety of our communities and the ever-slowing trickle of our economic stream. For most businesses, including ours, the shelter-in-place order was like a shot from a starter pistol, and we scrambled into a new world of Zoom, online fatigue, and social anxiety.

Tragedies and stressful environments bring out the best and the worst in us. Amidst the chaos and anxiety, I have been lucky to witness the good in people. You should know about the efforts that might otherwise go unseen, even if their campaigns are successful. They work behind the curtains and do not ask for the spotlight. Which, honestly, is why they deserve it.

Dana and I were asked to join a task force called the Greater Downtown San Jose Economic Recovery Task Force. The group was put together by District 3 Councilmember Raul Peralez and his office. The goal of the task force was to brainstorm ideas on how to keep the economy running in the downtown and adjacent area of San Jose, and our contribution was to focus on arts and entertainment groups—the lifeblood of our city. Arts and entertainment support cultural identity and community involvement. Art-related businesses contributed over 800 billion dollars to the economy in 2019. It is the unseen current that directs economic flow in every major metropolis. The unsung heroes working behind the scenes have more effect on your life than you may realize. We have fostered the term “second responders” for the arts, because I believe art has the potential to educate and stimulate, both of which are greatly needed right now. If our task force can figure out how to run arts and entertainment businesses in the city, everything else will follow. And so we developed a campaign called Safely Social San Jose. Through local artists, art groups, and creative leaders, the campaign will aim to help our businesses develop new and appropriate methods of operating within the pandemic. Essentially, we need to recognize our social habits and strategically learn a new social dance, with the final outcome being to establish the confidence that businesses with the Safely Social logo are indeed safe places to visit. This will stimulate the economy while providing you, our citizens, a step towards sustainable recovery. Look for the Safely Social San Jose campaign as you begin to venture back out into a nonvirtual world.

The task force has provided an opportunity for Dana and me to use our business and help our city. We have connected with some amazing community arts groups and leaders. The amount of work that has been done behind the scenes to benefit our city is immense. I would like to publicly give a heartfelt thank you to Susan Sayre Batton of San Jose Museum of Art, Daniel Garcia of Content Magazine, Dana Seeger of Visual Philosophy, Brendan Rawson of San Jose Jazz, Amanda Tello Rawson of Art Builds Community, Wisa Uemura of San Jose Taiko, Nick Nichols of Symphony Silicon Valley, Trami Cron of Chopsticks Alley, Chris Esparza of Giant Creative, and Fil Maresca of Filco Events. These groups are banding together on your behalf. If you are unfamiliar with any of these names or organizations, I suggest you look them up. I am proud of the community and business that Dana and I have created. Our network of studio artists, students, teachers, and art lovers have banded together and are weathering this COVID storm as a community. A friend of ours once likened the business to a child, and she commented that it had now become an adolescent. It is time to let it go out in the world, even if it makes a few mistakes along the way. I am a proud father of my little business. I am hopeful that these turbulent times will bring us closer together and make
us stronger.

The second group that needs a shout out at this time is a new nonprofit called San Jose Arts Advocates. Are you concerned about AB 5 or the upcoming elections? What about the Transit Occupancy Tax and how it will be affected by the city deficit in this time of pandemic? How are we moving forward with art in schools and on Zoom? The San Jose Arts Advocates are a bridge connecting the arts, our citizens, and local politics. They are a project-driven group with the vision to build public will for the arts by amplifying the creative voice that is the lifeblood of San Jose culture. I encourage you to get involved with this group; their goal is advocacy and education for our creative community. 

Artists and arts organization have a larger impact on social behavior and well-being than most citizens realize. These organizations are the infrastructure that helps our artists tell their stories. Art remains a vehicle of communication, binding our diverse city together. Art is the best method for evaluating and re-establishing cultural behavior and awareness so we can deal with these new and epic times. Bluntly speaking, we need to question our learned behaviors and the way we interact with one another socially. I don’t know about you, but I long for the day when my main mode of communication strays from the world of Zoom and doom. Look to our artist organizations for help in learning a new social dance that will bring us all together and make us stronger.

Article originally appeared in Issue 13.1 Discover (Print SOLD OUT)