$250,000 in Houston taxpayer money given to artists impacted by fire at Winter Street Studios

Nick Natario Image
Saturday, February 18, 2023
$250,000 in Houston taxpayer money given to artists impacted by fire
A giant check with $250,000 was made out to the Houston Arts Alliance after artists were impacted by a fire at Winter Street Studios.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- After receiving more than $100,000 from donors, artists impacted by a fire in Houston received a big boost from you, the taxpayer.

A giant check with $250,000 was made out to the Houston Arts Alliance and displayed during a news conference on Thursday. It's a figure you may have contributed to.

"When we have faced tragedy in all walks of life, this city has always responded," Mayor Sylvester Turner said. On Friday, ABC13 learned the money from the giant check came from taxpayers.

"Just like we supported restaurants during COVID," Turner explained. "We extended financial help to them as well. We've done it in all different facets."

ORIGINAL REPORT: Fire at Winter Street Studios in Houston's Sawyer Heights under investigation

The Houston Fire Department is investigating a fire that torched multiple art pieces inside the Winter Street Studios in Sawyer Heights.

COVID relief funds were federal dollars aimed to help businesses stay open and people on the payroll during the pandemic. The $250,000 in taxpayer money the city gave this time went to artists impacted by a fire.

Two months ago, Houston Fire Department officials said someone started a fire at Winter Street Studios. Artists said it caused more than $2 million in damage to their work. To help them, an emergency relief fund was started.

That fund received $250,000 in Houston taxpayer money. We asked the Houston Art Alliance how your tax money will be distributed.

We're told approved applicants will get $3,300 - money they can use for income, housing, a new workspace, or materials.

A city spokesperson said the money came from the Hotel Occupancy Tax, which is used to boost tourism. Use of those funds, Turner said, was the right decision to give to artists who make a profit off their work.

"It doesn't matter what the cause may be," Turner said. "When a group of people are impacted, and they're knocked down through no fault of their own, when they're a tremendous benefit to the city of Houston, I think in this city, we don't leave them out there to fend for themselves."

PREVIOUS REPORT: Artist's friend accused of burning down his shop kills himself before arrest, police say

After a man was accused of burning down a friend's art studio, he jumped to his death as authorities were trying to serve a warrant for his arrest.

Houston Arts Alliance said none of the money will go to rebuilding the structure damaged by the fire. So far, it said more than 50 artists have been approved to receive funding.

They can apply through the end of the month.

In addition to taxpayer money, the artists have received nearly $100,000 through GoFundMe accounts, and other donors gave $70,000 to the relief fund.

For updates on this story, follow Nick Natario on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.