Boyle Heights Activists Want to Banish All Art Galleries

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Boyle Heights’ long-running tradition of resistance is rising up to successfully battle gentrification. Its latest target? Art galleries. LA Weekly reports that at a community meeting Tuesday, Boyle Heights activists called for all art galleries to get out of town.

An activist with Defend Boyle Heights says the group’s “demand” is for all art galleries to vacate, “and for the community to decide what takes their place.”

Another activist, allied with the group Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement (BHAAAD), says this is not opposition to art or to culture, but rather a move against attempts by planners, politicians, and developers to “artwash” the neighborhood. The galleries are a part of the process, and so they’re no longer welcome.

Artwashing refers to the practice of using artists’ presence in a neighborhood as a way to dress up a formerly neglected area and rebrand it as highly desirable. It’s the name given to what many already hold to be anecdotally true: Artists are often the first wave of new residents in tomorrow’s over-priced, cool neighborhoods.

Residents are echoing concerns about what galleries mean to developers and real estate speculators. “We know that if the galleries go up, the value of the properties go up,” one resident says. That’s an intense concern in a neighborhood where almost 72 percent of residents are renters, according to a 2013 California State University, Los Angeles report cited by Defend Boyle Heights.

Two galleries in particular are being targeted: PSSST Gallery and Self-Help Graphics. These two, activists say, have an especially strong, negative connection to real estate interests in the neighborhood.

PSSST is a relative newcomer to Boyle Heights, “But only a block away from PSSST, the Boyle Heights residents have been fighting displacement and multiple forms of violence for decades. The eviction notices are already being posted,” says a pamphlet distributed by BHAAAD at the meeting and obtained by LA Weekly.

The pamphlet says the building that houses the gallery was bought for $1 million in 2014 by a mysterious investor who gave the gallery a 20-year lease, rent-free. The nature of the deal has many concerned that, “the building could very easily be flipped and resold again to the highest bidder.”

The non-profit Self-Help Graphics (SHG) is an Eastside stronghold—founded 43 years ago, it moved to Boyle Heights a few years ago from East LA and offers community-oriented programming.

But activists say SHG is also friendly with the developer that’s trying to redevelop the Wyvernwood Apartment complex. Wyvernwood opponents have been fighting the project for years, saying it would lead to displacement and create lots of new apartments that are financially out-of-reach for the vast majority of Boyle Heights residents.

The responses of gallery owners vary. Some were angered, others in shock. But Self Help Graphics’s associate director seemed to be open to discussion about the tight relationship between gentrification and galleries, saying that while it’s hard to hear criticism, activists are, “opening up a needed dialogue.”

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