Boyle Heights activists: Get out of our neighborhood, art galleries

The ‘Ambularte’ mobile art exhibit in Boyle Heights, 2015 (credit: Abe Ahn of Hyperallergic)
The ‘Ambularte’ mobile art exhibit in Boyle Heights, 2015 (credit: Abe Ahn of Hyperallergic)

Boyle Heights activists, known for their organized and staunch anti-gentrification efforts, are saying “down with art”— or at least the art galleries in their neighborhood.

A coalition called the Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement is now fighting to drive out all the art galleries that have set up shop in the historically working class and predominantly Hispanic area just east of the Arts District.

The influx of art galleries, they say, is part of a contrived effort on the part of developers and politicians to drive gentrification.

“We have one pretty simple demand,” Maga Miranda, an activist with the group Defend Boyle Heights, told L.A. Weekly, “which is for all art galleries in Boyle Heights to leave immediately and for the community to decide what takes their place.”

Artwashing is known as the process in which commercial investors lure artists into inhabiting their buildings in low land value markets through cheap rent, only to kick them out when the property appreciates as the result of gentrification.

The Boyle Heights organizers take issue with the nonprofit art space, PSSST, for instance.

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“‘PSSST Gallery’ was purchased in 2014 by an undisclosed investor who dropped over a million dollars into the purchase and architectural renovation of the former warehouse building,” they wrote in a pamphlet distributed at a community meeting this week.

“The investor has given the PSSST gallerists a 20-year, rent-free lease to do artistic programing. Concerns had been raised that the building could very easily be flipped and resold again to the highest bidder.”

But gallerists disagree with the organizers’ indictment of correlation between their presence and rising property costs.

“We have been open, we’ve engaged with the community,” PSSST co-founder Barnette Cohen told L.A. Weekly. “While we may have a certain amount of privilege, we in no way have the kind of power that developers have to stake out large swaths of property in order to attract the kind of people that can well and truly disrupt the community of Boyle Heights.”

PSSST’s first artist-in-residence is Boyle Heights native Guadalupe Rosales.

“Obviously, the Eastside has been an incredibly active place when it comes to art and culture,” Miranda said. “But the art galleries are part of a broader effort by planners and politicians and developers who want to artwash gentrification.” [LAW]Cathaleen Chen