Nonprofit will shutter LGBT-focused art center in Boyle Heights, citing harassment from anti-gentrification groups

Founders say protests and online trolling forced PSSST to close less than a year after opening

Feb.February 22, 2017 01:24 PM
PSSST art space (Yelp)

The lights will be turned off for good at PSSST, a nonprofit art space in Boyle Heights.

The gallery, which also described itself as an incubator for underrepresented artists, announced on Tuesday it would be closing due to harassment and online trolling from anti-gentrification groups, the Los Angeles Times reported. 

The owner of its building at 1329 E. Third Street will assume control of its lease. It is unclear what will happen with the space.

PSSST opened in April 2016 inside a 4,000-square-foot warehouse, with a mission to represent LGBT, minority and female artists, according to its website.

It entered the neighborhood at a time when residents and activists were expressing concerns that the host of new galleries moving into the largely Latino neighborhood would inflate property values and push poorer residents out. A coalition called the Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement, for example, told L.A. Weekly last year it only had one demand: “which is for all art galleries in Boyle Heights to leave immediately and for the community to decide what takes their place.” Los Angeles police investigated three acts of vandalism targeting art galleries in the neighborhood that year.

PSSST was founded by L.A. based artists and California Institute of the Arts graduates Jules Gimbrone and Barnett Cohen. It worked with an advisory board that included multimedia artist A.L. Steiner, independent curator Michael Ned Holte, and Los Angeles County Museum of Art curatorial initiatives coordinator Pilar Tompkins Rivas.

The cofounders and its community outreach coordinator Pilar Gallego said in a statement on its website that it was “unable to ethically and financially proceed” with its mission.

The nonprofit said staff and artists were routinely harassed online and in person.

“This persistent targeting, which was often highly personal in nature, was made all the more intolerable because the artists we engaged are queer, women and/or people of color,” the statement said. “While our closure might be applauded by some, it is not a victory for civil discourse and coalition building at a time when both are in short supply.”

Defend Boyle Heights, another activist group that has called for the boycott of galleries, said in a Facebook post that it hopes the neighboring galleries “will follow the example set by PSSST and leave Boyle Heights.”

Some studies have shown, however, that gallery openings have had minimal effect on development trends as it often mirrors development as opposed to causing it, the L.A. Times reported. [LAT]Subrina Hudson

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