Community meeting held in Boyle Heights on Tuesday, July 12.

Boyle Heights Activists Demand Art Galleries Leave the LA Neighborhood

Residents of Boyle Heights—a working-class neighborhood located east of the arts district in downtown Los Angeles—are demanding that art galleries move out of their neighborhood, Hillel Aron of LA Weekly reports. The activists view the galleries as catalysts for gentrification.

“We have one pretty simple demand,” said Maga Miranda, a member of the Defend Boyle Heights group, “which is for all art galleries in Boyle Heights to leave immediately and for the community to decide what takes their place.” Miranda, who is also part of a new coalition called Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement, claims that the activists are not against culture. The alliance opposes galleries because they are part of a “broader effort by planners and politicians and developers who want to artwash gentrification.”

During a two-hour community meeting on Tuesday that drew about one hundred people to the Pico Gardens housing project, residents expressed that they fear the galleries will make Boyle Heights into a “luxury zone,” which will cause the cost of housing to skyrocket.

Among the gallerists present at the meeting was Ethan Swan, manager of 356 Mission, who said, “I’m here to listen. I feel very affected by what I’ve heard tonight. But I don't know what the next step is for me or for the gallery.” Another dealer who attended the meeting and wished to remain unidentified said, “I’ve worked in the art world for twenty-five years. I’ve never seen anything like this. Ever. Art galleries are usually a welcome resource.”

In recent months, Defend Boyle Heights initiated numerous protests and demonstrations against arts organizations, including Self Help Graphics, which has been in the neighborhood since 2010, and PSSST Gallery, which opened a month ago. A booklet the group was distributing at the meeting read, “The 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. The investor has given the PSSST gallerists a twenty-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. In PSSST, we see, once again, the convergence of real estate investment and art.” The printmaking studio, which has been in business for forty-three years, was accused of having ties to a developer who wants to demolish affordable housing in the community and of bringing outside artists into the neighborhood without thinking about how they are impacting its residents.

“It’s tough,” Betty Avila, associate director of Self Help Graphics, said. “It’s tough to hear folks call out an organization that has done so much to support the artistic community, the greater community. But it’s opening up a needed dialogue.”