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The protest march through Boyle Heights (photo by Timo Saarelma)

LOS ANGELES — “No one is an innocent actor in the fine art of gentrification,” said a woman with a bandana covering her face, as she stood with dozens of protesters last Saturday evening outside of Museum as Retail Space (MaRS), a gallery in the Eastside neighborhood of Boyle Heights. The protest was part of a four-hour march through Boyle Heights organized by a coalition of local activists and community groups including Union de Vecinos, the Los Angeles Tenants Union, Defend Boyle Heights, and the Boyle Heights Alliance Against Art-Washing and Displacement (BHAAAD).

“The goal was to address the various forms of gentrification taking place in Boyle Heights and to link them to the systematic violence that has harmed the community,” the members of BHAAAD wrote to Hyperallergic via email. “We want to showcase some of the actors and participants of the process of displacement.”

Protesters post eviction notices on the gates of Maccarone Gallery, September 17, 2016 (photo by Timo Saarelma) (click to enlarge)

Along the route they stopped at “various community battlegrounds,” including the site of the recently demolished 6th Street Bridge, the forthcoming replacement for which is seen by some as symbolic of the neighborhood’s gentrification conflict. “Underneath the bridge will also be an art plaza named after artist-loft-developer Leonard Hill,” wrote BHAAAD. “Furthermore, the site is 3 blocks from where 5,150 units of market rate housing are being planned. It is also the beginning of Whittier, where 4 local businesses have been displaced as a result of land speculators buying up properties.” The protest also made stops at Hollenbeck Police Station to demand justice for Jesse Romero, the 14-year old boy who was shot and killed by police in Boyle Heights last month, and at Boyle Heights City Hall to ask for anti-displacement and anti-harassment ordinances.

Perhaps the most contested sites on the march, however, were the galleries that have cropped up over the past few years along a narrow industrial stretch between the LA River and the 101 freeway. Videos posted to YouTube and Facebook document the confrontations with gallery-goers. Carrying signs reading “Keep Beverly Hills out of Boyle Heights” and “Gentrification is Violence,” and chanting “Fuera!” — “Out!” — the protesters served the galleries with large “eviction notices.” UTA Artist Space, the new pseudo-gallery from Hollywood’s United Talent Agency, had celebrated the opening of its inaugural exhibition, featuring photography and paintings by Larry Clark, earlier in the day, but was closed by the time the marchers arrived. Nevertheless, they affixed the notice to their door, which read:

OCCUPANTS: UNITED TALENT AGENCY, LUHRING AUGUSTINE, JOSHUA ROTH, JIM BERKUS, LARRY CLARK, JOHNNY DEPP, WES ANDERSON, COEN BROTHERS, LENA DUNHAM and others of BEVERLY HILLS
REASON: DISPLACEMENT OF WORKING CLASS AND LOW-INCOME RESIDENTS
YOU ARE HEREBY NOTIFIED BY THE PEOPLE OF BOYLE HEIGHTS, who have fought for decades to preserve affordable housing for low-income families, reduced violence in the neighborhood, and have given their own labor and resources to make Boyle Heights a culturally vibrant community, that you must REMOVE YOUR BUSINESS from the neighborhood immediately.
THE PEOPLE OF BOYLE HEIGHTS

Eviction notices were also posted on the shuttered gates of Maccarone Gallery.

Activists hold up an eviction notice for United Talent Agency’s gallery Artist Space (photo by Timo Saarelma)

Venus Over Los Angeles was just wrapping up the reception for Fort Greene, a group exhibition featuring 27 artists, when protesters assembled in front of the gallery, holding signs up to the large windows. As seen in the video, a gallery employee walked outside to lower the roll-down gate. Flashing a nervous smile, she asked the woman shooting video, “Do you want something to drink?” “No, we want you to get out of our neighborhood,” she replied. (Neither Venus Over Los Angeles nor Maccarone Galley had responded to Hyperallergic’s requests for comment by press time.)

A block south, MaRS was also at the tail end of their opening for a two-person show of work by Galia Linn and Elena Stonaker, when marchers arrived and banged on the large glass windows as gallery patrons stared blankly at the commotion outside. The activists took turns speaking into a microphone, giving testimonials about their experiences with displacement. “As a community we’re going to stand together,” said a young man, “and as a community, in solidarity, we will defeat you guys, one way or the other.”

The owner of MaRS, Robert Zin Stark, walked outside and attempted to engage in a dialogue with the crowd. “That bridge is what is going to change,” he said, before being shouted down with a chant of “Step back and listen.”

The crowd outside of Museum as Retail Space (photo by Timo Saarelma)

“I tried to speak with Defend Boyle Heights as they were outside my gallery during our recent opening, but that was a disaster,” Stark told Hyperallegic via email. “That being said, I understand the concerns and want to help provide solutions. No one wants to lose their community. … I would like to see an ordinance passed that creates a program which enables long-time community residents to buy their homes and apartments with micro-interest loans subsidized by developers, new businesses, and the City.”

About 10 minutes later, Stark came back out and drew the gallery’s gates, and the protesters — chanting, “Don’t feel safe, we’ll be back” — resumed their march.

“This is not street theater,” said Elizabeth Blaney, co-founder of Union de Vecinos, speaking with Hyperallegic by phone after the rally. “This is something we are very serious about and we do expect them to leave. This isn’t a show. This is real life that’s happening to real people.”

Museum as Retail Space (photo by Timo Saarelma)

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Matt Stromberg

Matt Stromberg is a freelance visual arts writer based in Los Angeles. In addition to Hyperallergic, he is a frequent contributor to Daily Serving, and Glasstire.

62 replies on “Activists in LA’s Boyle Heights Serve Galleries with Eviction Notices”

  1. Public Advisory: Please do not be abusive to the front desk workers of these galleries. Your problem is the owners and directors of these galleries. The shopkeepers, like the girl who got yelled at, don’t make shit for pay and are just doing their jobs like the rest of us. They have no power. Treating them terribly will help no one.

    Please direct your social pressures at the right targets:

    – Michelle Maccarone, founder and owner of Maccarone Gallery
    – Adam Lindemann, founder and owner of Venus Over Los Angeles
    – Robert Zin Stark, Director and Owner of MaRS Gallery.
    – Joshua Roth, Founder of UTA’s Fine Art Division
    – Magnus Edensvard, Director of IBID Projects

    1. To be fair, no one has to work in a gallery. They usually pay badly. So those working there have made a choice, and they should know it impacts others. But your point is an important one. Thank you for making it.

      1. “They have a choice” is a presumptive, no? And a response more likely given by someone who has choices themselves for work and opportunity, unable to see realistically that not everyone can immediately quit their job for morally righteous reasons, as if there is a fund that pays rent for high-minded people. No, there are plenty of people who work in galleries who live hand-to-mouth. But even the richest “gallerina” in the world still doesn’t make real estate decisions for gallery owners and directors. Yelling her still does nothing.

          1. I don’t know why that’d be the case. I thought of “they have a choice” too before making my comment. I shouldn’t have been so edgy in my response to you, but for many years I was one of those shopkeepers at lots of galleries. I was “let go” from one job and it took me months to find another, while people around me helped pay my rent. The next job I got was one 400 people applied for. It was dumb luck that one of my previous bosses was highly respected by my then new one. Hyperallergic champions the little guy and my point is most of these kids are the little guy too. That’s all.

          2. I agree with you, that’s what I was trying to say but I also don’t want to take the agency away from these people working at galleries. Let’s not see them as passive, that’s all. They have a role. Thanks for explaining though.

  2. Boyle Heights is a place where for decades the worst of “environmental racism” was practiced. Look at a map of the area and you will see that 4 freeways crisscross it — the building of those roads was a deliberate act that reduced the livability of the area and helped to intentionally reduce its property values. It’s also surrounded by historically toxic land use in the adjacent industrial areas.

    The LA River is a divider between downtown and the East Side of LA (No, Silver Lake and Echo Park are not the “East Side”).

    Anyone who really knows LA and respects its history and culture would not make the mistake that these galleries made and open on the other side of that river unless they were consciously intending to “gentrify” it. The protesters are right. Whether they will be the reason the galleries fail, or the economy of LA which really can’t support their existence does the trick, they will likely not last.

    Just about ALL of the changes in DTLA since 1999 do not involve displacement so are not really “gentrification” as it has become known. Galleries do move around to areas that are affordable and raw, and there is a ton of that on the west side of the river, mostly in commercial and industrial areas like Santa Fe Avenue.

  3. I’d love to see a statement made by these gallery owners about WHY they chose Boyle Heights. There are always articles about new gallery districts cropping up when the old districts get too predictable and sanitized, and the quotes from the owners are typically very vapid (e.g. various Culver City galleries who’ve moved to Hollywood or Chelsea galleries who fled to the Lower East Side or Brooklyn).
    Ostensibly it’s for lower rents, but it’s also for their desperate need to remain ‘cutting edge’ or ‘gritty’, and to maintain the mirage that they’re something other than a luxury shop for the 1%. In a way, that chilly freezer of Gagosian Beverly Hills is at least less hypocritical.

    1. I’ve tried reaching out to many of the galleries and only a few have wanted to comment. Cheaper rent is certainly a factor, but more importantly I think is the prevalence of large, empty warehouse spaces. Lots of artists have studios near there as well. Then there’s the “edginess factor” you mention. UTA’s Joshua Roth told the NY Times, “Right now, the heart and soul of creativity is in downtown Los Angeles,” which would seem to support that notion, except that Boyle Heights is not actually in downtown LA. Then there’s Michelle Maccarone’s remark to the Times: “It still has a dangerous quality — I kind of like that. I like that we spent a fortune on security,” which I think speaks for itself. As for whether they’re “luxury shops for the 1%,” I think it’s worth noting that these galleries are all free and open to the public, offering visitors access to a wide selection of contemporary art at no cost.

      1. When you were working on this article, did you find out what local businesses were displaced by the galleries opening in Boyle Heights? If the spaces were previously large, empty warehouse spaces then the gallerists are guilty of thought-crimes, since actual displacement and gentrification would not yet have occurred. If a family-owned business was on a site and got forced to move so a landlord could collect a higher rent, that’s a different story.

        1. i think it’s more complicated than a direct correlation between one gallery moving in and displacing one business or one residential building. it’s more about the overall effect on real estate values that development brings, which leads to displacement. (A whopping 75.9% of Boyle Heights residents are renters according to the LA Times.) Condos, boutiques, galleries all play a role in this, regardless of their intentions. BHAAAD did inform me that one of the stops on the march was the former site of Mother’s Nutritional Center serving low-income residents, that closed because it not afford a raise in rent.

          1. I agree it’s more complicated than I implied, but knowing that even one community organization was displaced due to rising rents as a result of galleries moving in makes the problem less abstract and more immediate. Thanks for the update.

          2. Of course, although I think saying “rising rents as a result of galleries moving in” lets developers and landlords off the hook. The galleries may make the neighborhood more appealing to developers, but ultimately they’re the ones who are deciding which neighborhoods they want to operate in.

          3. Galleries make the neighborhood more appealing period. When a neighborhood becomes more appealing rents and property values rise. Should we stop making neighborhoods more appealing?

          4. i think saying galleries make a neighborhood universally more appealing is a problematic assumption. more appealing to whom?

          5. There are many ways a neighborhood becomes more appealing to people who choose to live there, work there and invest their money there. As much as some people would like to wish it, healthy urban neighborhoods are not demographically static. If you want to live in a place that will never change then move to a suburb that has CC&Rs that contractually prevents change. This protest is being driven by real issues but this is no way to either make your case or promote the type of dialogue conducive to finding legitimate workable solutions. It is exactly the opposite.

        2. Building owners generally raise the rents before a new tenant moves in. So the buildings are empty, but they have been deliberately emptied by the owners. I saw this happen downtown, where numerous sewing factories vanished, and the buildings went empty. Then ads in real estate publications were advertising the buildings were up for sale, and empty.

      2. Oh come on. This is not hard info to find. Most of these galleries now own their buildings.

        Anderson St was for decades the place where metals recyclers went to turn in their metal for cash. There is one guy, I forget his name, who owned most of the buildings, and he saw the writing on the wall and decided to sell.

        The street was a gritty destination for homeless can collectors, junk truck guys, contractors, and local people who could make money by trading in scrap metal.

        One day the activity across the river in DTLA caused property values to increase.

        Can you blame him? Who would not do the same given the opportunity?

        One man’s fortune is another man’s deal of a lifetime. Basic gentrification economics.

      3. These galleries are luxury shops for the 1%. It’s free to enter, but it’s also free to enter Bloomingdale’s or a Rolls Royce dealership as well.

        1. but that implies that there’s no point in entering a gallery if you can’t buy anything. i’ve been into hundreds of galleries in my life and never once purchased anything at one of them.

    2. The reason many galleries are leaving NY for LA is, bottom line, cheaper rent. Big spaces, lower rent. Anyone telling you they also like the “gritty” feel is rationalizing. BUT: to anyone convinced these galleries dig that gritty, edgy feel, these protests only add spice to that flavoring. There’s no way around it: don’t protest and the change will happen. DO protest and the change will happen even faster. This energy would be better spent asking these galleries to work with them in lobbying for affordable housing and subsidized loans for people to buy their homes. But: it’s easier to just yell at gallery employees, I guess. Marching is more fun than thinking about how to ACTUALLY address their problems.

      1. Excellent points.

        Btw, there’s a joke in NY that when a NY gallery moves to LA then it’ll probably close in 3-5 years and they are just putting off the inevitable because their financials are probably not very good.

      2. haha..your reverse psychology isnt going to work. UP THE ANTE AND MAKE THEM KNOW THEY AREN’T FKING AROUND!!!! AND WATCH THE WEAK LITTLE PEOPLE IN THE THEIR LAND ROVER SCRAM!!!!

        1. Hey, take it as reverse psychology if you like. But here’s the fact: without those protesters, there would be a boatload of artists and gallery owners reading about the blossoming gallery scene in Boyle Heights in Hyperallergenic. These property owners should give those protesters a cut of the increased property values those protests are bringing. That’s how I learned about how big the scene is getting there.

    3. It’s the location. It’s close to the Arts District. (There are plenty of cheap spaces farther away, but no arts district is popping up in, say, Bell Gardens or Wilmington.) The other fact is, the land values are cheaper in BH because it’s a poor and working class community. So they look at it as speculation in land. If the gallery thing works, and poor people are driven out, middle class people will move in, and raise the property values.

      1. Why would you move out of a rent controlled apartment in BH (70% of apts are rent controlled) just because an art gallery opened up?

        1. I’m not moving out, but it increases the risk of an Ellis Act eviction. Owners may use the law to convert to condos because the prices are rising. This, among other things. There’s some risk of eminent domain used to build affordable housing – a trade-off in my opinion, but one that’s more difficult for BH due to poverty. There’s also the issue of gentrification flowing over into East LA, which doesn’t have rent control.

  4. As a former Angelino on the cusp of Hollywood gentrification, and now living nine years in the midst of hyper-gentrification in the East Village here in New York, it’s really about local economies. New York is now totally real-estate driven, with local business buried in droves, some replaced with pricey high end and volume merchants, and the remainder of blocks on end sitting vacant for months. That said, the discourse here has been truly instructional, and hopefully serves as a template moving forward.

  5. I for one hope these assholes get gentrified out of the neighborhood — what fascists! If their neighborhood is getting too expensive, they can move.

      1. They make the same toxic argument about BH as Trump makes about USA. Go home you don’t belong here we don’t want you here you are ruining our home.

        1. Not quite the same, if you don’t know the Histoy of BH, you won’t understand why the barrio is so upset, in fact I was just in San Francisco in the mission district and it was sad to see how is transforming in to a just another trendy hipster part of town, the same would happen here. I don’t think you understand hat is at stake. Housing for Los abuelos y las familias, once they come, the landlords will kick them out and where do you propose they would go?

          1. I know the history very well. I fully understand the problem and what is at stake. Gentrification is not something that is only happening in BH, it’s happening in neighborhoods all across the country. This angry demonstration is not a solution, not even close. I don’t have all the answers, no one does. Working with newcomers to the neighborhood has the potential for finding real solutions where today there aren’t many. Alienating them by acting like a mob at a Trump rally and threatening them so they “don’t feel safe” is not. That will do little to alter the fundamentals of the process of gentrification. That is going to take everyone working together to figure out.

  6. I don’t live in Boyle Heights. But I’ve seen this happen in every place I’ve lived and am an active member in my community to keep these developers at bay. City Council meetings should have the same kind of attendance and reaction as the marches on these galleries. Everyone should attend those meetings and use your voice. The galleries don’t bother me as much as those land developers and housing projects. Go to the meetings where these projects are approved (or denied). Get on the City Council. Get on the Planning Commission. If there’s a Design Review Board, get on that. Change laws. Adopt new restrictions and guidelines for development. The problem with protests is that it’s usually after the fact. Get in on the decision making process. “Progress” is going to happen. HOW it happens can be up to you.

    1. In this case, the developers *are* the galleries. Stark own the building, for example. Same for others – the gallery owns the building, or the owners collaborate with the gallery. So it’s a challenge.

      1. although some of the people who run galleries also own their buildings, there is a big difference between them and a developer who wants to put up 300 condos. there seems to be this assumption that developers are opening galleries as a ruse to infiltrate the neighborhood, which I think is misguided.

        1. Galleries are a vanguard, generally, but these high-end galleries are a step up from even those.

          The condo tower gentrification *is* happening over at Sears and Wyvernwood, too. Though, it’s not as prevalent in BH than it is in Hollywood, they’re both gentrification. It doesn’t happen the same in every place.

          Hollywood already had some galleries, but they also already have a lot of “creative class” people there. Same for Venice, which already had entertainment and tech businesses there. Those are blended middle class and working class areas getting gentrified by the wealthy.

          Boyle Heights is a working class and poor community. It’s so poor that affordable housing is a threat – some residents can’t afford “affordable housing”. Some residents lack legal status and can’t really afford “affordable housing” if they can even get it. (You need a household member who is a legal resident (green card) or a citizen.)) Gentrification here is an influx of middle class people into the area, and the galleries contribute to that. (For that matter, my presence contributes to it, so I’m also complicit.)

          The issue raised by the protest was the displacement of residents, which narrows the issue a lot. So it can be solved – but it hasn’t yet been solved, and is being exacerbated.

  7. The fascinating thing about these protests? They’re getting phrases like “Boyle Heights is the next big art gallery scene” into all the art magazines and blogs. Thus drawing in more galleries. The fact that they also mixed in a police protest highlights the confused message of this group. The galleries should pay these protesters a commission fee: they’re actually speeding up the gentrification by drawing more attention to the fact that the area is filling with galleries.

      1. You’d be surprised. I keep hearing people bringing it up that they read Boyle Heights was the next big thing (from articles like this). Then they start looking at buying a house here, because, hey, affordable and the value is blowing up, get in while you can. They don’t even realize the real heat is this gallery area mostly at the moment, but it’s making people look at houses in BH because everyone is saying the Arts District is the next SOHO and Boyle Heights is the next Brooklyn. Hell, it even used to have a “Brooklyn Ave” running right through it.

    1. yeah, except that a lot of those “speculators” as you term them, are people who are just looking to get a home to raise their families and not pay a king’s ransom for it.

  8. What folks refer to as gentrification here is a very familiar a process throughout the urban revelopping areas in the country. That starts as industrial spaces go through larger economic transition and become empty or underutilized. These spaces become a new resource providing that much-cherised studio space for artists at affordable rates. This is the most visible beginning of the end; new cultures slowly infusing extant resident cultures who have lived where they lived for the similar, but more longstanding, economic reasons.

    The new cultures establish the viability of this affordable destination and business evolve to meet the needs of this boon of new customers. The apparant viability brings in the next level of residents and businesses and on it goes.

    So, in a curious way, we artists can be seen as the ground zero of the gentrification vector.

  9. real estate as a structure is oppressive and OWNED by the same people who own everything else. if all the habitable land on this planet were divided fairly among the existing population we would all have FOUR ACRES. each.

    1. Sure. Go move to South Dakota and you will be able to afford four acres and probably more. I promise you. Nobody is stopping you from escaping this oppression.

  10. For what it’s worth, this is what gentrification looked like in Hoboken, NJ in the ’80s. This is an excellent film by Nora Jacobs (an artist living there through the 80s), shot over several years on super-8, and features interviews by Hoboken natives, artist new-comers, politicians, and real estate developers (one of whom later went on to become the mayor in the 90s): http://www.offthegridproductions.com/delivered-vacant/

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