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.”
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.
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.”
“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.”
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.