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Wu Tsang, The Luscious Land of God is Sinking installation view at 356 Mission, Los Angeles, 2016 (photo by Brica Wilcox, courtesy the artist and 356 Mission)

LOS ANGELES — Last week, the artist-run space 356 Mission announced it will close next month. Founded five years ago by artist Laura Owens and bookseller Wendy Yao, the Boyle Heights nonprofit gallery was a major focal point of gentrification protests in the predominantly Latino neighborhood on LA’s Eastside. Reactions to the news were predictably divided: some people Hyperallergic spoke with lamented the closure of a diverse art space, and anti-gentrification activists applauded the announcement as a victory against developers and the artists and galleries they see as their enablers and collaborators.

“The position that 356 proposed to the LA-wide community was singular,” said Bradford Nordeen, Creative Director of Dirty Looks, a bi-coastal program showing queer, experimental moving image works and performances. “They offered free events, where you could see a documentary about dance, a musical performance, or Meredith Monk. How often does she perform for free?” Nordeen asked, referring to the iconic composer and choreographer who performed at 356 Mission in 2014.

Indeed, beyond its exhibitions program, 356 Mission hosted a range of performances, talks, workshops, and events, including a series of collaborations with Reach LA, a community organization that provides support to LGBTQ youth of color(including last year’s Drag Pageant benefit).

“Ovahness 12: Gothic Playground” on December 2, 2017 at 356 Mission, Los Angeles (courtesy Reach LA and 356 Mission)

“From the first moment I walked in, it was an inviting space,” said Mecca Vazie Andrews, an LA-based dancer and choreographer who was born in Pico Rivera, a city in LA County about 10 miles east of Boyle Heights. “It’s really beautiful in that it’s multicultural and multidisciplinary. … It’s a shame that 356 was affected negatively by people’s misinterpretations of what they represent and the kind of work that they support and gave life and a voice too.”

Laura Owens at the book launch for 12 Paintings at 356 Mission, Los Angeles November 22, 2014, (photo by Alexandra Noel, courtesy 356 Mission)

Andrews recently staged a performance at the Whitney Museum in dialogue with work from Owens’s solo show there — an exhibition that was vocally protested by activists from Boyle Heights.

“It’s one of the few gallery spaces that operates on principles of community dialogue and inclusion, on top of programming a relentless schedule of fantastic and challenging events and exhibitions,” said Ben Lee Ritchie Handler, Global Director at Nicodim Gallery, a Boyle Heights space that has also been a focal point for protests. “We’re sad to see them go. With the 6th Street Bridge nearing completion, it will be interesting to see where the neighborhood goes from here, and what crops up in its place.”

Lutz Bacher, Magic Mountain installation view at 356 Mission, Los Angeles, 2016 (photo by Brica Wilcox, courtesy the artist and 356 Mission)

This sentiment was echoed by others, who see large-scale development as a greater threat to the neighborhood than the crop of galleries and artists’ studios that have sprung up over the past few years.

“The closing of 356 Mission is a tremendous loss because it represents a step backward in what could have been a productive conversation about the future of Boyle Heights,” said Aram Moshayedi, a curator at the Hammer Museum. “Laura Owens and Wendy Yao attempted to engage their detractors, to listen to dissenting voices and to be [a] resource for the community. … 356 Mission patronized local businesses and offered financial support and resources to nonprofit organizations and educational programs that specifically service the residents of Boyle Heights and beyond. Of course, we have witnessed the gentrifying force of art and artists in the past, but it’s naive to think that any other forms of industry will be as hospitable in the future.”

Nordeen questioned the ferocity with which 356 Mission has been targeted, as opposed to nearby high-end blue chip galleries that have thus far been spared most of the activists’ ire. “It seems ironic that targeting was heaped upon 356, that same energy was not going to Maccarone or UTA,” he said, referring to the artistic outpost of the Hollywood talent agency.

Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement protesters rallied outside the Artists’ Political Action Network meeting at 356 Mission in February 2017. (photo courtesy Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement)

Neighborhood activists cheered the closure, seeing it as a victory in the long struggle for self-determination in their community. “The work of making our neighborhood a better place for the families in the area spans decades,” Leonardo Vilchis, co-Executive Director of Union de Vecinos, told Hyperallergic via email. “Our desire is to live in this neighborhood for a long time and to benefit of the peace that we built without anybody threatening that desire. 356 Mission and the actions of other developers and speculators threaten that desire.” Vilchis added: “They refuse to hear our voices and change their minds. Their goal is to make money, our goal is do have a decent life in our homes.” Owens told the Los Angeles Times that the space operated at a loss, and that the building was not owned by her or her dealer Gavin Brown, but by local developer Vera Campbell (who had no further involvement in the business).

“This is one step in thousands we have taken to build a neighborhood where we all can live with dignity,” Vilchis continued. “First we fought the violence of racism that pushed us into this neighborhood, so we built community. Then, we responded to the armed violence of our youth and the police, later, we responded to the violence of  the destruction of our homes, today we respond to the economic violence of development that hides behind Artwashing and once again threatens to run us out of our neighborhood.”

CCORNUUOORPHANOSSCCOPIAEE AANORPHANSSHHORNOFFPLENTYYY exhibition view at 356 Mission, Los Angeles, 2018 (photo by Brica Wilcox, courtesy the artist and 356 Mission)” width=”720″ height=”470″ srcset=”https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/356-mission-closing-charlemagne-palestine-720×470.jpg 720w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/356-mission-closing-charlemagne-palestine-1080×704.jpg 1080w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/356-mission-closing-charlemagne-palestine-360×235.jpg 360w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/356-mission-closing-charlemagne-palestine.jpg 1400w” sizes=”(max-width: 720px) 100vw, 720px”>

Charlemagne Palestine, CCORNUUOORPHANOSSCCOPIAEE AANORPHANSSHHORNOFFPLENTYYY exhibition view at 356 Mission, Los Angeles, 2018 (photo by Brica Wilcox, courtesy the artist and 356 Mission)

“It is with great joy for the residents of Boyle Heights that we celebrate the news that 356 Mission is doing the only righteous act they could do for the neighborhood: pack up their shit and leave forever,” Boyle Heights Alianza Against Artwashing and Displacement (BHAAAD) wrote on its website. “We thank everyone who upholds the boycott against all the art galleries in the warehouse area of Boyle Heights, and rejects the model of art as cooperating with the culture vultures, hipster vampires, and tiny Trumps. Without you all, ending 356 Mission’s role in turning the hood into a haven for gentrifier artists could not have been possible.”

According to 356 Mission’s announcement, the space will close in May, its two current and final exhibitions epitomizing its diverse curatorial and programming strategy: an overwhelming installation of hundreds of stuffed animals by veteran avant-garde musician and artist Charlemagne Palestine, and a solo show of funky and fantastical paintings and sculptures by the young LA-born artist Alake Shilling. It is unclear what will happen to the sprawling former piano warehouse at the corner of Mission Road and Artemus Street after the gallery shuts down. The landlord, Vera Campbell, did not respond to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.

Monsoon Lagoon on February 25, 2018 (photo by Jessica Renzelm, courtesy 356 Mission)” width=”720″ height=”480″ srcset=”https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/356-mission-closing-paint-with-alake-720×480.jpg 720w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/356-mission-closing-paint-with-alake-1080×720.jpg 1080w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/356-mission-closing-paint-with-alake-360×240.jpg 360w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/356-mission-closing-paint-with-alake.jpg 1400w” sizes=”(max-width: 720px) 100vw, 720px”>

From the youth workshop “Paint With Alake!” held in conjunction with the Alake Shilling’s exhibition Monsoon Lagoon on February 25, 2018 (photo by Jessica Renzelm, courtesy 356 Mission)

“In my opinion, the Boyle Heights conversation somewhat pales in comparison to the muted conversation of Skid Row, an invisible and a marginalized community that also exists just a stone’s through away from the door of 356,” Shilling told Hyperallergic via email. “One of the most tragic aspects of 356 closing are the unrealized opportunities which might have been created to assist young people living on Skid Row, and also burgeoning artists from low-income communities in Chinatown, Koreatown, South Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, and a variety of diverse neighborhoods all across this city.”

Shilling added: “I mourn the opportunities which will never be born to assist people routinely excluded from the art conversation to discover the magic, healing and creative spirit which art cultivates.”

Shilling’s exhibition is on view at 356 Mission through April 29. Charlemagne Palestine’s show comes down April 22.

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.

12 replies on “LA’s Art Community and Activists React to the Closing of 356 Mission”

  1. Laura Owens and Wendy Yao took an opportunity to create inclusiveness and bring the cloistered art world to whomever was curious. Art is a kind of knowledge and children are the ones who can truly benefit from learning through art. The lack of trust among the community even after five years of trying to engage the community speaks to how broken our system truly is. The end result will be that the neighborhood will become gentrified but not with art, rather, condos, fast food, coffee and other forms of useless consumption that destroys the environment and in the process manipulates people’s wallets.

  2. If the activists think that a day care center or some other “community” based business will move in there, I think they’re in for a surprise. LA has lost a strong cultural center that was mostly artist funded, lets see the activists fund something they see as beneficial to the community, put some money where your mouth is.

    1. I agree. Defend Boyle Heights doesn’t care what moves in there, they are funded by outside organizations and run by non-neighborhood people who won’t make any effort to actually improve the neighborhood. They are rich people pretending to represent the poor and taking advantage of the youths who listen to the loudest, angry voice.

  3. As a resident of Boyle Heights, I’m getting very tired of these extremist groups saying they “represent the neighborhood”. No they don’t. It is wrong for this article and other publications to assume that Defend Boyle Heights or other violent groups represent me. No one voted for them and most of the supporters aren’t even from Boyle Heights. If you want to know Boyle Heights, visit us!

    1. i did reach out to other groups and organizations in the community, but did not get responses.

      1. And by “reach out” you mean sent an email to busy people and expect your email to not go straight to a spam file? As I said before, try actually visiting the neighborhood and talking to real people instead of digital versions of persons or relying on comment sections.

        1. Actually, your comment is inappropriate (again), and if you are going to criticize something, please do so with a name. You actually sound like you might be the developer.

          1. Well did you do more than send one email? What organizations did you try to contact? You actually sound like you are part of Defend Boyle Heights. Do you live here?

          1. I’m not sure if you are being sarcastic or not, but if you are being earnest, I do appreciate that. It means alot to me to have people come visit the community and see that we are not what DBH wants you to think. Most people here are friendly, support art, clever, and want customers to visit our businesses. Yes there are issues, but there is more good than bad. Unfortunately, most of the population is aging and can’t defend themselves on the internet like younger people (me).

  4. This was one of the best galleries in LA, with amazing programming…… protests were not a “long” part of this gallery’s history – just in the past two years or so. Defend Boyle Heights was way too late to the game and as Laura Owens mentioned in her rebuttal, this place was being rented out for many many years before they started to pipe up with complaints. Now, with this building empty it opens up the neighborhood to much more unfavorable tenants and gentrification. Once the bridge construction is complete and the LA river parks are made this area of Boyle Heights between the river and the 101 will be consumed with hipster/yuppiedom a la the arts district.

    356 Mission had very unique programming and its unfair to saddle them with some kind of obligation to help “disadvantaged Angeleno artists” and Skid Row. The arts district is closer to skid row than 356, why not make those businesses help the homeless? With the insane amount of sinister vultures and developers hovering around everywhere in this city it’s hilarious that a decent place like 356 Mission was targeted. No wonder why LA is going downhill. Craft beer is doing more damage to neighborhoods than art.

    Eric Garcetti is a terrible mayor and wants to prep LA for the Olympics. He only cares about the rich, so all low income areas are targeted for development. This city is breaking…….. there are so many dumb fucking art galleries here with shitty art, I’m pissed one of about THREE decent places is now gone. Bad art, bad galleries, sterile buildings, sterile people moving in. It’s only going to get worse and brats like Defend Boyle Heights are in for a real lesson.

  5. One aspect of the arts that has been lost is social responsibility in content and purpose. Clearly this is a Latino neighborhood that is trying to fight off gentrification preceded by the arts/capitalists that precedes property buy-up and boot out of local commoners. As an artist i have experienced this multiple times in multiple cities.

    Why does this gallery have to be in Boyle Heights? Why not across the river where the studios are or in another neighborhood that the gallery can find indigenous support from. Move somewhere else. Let this space be rented cheaply by local artists for the Boyle Heights community that they support.

    The intransigence of the gallery to move to a better location seems to be for the cheap rent in this industrial area. This usually is the motive until the gentrifiers they have drawn in, boot them out too.

    The solution is for the City to tax the 1% to provide every community, equally resourced localized community gallery buildings that are designed to serve the neighborhoods they serve. Private projects with private money and connections, no matter how well meaning, cloak objectives for private profit and have the means to find there own way. To paraphrase Bucky Fuller, the only reason for charity is because the rich are not taxed enough.

    (Seriously. Can we amend State laws to allow City-Regions to Income Tax their wealthy and restore/create funding for local Public Commons infrastructure? We could if the People were allowed to vote for policy & budget instead of personality stiffs. Good grief!)

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