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LOS ANGELES — Last Saturday a group exhibition opened at Dalton Warehouse, a gallery located in the middle of an art studio complex in South Central Los Angeles. During the opening, four individuals who at first appeared to be part of the general art audience proceeded to cover their mouths with bandanas and then splash the gallery walls, exhibited artwork, and bystanders with red paint. They started from the back of the space and ended by running out of the gallery and onto the street. The individuals were originally identified by curate.la in an Instagram story as three males and one female, all relatively young. None of the individuals involved in the act claimed open allegiance to a protesting group, nor has any specific group taken responsibility for the action.
South Central is one of many neighborhoods in Los Angeles experiencing ongoing gentrification, as well as a backlash of protests against both the cultural and real estate shift that comes with gentrification. As with many other neighborhoods, of which Boyle Heights has received the most media attention, the protesters in South Central highlight the appearance of artists, art galleries, and coffee shops, among other things, as the first sign of further development.
The incident on Saturday was not the first time Dalton Warehouse has been a target. Last year activists protested another art opening, though in that instance no property was vandalized. The protesters did, however, hold signs that said “Gringo Get Out.” In another highly publicized incident in late 2016 investigated by the Los Angeles Police Department as a possible hate crime, the Boyle Heights-based Nicodim Gallery was spray-painted with the words “fuck white art.”
The artist-run Boyle Heights gallery 356 Mission has been at the center of anti-gentrification protests and, in late March, it announced its decision to shut down this May. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, co-founder Wendy Yao said, “We have a lot of reasons for why we are leaving … Doing the space was always a labor of love and was always really hard on both of us. And the protests added to this weight.” The decision echoes that of PSSST, another Boyle Heights gallery that shut down in early 2017, attributing the move to “constant attacks.”
In response to Hyperallergic’s request for comment, Dalton Warehouse responded, “Right now we all feel it’s best to not comment.”
Over the weekend, curate.la ran a poll as an Instagram story, providing a brief summary of the Dalton Warehouse incident and asking followers to vote between two options: “IT’S FINE” and “NOT OKAY.” The end result was 890 votes for “IT’S FINE” (56%) and 707 votes for “NOT OKAY” (44%).
Defend South Central, a local activist group that has concentrated most of its efforts on fighting police brutality and immigration reform, did not respond to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.
Yesterday evening the community activist group Defend Boyle Heights sent Hyperallergic a statement (reproduced in full below) titled “To the brave, faceless militants of South Central regarding the Dalton Warehouse offensive.” “Defend Boyle Heights formally recognizes and congratulates the faceless, tactical militants who initiated the offensive on the Dalton Warehouse space,” they write. “The people understand that the livelihood of working class, immigrant, undocumented, black and brown communities matter more than the Dalton Warehouse hipster’s right to offer another session of half-baked art made by artists who think their whitewalls matter more than black, brown, and working class lives.” The letter concludes: “It seems it would be safer for the Warehouse to do what 356 S. Mission Rd., PSSST, and other galleries like UTA are doing: pick up your shit and get the fuck out of our neighborhoods.”
Below is the statement reproduced in full:
To the brave, faceless militants of South Central regarding the Dalton Warehouse offensive
Two weeks ago when 356 S. Mission Rd., Gavin Brown Enterprises, Laura Owens, and Ooga Booga formally announced their departure from Boyle Heights, we vigorously declared 2018 as “the year of escalation and transformation. More and more galleries will feel this proclamation. More and more galleries will close their doors. This is an undeniable fact. But we will not rest on this inevitability.”
Defend Boyle Heights formally recognizes and congratulates the faceless, tactical militants who initiated the offensive on the Dalton Warehouse space. We join the chorus on social media social media and the streets who thanked these militants for fighting for their community. The people understand that the livelihood of working class, immigrant, undocumented, black and brown communities matter more than the Dalton Warehouse hipster’s right to offer another session of half-baked art made by artists who think their whitewalls matter more than black, brown, and working class lives. The people also understand the role that hipster amenities like arts initiatives play in gentrification: Art spaces move in, rents go up, tenants and local businesses are evicted, and capital washes away the barrio”. These conversations have been had, so why do the Dalton hipsters continue pretending to be ignorant of their role in gentrifying South Central?
We lastly offer, in good faith, a critique to the militants: a strategic offense against gentrifying amenities are necessary, but they must be premised on building autonomous power for the people. What is the follow up? Where does South Central turn next in order to build the disciplined, militant army of anti-gentrification fighters that it needs? Such a premise must exist if we wish to sustain our resistance against gentrification in Los Angeles. Nonetheless, we faithfully urge more people to heed the call to Defend Boyle Heights, Defend South Central and beyond.
For these reasons we assert: Dalton Warehouse, you are not ready for the wrath of the community of South Central. This is the year of escalation. The new anti-gentrification activists are bolder, disciplined and more militant. It seems it would be safer for the Warehouse to do what 356 S. Mission Rd., PSSST, and other galleries like UTA are doing: pick up your shit and get the fuck out of our neighborhoods.