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More Galleries Are Leaving the Contested Los Angeles Neighborhood of Boyle Heights

Chimento Contemporary and MaRS are joining the list of galleries relocating from Boyle Heights, a neighborhood long marked by gentrification tensions.

Museum as Retail Space (MaRS), Los Angeles, in September 2016 (photo by Timo Saarelma)

LOS ANGELES — Boyle Heights–based gallery Chimento Contemporary announced last week that it will be relocating after staging its final exhibition through June. The gallery follows other art spaces in the area that announced eventual closure or relocation from Boyle Heights. In March, nonprofit gallery 356 Mission announced that it will be closing its doors for good. Two other Boyle Heights galleries — UTA Artist Space and Museum as Retail Space (MaRS) — also made similar announcements.

Both Chimento Contemporary and MaRS are a few blocks away from the Sixth Street Bridge that is being constructed for $482 million. Scheduled for completion in 2020, the bridge will span over a public park and connect the Arts District and Boyle Heights neighborhoods, stoking fears of rising rents and real estate speculation.

Art galleries in the area have been accused by community organizers of contributing to gentrification and displacement of long-time residents. Two neighborhood coalitions, Defend Boyle Heights (DBH) and Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement (BHAAAD), have called for the boycott of art galleries and other businesses they claim do not serve the best interests of the community’s working-class, mostly Latino residents.

Chimento Contemporary, which opened in 2015, was one of the galleries targeted for boycott. Despite pressure from community groups, owner Eva Chimento said she was not moving the gallery because of anti-gentrification protests.

“I have two more years on my lease, but the location wasn’t working for me anymore,” Chimento told Hyperallergic. “There were a few reasons. I needed a storefront I could afford. I also don’t live downtown or anywhere near there, so it was difficult to get in and out. I wanted to do it a bit smarter this time.”

Boyle Heights is not the only neighborhood where art galleries face community opposition. Last month, protesters threw red paint at the artwork in Dalton Warehouse, a gallery in South Central Los Angeles. Defend Boyle Heights sent a statement to Hyperallergic in light of the incident, stating, “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.”

When 356 Mission announced it would be closing its doors this May, Defend Boyle Heights posted to its website: “2018 is the year of escalation and transformation. More and more galleries will feel this proclamation. More and more galleries will close their doors.”

356 Mission founders Laura Owens and Wendy Yao attributed their decision to close to the fact that their lease was up, telling the Los Angeles Times that they “felt it was the right time.” Last Saturday, members of Defend Boyle Heights and Chinatown Community for Equitable Development (CCED) protested the gallery by holding banners saying “Fuck Artwashing” and “Chinatown & Lincoln Heights Against Gentrification.” Chinatown is another neighborhood experiencing a rise in the number of art galleries and market-rate developments. Yao runs Ooga Booga, an art book shop in Chinatown that remains in business.

According to its website, UTA Artist Space, run by United Talent Agency, has been closed for relocation since completing its last exhibition on April 7. Robert Zin Stark, owner of MaRS, told KCRW in April that he offered local groups like DBH and BHAAAD the “ceremonial closing” of his gallery “to contextualize the relevance of your cultural enaction.” Stark did not confirm when the closing might occur.

In response to Stark’s offer, BHAAAD told L.A. TACO in a statement, “The move will only be genuine when Robert Zin Stark actually gets the fuck out of Boyle Heights.” The group also confirmed they would be meeting with Stark. Hyperallergic reached out to both UTA Artist Space and MaRS but did not receive a response.

“It was a great learning experience for me,” Chimento said about her time in Boyle Heights. “I was given a ton of support, oddly enough, from the community. There’s another side of Boyle Heights that’s very family-oriented and inclusive. I’ll especially miss the kids who came to visit me after school. The kids whose parents work all the time and wanted a place to hang out after school.”

Chimento Contemporary’s final exhibition in Boyle Heights, opening May 12, will feature painters David Donald Sutherland and Chas Schroeder. It will be on view through June 16 before the gallery moves to a new location near West Adams and Jefferson Park.

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