It is with great joy for the residents of Boyle Heights to hear that PSSST is leaving our neighborhood. For the 296 families living in Pico Gardens, fighting against the privatization of their public housing and the thousands of Boyle Heights tenants that are struggling against harassment and rent increases, this is a victory. PSSST’s rightful departure confirms the importance of fighting against the “common sense” notion that gentrification is supposedly inevitable.
While we are not giving up on dialogue as part of our strategy, it is clear that the gallerists still do not listen to our voices and the questions that their fellow artists are raising about their complicity in displacing working class tenants living only steps away. As their letter demonstrates; “While our closure might be applauded by some, it is not a victory for civil discourse and coalition building at a time when both are in short supply”, PSSST arrogantly ignores the reality of the people who must build coalitions and local power to survive! As President Trump escalates deportations, as Border Patrol and ICE enforce the executive orders that violate the civil rights of Muslims and immigrants, and as city planners empower developers to artwash working class communities across the nation, the most marginalized people must continue to build strong national coalitions in order to resist!
This closure is thus a victory for BHAAAD and Defend Boyle Heights, and we claim it as such. Civil discourse only functions when it is intersectional: the erasure of a predominantly working class community of color demanding your removal is nowhere near intersectional, therefore void. The coalitions we build can not be distracted by the naive notion that art galleries can be maintained without direct complicity in speculative development. Coalition building takes active listening and building from within communities, it requires humility and acknowledgement of many voices. It is time to plug yourselves into existing movements and organizations that have been fighting fascism since before Trump.
DBH and BHAAAD celebrate the artists and art workers who have taken a rightful and courageous side in the struggle against gentrification. On Sunday, February 12th, 2017, 356 Mission naively tried to escape complicity by hosting an event for an “Artists’ Political Action Network.” At the same time, we upheld DBH’s boycott against the galleries with more than 50 people, both white and POC, who chose not to cross our picket line and instead joined our fight. Ambar Navarro, a transplant artist originally from San Antonio, was scheduled to have a screening on the following Saturday at 356 Mission, pulled out, and cancelled event to join community in resistance.
PSSST lost funding because of responsible conscious funders that understood the mistake of their actions. Divesting from these spaces is the solution.
We have been telling PSSST and the other galleries what the community needs instead of galleries all along: Authentic affordable housing for low-income people, emergency housing for homeless people and people displaced by gentrification, a laundromat, a needle exchange or harm reduction center, an affordable grocery store, etc. Why was there funding for a 501(c)3 to run a gallery to attract new people to Boyle Heights, but not for services for the existing community? Because the forces that backed PSSST never had any interest in Boyle Heights, except as a real estate investment opportunity. This is the tragedy of artwashing: it channels philanthropy into destroying neighborhoods.
And now that it’s time to move on, PSSST leaves with a thinly veiled threat: “the owner will now assume control of the building. We have no say in…what they will do with the property.” If galleries are going to leave Boyle Heights in response to the community’s demands — if they are willing to join the resistance — they can do it ethically: they can use their power and access to capital to make sure their gentrifying spaces are replaced with something beneficial. We hope when the rest of the galleries leave in the future, they will take this into consideration.
We will not stop fighting until all galleries leave. Boyle Heights will continue to fight against the false promises of development and community improvement that are supposed to benefit us, but end up displacing us from our home. Once again we call on ALL galleries in Boyle Heights to reconsider your position and leave immediately. In addition we call on all our supporters:
continue divesting from these galleries and their programming,
to all artists to refuse to show your work or participate in their programming,
and to all patrons to stop bringing business to these spaces,
and to all the local people to join the fight against gentrification in Boyle Heights and everywhere in Los Angeles.
PSSST opened up their eyes. We ask the other galleries to follow their example and and act in good conscience, understanding their impact on our neighborhood. The community has struggled to make this a peaceful community we have worked and spent energy in making our community the place that we dreamed of. Don’t turn our lives into a nightmare.
From a Resident of Pico Gardens for more than 40 years
The Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement is a coalition born from the complex specificities of Los Angeles. We are new and old friends who find ourselves at the intersection of multiple overlapping struggles. We have come together to confront the current crisis of evictions and abusive real estate practices in L.A., to question the role of culture in gentrification and the narrative of ‘inevitability,’ and to push to stop displacement in its tracks.
WHO WE ARE:
We are: Union de Vecinos – low-income tenants, immigrants, families, seniors, youth, working-class homeowners, and Boyle Heights movement veterans who have spent the last 30 years of our lives struggling to fend off multiple forms of violence and displacement in the Pico Aliso Projects and in all the surrounding neighborhoods of Boyle Heights.
We are: Defend Boyle Heights – the next generation of Angelenos who grew up in, or migrated to Boyle Heights who have joined all our autonomous crews together in the historic struggle for community-defense and collective self-determination in greater East L.A.
We are: Multiple Affinity Groups of Artists, from all over Los Angeles, who acknowledge the active role of art in gentrification and have committed solidarity with those fighting for dignified housing and community self-determination in Boyle Heights. We reject the use of our diverse identities, including our queer and trans identities, to wash over the realities of racial and economic violence.
We are: School of Echoes Los Angeles, who operate as an open listening process of community-based research, popular education, and organizing to generate experiments in political action. We are a space for critical reflection on the conditions in working class and poor communities, including (but not limited to) struggles against gentrification and for the human right to housing.
We are: The Eastside Local of the Los Angeles Tenants Union – part of the city-wide organization formed by renters and residents who do not control their access to shelter. We have come together to defend ourselves against the manipulative development and weak rent control policies, tenant harassment and the unjust evictions which are driving displacement in our city.