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 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 build stronger national coalitions in order to resist!
This closure is 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. At the same time, we upheld DBH’s boycott against the galleries. On Sunday, February 12th, 2017, 50 people chose not to cross our picket line and joined the boycott of 356 Mission’s naive attempt to escape complicity by organizing an “Artists’ Political Action Network.” Since then, artist Ambar Navarro withdrew her work in solidarity. Other artists have also withdrawn their participation and refused exhibitions from PSSST without fanfare, or moved their studios out of Boyle Heights. Art workers have decided not to apply for jobs at the surrounding galleries.
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