“This is like the new Highland Park for artists” – El Sereno art scene expands

The new AWOL art and studio space | AWOL

EL SERENO — After searching for an affordable studio space for years, Nicole Wang and Jim Ovelmen found a space on Alhambra Avenue, where a small number of artist studios and workshops have popped up along a stretch lined primarily with industrial businesses, warehouses and auto repair shops.  On Friday, the 800-square-foot former tile shop project and event space called, AWOL, opens with its first exhibition. “There are a lot of artists living here or working in El Sereno,” Wang said. “This is like the new Highland Park for artists.”

In fact, AWOL’s first exhibit features four artists, including Ovelmen, whose “paths have crossed when recently relocating to El Sereno, after the displacement from their respective studio spaces,” according to press release. The inaugural exhibition, Town, which debuts on Friday, Aug. 7, features the work of Ovelmen, Mike Dee, Jaime Scholnick and Osvaldo Trujillo.

Wang, who has worked in the media industry and as a museum marketing manager, and Ovelmen, a multimedia artist who used to run the London Street Project art space in Silver Lake, were attracted by the building’s high ceilings, cast iron doors, fountain, fireplace and backyard. “We kept most of the original details of the building,” Wang said.

And if visitors want to do more than attend an art exhibit, there are other attractions nearby, said Wang. “After we got this place, we found LA Derby Dolls moved directly across the street from us.”

Cactus Flower Light Box Diptych by Mike Dee | AWOL

AWOL’s first exhibit will include work by Mike Dee | AWOL

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  1. For all you naysayers, contrary to your generally negative comments about El Sereno, it is an area that is in the process of a renaissance similar to other areas of NELA and ELA. Albeit slow, it is happening!

  2. Good Luck El Sereno, the bearded zombies are coming with their 8 dollar cups of coffee. So glad my Mom owns in HLP and has no intentions of ever selling.

  3. El Sereno won’t be gentrified in the ways that SL, EP and HP have…..
    The shit is just too deep and thick here.
    Go ahead and try…..
    Yes, you’ll get some artists as indicated above here and there with a space….
    But 8 dollar cups of coffee and craft beer bars will never happen here.

    • Change El Sereno to Highland Park 10 years ago, when HP was in a big gang shooting spike.
      I think El Sereno is pretty nice, actually…as DTLA continues to grow, gentrification will touch all the areas near to it, including El Sereno.
      Derby Dolls have already left EP and moved in; the warehouse space will be big for artists and other ‘first wave’ folks who move somewhere precisely because it is still relatively cheap. They need that grit and dirt in order to thrive…but that’s also what gets it going.

  4. Never say NEVER!

  5. Keep El Sereno serene.

  6. Jennifer Maldonado

    I want to share that gentrification is a process. The government creates ghettos by defunding community space, land, and programs. For Wang and Ovelmen, to afford a space in El Sereno then produce art which is not accessible nor reflective of El Sereno community is the epitme of privatization. Buying land property then showing off your high class from people, WHO DONT EVEN GO HERE, is not investing in our community. It is creating a pocket where you rip off the injustice done to a historically ignored community and then call it ethnic.
    What is the AWOL mission in engaging with El Sereno Community?
    Is your art representative of or even connected to the stories in El Sereno?
    How do you view El Sereno aside from cheap?
    For example, art spaces like Los Fotos Project have art exhibits and have an all female photography program to make art a story telling technique for young womyn of color. I am not against an art space but rather the privatization of art and the lack of accountability in which Wang and Ovelmen are culturally consuming/appropriating. Keep the original detail of the space but do NOT change our entire place!

    • So you’re saying that artists should not be allowed to make whatever art they want, it needs to be monitored and controlled by the low-income residents who get to dictate whether the art is representative of them or not. Some of us are a little more liberal and progressive and recognize that artists have the freedom to make whatever art they want, but apparently you are in favor of censorship.

    • Jennifer, a couple things.

      First, are you saying El Sereno has been made a ghetto by the government’s defunding community space, land and programs?!?!? What do you call the government project to revitalize Huntington that occurred a couple years ago? Or the resources that have gone into Elephant Hill and Ascott? Or the social services provided at that building by McDonalds (the name escapes me currently). Where did that money come from, huh? So, to hold the opinion that the government has created a “ghetto” is either wrong or not current.

      Second, why does everything everyone does in a community have to be about that community. It’s such a myopic point of view that I can’t even wrap my head around. I own a home in El Sereno (purchased in the last few years), and I occasional I buy things in El Sereno; however, my world certainly does not revolve around the “community.” Instead, I focus on keeping my home and yard maintained, and do my best to remove the trash off the streets in the areas immediately around/adjacent to my home. Is that not good enough? Should I instead have left the bars on my windows, left my yard to its own devices, and ignored the trash on my street because its more in step with the community? Your “all in” zero sum game mentality is tiresome and trite.

      Get over yourself and presumably the Eastside Café where you dwell, things are changing, and I for one am looking forward to it!

      • If you don’t bother with the community then don’t comment about the community. This is a peaceful debate between people who have lived here for decades and the people who want to remove them from their homes that they created for their families. So enjoy your home that you recently bought in El Sereno and be oblivious to reality until your forced out of your home and people like my sister come to your rescue so you can have the privilege of keeping your home that you so much enjoy cleaning. Call it what you want but don’t be a hypocrite and keep it cordial.

        • Roxy, community is made up of everyone, not just your cherry picked, select group of friends who happen to agree with you opinions. Sorry, but you don’t get to decide who gets to be a part of the local community.

          Last I checked, evil white devil hipsters and gentrifiers were not legally able to declare imminent domain and seize people’s property. One of your neighbors has to sell or rent to them in order for them to move into your neighborhood. Maybe your energy would be better spent convincing your neighbors to hold onto their property instead of cashing out.

        • Roxy,
          No one “wants” to remove people from their homes. Instead, people are making financial decisions in order to better their families (i.e. selling their homes at a profit or renting to those willing and able to pay more), unfortunately, that means some people will have to find other accommodations. Like Bill said, if you want to turn your neighborhood into a time capsule (my word not his), convince your neighbors not to sale for a profit or rent for more money that can directly improve the lives of their own children (good luck there).

          As for your “sister” coming to my “rescue”, not sure how that would work. I have a steady job, mortgage and home insurance. The only way I’m losing my house is if I can no longer afford the fixed mortgage, which honestly, is not likely, I bought cheap with a decent down payment. So, I don’t need anyone to “rescue” me-what a silly idea- and unless your “sister” is going to pay my mortgage, I can’t think of anything she can help me with.

          Oh, BTW, I don’t necessarily “enjoy cleaning”, however, its better than the alternative.

          • Such willful ignorance. It’s almost as if you didn’t know that the majority of residents in neighborhoods like El Sereno don’t own their homes, they rent. And many of the landowners do not, and have not, lived in the community, and therefore have little if any incentive to maintain the community. Just be upfront about your racism and classism; stop trying to mask it behind some completely make-believe fantasy that people are willfully leaving the community to make room for young creatives. It’s bullshit and we all know it. In these communities, the odds are stacked against residents, and nothing is being done to change that. If anything, its only gotten harder and harder for working-class families throughout ALL of LA to be able to afford to buy their homes. So pretending that gentrification is a consensual process is not only totally false, it’s violent in it’s masking of the actual conditions. People are getting evicted! People who lived in HLP for YEARS are now HOMELESS because of the transformations that have happened in that neighborhood. Fine, be pro-gentrification all you want, but don’t pretend that it isn’t violent, non-consensual, racist and classist in nature. At least own up to the destruction that your ideals lead to.

          • 48% owner occupied in El Sereno. Higher than Highland Park, but not as high as Compton.

          • Yikes, I see you’ve been busy on this thread.

            Your diatribe is a great example of what makes it so hard for me to feel sorry for you and those you purport to speak for. Hurling such terms as “racism” and “classism” does nothing to forward dialogue, it only offends. Moreover, it’s an obvious indication that you have nothing to say other than parroting the Eastside Cafe’s tired rhetoric. Well go ahead, have your say, It ultimately means nothing to me as I own my home and am gainfully employed.

            Furthermore, I pay no heed to the “you’ll be next” argument. Save it for the tired, huddled masses or whoever’s buying that crap. I suppose you’ll probably have some retort that you think is clever and well informed, so go ahead and recite whatever new pamphlet the East Side Café is distributing or what you learned in your community college Latin American history class. Overall, your class struggle bores me.

    • The art space is open to the public and everyone is invited to the opening. Why don’t you go and check out the art and then decide that it’s not for you. How do you know that they have no interest in helping the community? The space hasn’t even opened yet.

    • Bottom line: you are struggling mightily to identify as a victim. There are so many more productive lines of rhetoric that would push your emotions and imagination in a better direction. Instead, like an entire generation of intellectuals in the Latino community, you seem to be hanging on to a permanent status as a victim despite all the evidence that Latinos are an ascendant powerful majority in this city, state, and region. I look around and I see Latinos in nearly every seat of power, on boards, on committees, running departments, leading schools, building buildings, buying and selling houses, starting businesses and families. Yes, the history of this ethnic group did and does play a factor in the present day, but cut it out with this constant whine of “poor us”. At its root it comes off as more xenophobic than anything else.

      Steps that are actually productive: fight for a right of first refusal for tenants in multi-family buildings to purchase and subdivide or own in common the buildings they rent in if the owner wants to sell them; form a housing co-op or land trust; copy the eco village models from around the globe. These are just the ideas that lead somewhere other than “poor us we are all victims” rallies.

      • nice try. A small class of relatively mobile Latinos does not somehow trump the MUUUUUUCH larger population of Latinos who are still marginalized and oppressed under this system. It was just a couple summers ago that we were forcing Latino CHILDREN to go back to their war-torn countries (war-torn thanks to US’s foreign policy, BTW), and you want to tell me that Latinos are no longer marginalized? I bet you think Black people in this country don’t face racism ever since Obama got elected, huh?

        The point is not to “make ourselves victims” but to name the systems of domination that make wide-scale displacement possible in the first place–for example, a history of racist housing laws, of criminilizing our youth, of underfunded schools and a lack of services, of exploitation of low-wage workers, of privatizing and selling off our public spaces, etc. etc. etc. No one believes that artists themselves are the most significant evil–we just know that they’re pawns in a game by developers, landowners, and city officials to push out working class people. Just like the Eastsider is a pawn in the game. One day, the same folks advocating for gentrification on these comment threads are going to be the ones being pushed out in the name of “progress”. The young creatives have already been pushed outta Silver Lake, they’re getting pushed out Echo Park, and places like the Arts District.

    • I suggest visiting el sereno historical society fb page to get a better idea of how it has changed so much and how it will continue to change regardless of what your hopes are.
      Not say the community is not important. If you can afford the cost of living then you stay if not,well you know. Even so this issue is going on across the country so unless you have an answer for the U.S. military police the government will enforce the banking laws we all bide by. You buy it you own it and pay taxes to them. If you don’t like what you see don’t shop there. You have that right. In the 40+ years here I’ve seen many businesses fail only the strong survive here.I know this probably won’t change your views on anything that’s OK but I can tell you with 100% certainty El Sereno has experienced gentrification since inception and will continue to gentrify regardless of our best intention. I love El Sereno in my short life I’ve seen it all here my generation all but slaughtered themselves off. Still I spend my hard earned cash here so the kids/families /parks and everything else run off taxes in our community can benefit. Everything else is just a fad in my opinion. Hipsters please shave! Cholos pick up your pants! There is enough coffee and champurrado for everyone.

  7. El Sereno Artist

    El Sereno does not need a renaissance. Generations of artists and activists have grown up in the area and are here to stay. With so much debate and news coverage around Highland Park, it’s really problematic that these artists still seem to be blind to larger issues of displacement. Specific kinds of artists, and the art scene they create, have been engines of erasure, displacement and trauma in so many communities. To say that El Sereno is the next Highland Park as if it’s a good thing reeks of Columbusing.

    • “To say that El Sereno is the next Highland Park as if it’s a good thing reeks of Columbusing.”

      How can the stupid term “Columbusing” apply to a neighborhood like Highland Park when it was settled and built by white people in the first place?

      • El Sereno Artivist

        The term “columbusing” refers to not only discovering something that isn’t new, but colonization of the land that was stolen from Natives by Columbus. The land of which Highland park sits on today was actually settled by the Tongva people as well as the chumash when Columbus came here, let’s not forget about that. All in All we can see a very similar situation of subtle Neo-Colonization with these artists who don’t take the culture or the people into consideration. We as El Sereno residents definitely do NOT want a Renaissance.

        • When did Columbus land in El Sereno?

        • I’m sure a lot of homeowners in El Sereno would love a renaissance and don’t give a rats ass about some broke ass artist activists obsession about what happened
          400 years ago. Go ask your average El Sereno resident about the history and culture of the area. 99% won’t know shit.

          • That’s is such a racist thing to say. 99% of El Sereno residents know more than your sorry racist ass does. Don’t generalize the residents of El Sereno and in one fell swoop put them all down like that. You clearly don’t know the community.

          • I’m sure you are the spokesperson for the El Sereno residents. And by the way when the U.S. took over California the Mexicans living here were granted citizenship. So this never was your land. that would be like if Hawaii became independent and then 150 years later people from New Jersey were trying to claim it as their land. Stupid argument.

        • I’ve never met a 100% Tongvan before, El Sereno Activist. Your property values must be through the roof.

        • ” The land of which Highland park sits on today was actually settled by the Tongva people as well as the chumash when Columbus came here, let’s not forget about that.”

          I know this land was Tongvan. Which is why I find it strange why the Mexicans move in and start putting Aztec murals all over the place.

          But I wasn’t talking about 200 years ago. I was talking about Highland Park.

    • You know what I find ridiculous? The Columbusing of all these left-wing white cultural pillars by young chican@s: yoga, cleanses, veganism, bike riding; traveling to Latin America and returning with “spiritual” sensibilities or going on and on about the class struggle while drinking a banana smoothy/Starbucks coffee milk shake; “radical” theories plucked from left-wing liberal universities that are emotional ploys to excuse xenophobia and anxiety over people who look different than you. All of it sounds like people “Columbusing” the liberal white culture and pretending like they invented this stuff. Don’t flim flam, man, I was raised a left wing liberal. I know a phony Columbusing outsider when I see one, awkwardly discussing craft beer properties at an ironic square dance under and industrial bridge we all rode bikes to. We have mastered the art of identifying victims and decrying their treatment while we get paid a salary based on their misfortune.

      There are a lot of poor people who are getting the boot all over this country right now. For every gentrifying neighborhood, there are dozens sliding off the rails into developing world levels of squalor. Bitching and moaning about people actively trying to integrate themselves into your ethnic identity, to try and understand your food, culture, history, and whatever language you speak and failing miserably at it most of the time sounds like a stupid, spoiled, white liberal brat ca. the 20th century at every gathering of tipsy white liberals I’ve ever attended.

      Maybe you’re taking on the mantle of the concerned bourgeois cultural gate keeper? How about looking back at your history and all these rich cultures being destroyed by pale skinned people buying sarapes and pronouncing Mexican food names properly and find some history that will help you work through this period in a more productive way. Copying

    • Columbusing? That’s hilarious.

    • Columbusing is definitely a real term that has merit. I believe the only people that deny/laugh at it, surprise surprise, are white folks!

      • Sure, ‘Columbusing’ is a real term. Its just mis-applied here. You might try ‘carpet-bagging’. That would be closer to an appropriate activist slander towards these nefarious artists.

      • “Initial Spanish exploration of the Los Angeles area occurred in 1542, but sustained contact with the Tongva came only after Mission San Gabriel Arcángel was constructed in 1771. This marked the beginning of an era of forced relocation and exposure to Old World diseases, leading to the rapid collapse of the Tongva population.[4] At times the Tongva violently resisted Spanish rule, such as the 1785 rebellion led by the female chief Toypurina.[1] In 1821, Mexico gained its independence from Spain and the government sold mission lands to ranchers, forcing the Tongva to culturally assimilate. Three decades later California was ceded to the United States following the Mexican–American War. The US government signed treaties with the Tongva promising 8.5 million acres (3,400,000 ha) of land for reservations, but these treaties were never ratified.[5] By the turn of the 20th century, the Island Tongva had disappeared and the mainland communities were also nearing extinction.”

  8. There is a whole lot of Chicano studies going on in this comment section

  9. Wait, Chicano pride means you’re supposed to be ashamed of your Spaniard heritage? Then what’s the deal with all the damn mariachi music blasting 24 hours a day, I’m pretty sure guitars and tubas and accordians come from Europe.

  10. As someone who’s family has lived in Hillside Village since the 1950’s , we welcome the gentrification of El Sereno. Hillside Village will never claim to be a part of El Sereno. And want no association to it. Please keep gentrifying the area. Maybe start bulldozing Eastern avenue and all the junky stores that line that street. As a youngster going from the quaint values of Hillside Village into El Sereno jr high was a complete culture shock. We all hated it and still do….while you’re at it bulldoze Huntington Drive and the junky stores there as well….

  11. We just signed a lease today in El Sereno. My husband’s family founded both Whittier and Paramount in the 1880s. His grandfather went to school with Richard Nixon. Both his parents went to middle school with Eric Garcetti’s dad in South Central. He couldn’t possibly be more “from LA” unless he was Chumash. I’ve dedicated the last decade of my life to researching and working with impoverished communities in Central America. I spent a year in Honduras and Guatemala interviewing people who’d been the victims of human rights abuses. Where else, exactly, should we live, just because we’re white? LA’s expensive and El Sereno’s a beautiful community and we don’t want to change anything about it. We’re moving there because we like it as it is. We don’t want it to turn into Highland Park either.

    Cultures aren’t static. They are constantly changing and constantly mixing. Anyone calling for cultural purity or fixedness is really wishing for something that isn’t possible. It’s totally valid to be concerned about higher income brackets swooping in and pushing long-time residents out, but poor white people with a big dumb dog need somewhere to live too.

    • And your need to live somewhere will ALWAYS trump the needs of existing communities. Damn this sounds like Manifest Destiny tho.

  12. This is Jim Ovelmen, half partner in AWOL. before this article was published, the Eastsider had taken a few glib comments made by Nicole, and made part of it the headline. Insensitive to the community, we asked the Eastsider to take the article down, but they refused. We actually have no intention of being part of making El Sereno the “new highland Park”. (actually she said the New Highland Park for ARTISTS) nonetheless, artists are, of course, part of gentrification. (that is, relocating artists into cheaper areas is part of this). We want to include, preserve, and respect the history of the local community. More we would like programming asap that addresses this. As an artist, I must make my art and continue focused on my own goals that come from my inner creative urges. But as a human being, I must respect, and include the local community. Local artist creative acts, and visions are not only important but should be a part of AWOL as well. We have only had one inaugural show. I can only speak in the language of creativity. That needs to include El Sereno locals and its history. We support rent control and want the creativity of the community already there to be showcased at well. This does not have to be a zero sum game. Let’s start the creative ball rolling now, not the wrecking ball.. Please do NOT think this original article headline represents us! We wish we could redact it. But discussion has emerged. Think about how we can reach for creative goals as place in a real and meaningful art community. Sincerely, Jim

  13. According to the LA Times, El Sereno is 48% owner occupied. That’s more than Echo Park and Highland Park, I believe.


    According to this data, some census tracts in El Sereno have already gentrified. So, what’s all this uproar about?

    Why don’t these “community activists” focus on this:

    9.4% of residents 25 and older have a four-year degree, low for the city of Los Angeles and low for the county.

    The percentage of residents 25 and older with less than a high school diploma is high for the county (11,793 residents)

    Stop your race based, anti gentrification bullsh*t and get your act together!

  14. Blah Blah Blah. USC/Keck has created the new Tech Corridor with support from LA City government. This plan started more than 10 years ago. Why do u think Hazard Park was spruced up, along with the new sidewalks and streets and the newly widened Huntington Drive to Soto Bridge? They’re offering packages which include housing to draw tech professionals from Silicon/Marin Valley. They are snatching up homes. They’ve had several meetings with homeowners in Lincoln Heights to buy up while blocks. This thing is happening. Millions have been spent there by the university and the city. They are creating jobs. There will be restaurants and bars along valley and Alhambra Ave. Investigate it with the city and you’ll see. The Community Beacon has even written about it. Whether you or I like the changes or not, they are happening. Always follow the money. On the bright side, Keck is providing excellent care for serious illnesses and providing lots of jobs. There will be outreach to schools. Why do you think schools are being asked to start STEM (science, tech, engineering, and math) programs? We neighborhood teacher are getting training for these programs, along with newer technology for classrooms. Of course, others come along, too. But the big money changes, and changes in infrastructure, have been negotiated by the city to support the new Tech Corridor. And as always, we citizens start infighting and dividing.

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