Boyle Heights gallery blames anti-gentrification protests for closure

Boyle Heights galleries have opened in an industrial strip along the L.A.River

BOYLE HEIGHTS — Artists Barnett Cohen and Jules Gimbrone joined the neighborhood’s burgeoning art scene last year by turning a 5,000-square-foot warehouse into a nonprofit gallery focused on underrepresented artists. PSSST, as the gallery was known, was about “artists supporting artists,” Gimbrone told the New York Times. But now, less than a year after it opened,  PSSST has closed in the wake of anti-gentrification protests that have targeted the new galleries.

The founders, in a statement posted on their website, said the protests create a tense environment that made it difficult to operate:

“The ongoing controversy surrounding art and gentrification in Boyle Heights caused PSSST to become so contested that we are unable to ethically and financially proceed with our mission. Our young nonprofit struggled to survive through constant attacks. Our staff and artists were routinely trolled online and harassed in-person. This persistent targeting, which was often highly personal in nature, was made all the more intolerable because the artists we engaged are queer, women, and/or people of color. We could no longer continue to put already vulnerable communities at further risk.”

PSSST was one of several galleries and art spaces that had recently opened amid the warehouse and commercial buildings on the far western edge of Boyle Heights between the 5 Freeway and the L.A. River. Streets like Mission Road and Anderson Street that had once been empty and quiet at night began to attract art patrons to gallery openings.

But the same galleries also attracted protesters concerned about the gentrification of Boyle Heights. They wanted the galleries, which they considered the leading edge of gentrification, to close.

Defend Boyle Heights, which describes itself as an “anti-gentrification collective,” said on its Facebook page that it did not know what the landlord has planned for the PSSST space but encouraged other neighborhood galleries to move out. “We hope the rest of the galleries follow the example set by PSSST an leave Boyle Heights.”

Last fall, the LAPD has opened a hate crime investigation after several of the galleries had been the targets of vandalism amid the anti-gentrification protests, the L.A. Times reported. The words “Fuck White Art” were spray painted across one gallery last month shortly after anti-gentrification protesters marched through the area, taunting gallery visitors and demanding that the art spaces move out.

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  1. Please come to Lincoln Heights. We would love you here!

  2. It makes me sad that they succumbed to these trolls.

  3. No one wanted their pinche art, so they blame the anti-gentrifiers

    • It’s a fucking shame people are so damn ignorant. Sorry BH residents, but you’ve made yourselves to look like Trump supporters with your anti-Art stance. These artists were setting up shop in an industrial area of Boyle Heights. People should have the right to set up legitimate businesses in any part of LA. What the fuck is wrong with mixing classes and races? This is the same mentality of isolationism and tribalism that got Trump elected. No one wants to go across the aisle and mingle and learn from other groups. It’s sad.

      • Nailed it.

      • Esmeralda Castaneda

        It is a shame Jose and I completely agree with you. Boyle Heights is such a disappointment right now.

      • I grew up in East LA and Boyle Heights. I believe that it’s a small group of residents who fear change, and it’s not all unwarranted. Many of these residents look at what has happened to nearby Highland Park and are scared that they will be priced out of housing within 5-10 years because of gentrification. I don’t blame them for feeling that way, but harassing art galleries is not the solution.

        A lot of the commercial property and probably most of the housing is still owned by “whites.” Property gets handed down from the original owner who was probably Jewish and it stays in the family. The disconnect is that the Jewish people no longer live in the neighborhood so they have lost their connection to it. So you see the children of the original owners wanting to sell or fix-up their property when they see this wave of progress arriving. I don’t blame them either.

        What we have to do is help residents buy the houses they live in and the building their small business is housed in. Gentrification in and of itself is not a bad thing. The trick is to get the community to have a say as to how it happens. In Highland Park that didn’t happen and you saw many minority owned businesses forced out of their buildings and renters out of their homes. That’s a horrible example of gentrification. Boyle Heights can do better, but not by stopping progress and gentrification. A country, a city, a neighborhood, needs to keep on reinventing itself or else is dies a slow death. I see gentrification about improving a neighborhood through reinvention, and Boyle Heights needs to ride that wave, but in their own way. If they try to stop the wave, they’re going to drown.

        BTW, Boyle Heights is no stranger to waves of changes and in those circumstances it wasn’t the Latinos that were leaving. It was the Jews, Japanese, and Chinese.

    • “No one wanted their pinche art”? BHAAAD’s statement explicitly says that BHAAAD and DBH pressured PSSST’s funders to pull funding. There’s nothing wrong with pushing for divestment, but let’s not try to paint this as “no one wanted their art” when even the people claiming victory say it was something else.


      • BHAAAD and DBH might be well intentioned, but are not doing it the right way. It seems none of the people in this organization have any clue as tot he history of Boyle Heights. They should start by looking up why it’s called Boyle Heights.

        And this stupid notion that Boyle Heights shouldn’t have any art galleries is asinine. I guess if MOLAA moved into Boyle Heights they would boycott that too? Pendejos is what they are. They can’t see the forest for the tree. It’s not about stopping gentrification. It’s about making it your own and owning it.

        This group also conflates public social services with businesses. They are two different things and are NOT mutually exclusive. To say it’s either/or is being disingenuous and fear mongering.

    • Pinche = Fucking

  4. They’ll probably just open up shop 5 minutes away over in the arts district.

  5. Don’t be fooled by these so called “anti-gentrification” groups. They are simply just pure racists poorly disguising themselves behind a bogus agenda.

    The irony is that these groups waste their time chasing out small businesses like an independently owned art gallery with terror tactics and intimidation yet they have no ire or negative words for something that actually is detrimental to a neighborhood like new 7-11 being proposed for York Blvd.

  6. I guess PSSSST didn’t have enough spray painted Guadeloupes to satisfy the knuckle dragging crew of Boyle Heights. Do they not know they are not the original residents? That whole area was Jewish about 60 years ago…

  7. Now the space will sit empty. Get tagged. Have people squat there. No income or people coming in for Boyle Heights.

    Smart move dudes.

  8. Galleries close all the time ,usually when Dad’s money runs out. These mouth breathers claiming it as a victory are hilarious, it’s like a Portlandia skit.
    Yes Boyle Heights we are laughing at you, you are a show of irony in itself. the link claiming victory and citing the PUBLICLY FUNDED Pico Gardens community as an “at risk” group is a complete joke. You know all of LA pays for that right? So you can dictate who comes in and out of the industrial area that has ZERO residents part from the old houses that exist just before the hill. You guys are a laughing stock. Why didn’t you protest WhiteCap when they opened up? Because you’d get your ass beat by contractors trying to work thats why, go for the soft targets I guess.

    Yes, WhiteCap who actually sell the building supplies that WILL gentrify Boyle Heights, The breweries will come, the “White Devil” with there clean yards and loved dogs will start moving in. You’re going to see a lot more Korean and Chinese people in the hood and there is not one thing you can do about it. Diversity is good, change is good , keep fighting the stupid war DBH.

  9. I wish these “activists” cared as much about the gangs that are tearing apart our community. Oh, that’s right, that’s their relatives.

  10. If PSSST was in fact part of the bourgeoisie masses you fear so much, they would not have left because of protest, they would have paid to better secure their venue and protesters would likely be on the receiving end of police intervention.

    So a round of applause and a job well done to morons that have pushed out a non-profit organization that focused primarily on the creative expressions of marginalized individuals.


  11. TheEntireCountryisGentrifying

    As every major city in the US is mixing this area shows how racism can exist towards non minorities. The fact that it was art didn’t matter it was the fact that they were different than themselves. Boyle Heights was once mostly Jewish, is now majority Mexican, and should become naturally mixed like the rest of LA but that won’t happen. As people (including me) point the finger at middle America for living in a bubble that makes them ignorant to the rest of society my focus has also migrated to Boyle Heights. Now I’m aware that not everyone in Boyle Heights approved of the backlash towards the art centers but the fact that people get comfortable in doing this speaks volumes about the community at large. I’m keeping my money away from Boyle Heights

  12. Persecution and bigotry, and a damn shame. Particularly since many of the persecutors are illegally here and have no right to push anyone around like this. I believe LAPD needs to revisit Defend Boyle Height’s tactics.

  13. Good riddance

  14. There are 2 McDonalds on Soto and 1 on Whittier. There’s a Carl’s Junior on East 4th St.. There’s a Taco Bell on Soto. There’s a Wendy’s on Atlantic. The list goes on and on. These are the corporate businesses who make a mountain of money feeding the folks of Boyle Heights crap. Go after these businesses, not the artists. I don’t see huge protests, harassing behavior, etc. against these corporate fast food giants. Why go after the small, independently owned art galleries? Sounds like good old fashioned racism to me.

    • 100% Right on the money, Alex K. It was so inspiring to see the community rise up with outrage, protests and heroic civil disobedience while fending off the filthy Panda Express when they tried to take over the beloved Carnitas Michoacan. Oh wait, that only happened in my dreams. Sorry, my bad.

      • Well, that had more to do with the owner of the building that refused to renew the lease for the Mexican restaurant even though it had been there for decades. That’s on the owner. And I bet the owner isn’t latino.

  15. Latinos don’t go to Boyle Heights, there is no there there. Sorry I’m Latino if I didn’t go there before, definitely not going now. Fast food and used tire stores. Hope you get the laundromat you aspire and dream of.

    • Dude, you’re missing out on a lot of good food. There are many great restaurants that are owned by latinos and run by families and not franchised. There are cool galleries and bookstores there too as well as coffee shops, etc. Check it out. Use the Gold Line and get off on Mariachi Plaza station and head over to Garibaldi across the street. You won’t be disappointed.

        • The owners of Garibaldi told The Eastsider they needed to cut costs and focus on their remaining restaurants on the Westside.

          • Wow, I was there just a couple of months ago before the holidays. That especially sucks considering it was the original location. I loved the seafood dishes there and their sauces were fantastic.

            When I first went there about 20 years ago it looked more like a neighborhood dive bar from the outside.

            The only other Serenata I ever went to was the one in Santa Monica which I didn’t care for too much because it was very noisy and trendy, but I think that one closed a while ago. I didn’t realize the Serenata on Pico was part of the same chain. I thought was was separately owned.

            That’s a big loss for Boyle Heights. Luckily, Boyle Heights and East LA have many other great neighborhood restaurants. This is an example of why people in Boyle Heights are leery of a possible wave of gentrification.

  16. I live in Boyle Heights and I can tell you the Defend Boyle Heights groups do not represent me or the majority of residents. They lie when they claim to represent the community. They are in fact a small, vocal minority. I do not agree with their all-or-nothing radicalism, militancy, their hypocrisy, or their unrealistic expectations. That said, I do support their right to protest. It is sad to me that PSSST was a casualty in this fight. These groups need to redirect their focus to city zoning and large-scale development if they want to actually protect residents from displacement.

  17. Residents of Boyle Heights have always been true to their time honored traditions….. that being the most uneducated “Latinos” in Los Angeles County.

    Good Job Boyle-Heights, you’ve lived up to what everyone has always expected from Boyle-Heights, that being racist Latinos still living in the last century.

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