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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