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PSSST Gallery Closes In Boyle Heights Amid Anti-Gentrification Battle

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(Photo by Fliegender via the Creative Commons on Flickr)
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PSSST, the year-old art gallery in Boyle Heights, has closed, citing loss of funding due to the anti-gentrification and anti-displacement activism in the neighborhood. In a statement on their website, the gallery presents themselves as a casualty of the activist battle underway in Boyle Heights, despite attempting to offer an inclusive and intersectional artist-run space.

“Our young nonprofit struggled to survive through constant attacks. Our staff and artists were routinely trolled online and harassed in-person,” the statement reads. It continues by saying the activism “resulted in the mischaracterization of PSSST as being fundamentally in opposition with the varied intersectional communities we aimed to support.” This led to a loss in financial support for the non-profit, which, in tandem with the neighborhood’s consistent vocalization of its mistrust of the space, meant the owners decided to close the space.

For Defend Boyle Heights, the prominent organizing arm of the anti-displacement battle in the Eastside neighborhood, the closure marks a sign of victory for their movement. In a joint statement released by Defend Boyle Heights and Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement, activists push back against PSSST’s assertion of inclusivity by alleging that “[c]ivil 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.” They cite a need for legitimate lower-income resources, like affordable housing, affordable grocery stores, and harm-reduction sites, rather than the continued residency of gallery spaces.

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This closure comes at a moment of peak activity between DBH and the art gallery community. On February 12, the art gallery 356 Mission hosted an Artists’ Political Action Network as an attempt to incorporate the political needs of artists and the local community. In response, DBH and BHAAAD organized a picket line outside the space, claiming that the gallery’s political action holds no power when it chooses to ignore the realities of gentrification politics mired in its choices and geography. After the demonstration, 356 Mission issued a statement via Facebook acknowledging the needs of the local community.

“We recognize that 356 Mission will have to reimagine itself and we remain hopeful that the work we do can be a service to the community of Boyle Heights as well as the greater Los Angeles arts community,” it reads, adding that “[t]his is an ongoing conversation and we don’t yet have the answers.” For DBH, the mere existence of 356 Mission is the problem due to its connection with the developer Vera Campbell, who owns several gallery spaces in Boyle Heights.

The political nature of art and art spaces have become an increasingly mainstream topic in the wake of Donald Trump’s electoral victory. For a community like Boyle Heights, with a prominent Latinx population and a history of Chicanx activism, the existential threats of ICE and several of Trump’s policies demand tools and resources for maintaining the population’s lives in the neighborhood rather than art-focused spaces.

Related:
Boyle Heights Activists Take Aim At Art Galleries In Fight Against Gentrification

Annie Lloyd is a writer who runs a blog and newsletter about the history and future of this city, and you can often find her rambling about the L.A. dream over larb at Night Market Song.