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Accused of gentrification, some Boyle Heights artists push back: 'We’ve always been here'

A piece by the local art collective Ni Santas inside Self Help Graphics in Boyle Heights.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC
A piece by the local art collective Ni Santas is displayed inside Self Help Graphics & Art in Boyle Heights.

Activists opposed to gentrification in Los Angeles' historic Boyle Heights are protesting local art galleries, with the latest protest taking place this past weekend.

They say new galleries opening in the neighborhood are ushering in wealthy outsiders, and unwanted development. But some say they’re casting too wide a net.

In the latest protest on Saturday, activists objected to the opening of the United Talent Agency Artist Space, which is part of an expanding “gallery row” on the western edge of Boyle Heights and along and around Anderson Street near downtown Los Angeles.

The anti-gentrification activists view the galleries as contributing to rising rents that they say can displace working-class residents in the neighborhood.

A representative for the United Talent Agency Artist Space did not respond to requests for comment.

In the mix of galleries are some unlikely targets, like Self Help Graphics & Art. The community arts nonprofit moved to Boyle Heights five years ago from East Los Angeles, where it had operated for decades.

Joel Garcia, director of Self Help, said the gallery's role is to nurture local artists of color. Activists should not paint all of the art spaces in Boyle Heights with the same brush, he said.

"When folks say we moved into Boyle Heights, I mean, we’ve always been here. We have always served this community. We are made from this community,” Garcia said.

The anti-gentrification activists contend that whether the galleries have been in the community for a while or not, artists are transforming the neighborhood in ways that could force out low-income residents.

"This is real. People have lost homes and businesses," one activist group called Defend Boyle Heights posted on its Facebook page. The group also provided video from the weekend protest.

KPCC has been covering rising rents in Boyle Heights for over a year and mapping cases where businesses and residents have been displaced or evicted. We've asked readers to tell us whenever they see or hear of those cases or experience it themselves. 

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