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When United Talent Agency opened UTA Artist Space in Boyle Heights last summer it was venturing where no agency had gone before — the Eastside, a beachhead in the heart of downtown’s burgeoning arts district. But on Sept. 18, the morning after their successful inaugural opening featuring the photography of Larry Clark, they found an eviction notice on the door:
“OCCUPANTS: UNITED TALENT AGENCY, LUHRING AUGUSTINE, JOSHUA ROTH, JIM BERKUS, LARRY CLARK, JOHNNY DEPP, WES ANDERSON, COEN BROTHERS, LENA DUNHAM and others of BEVERLY HILLS
REASON: DISPLACEMENT OF WORKING CLASS AND LOW-INCOME RESIDENTS
YOU ARE HEREBY NOTIFIED BY THE PEOPLE OF BOYLE HEIGHTS, who have fought for decades to preserve affordable housing for low-income families, reduced violence in the neighborhood, and have given their own labor and resources to make Boyle Heights a culturally vibrant community, that you must REMOVE YOUR BUSINESS from the neighborhood immediately.
THE PEOPLE OF BOYLE HEIGHTS.”
It was placed there the previous night, after closing, by a protest march attended by longtime residents as well as a coalition of community groups such as Union de Vecinos, Defend Boyle Heights and the Los Angeles Tenants Union coming together in support of Boyle Heights Alliance Against Art-Washing and displacement (BHAAAD).
“These galleries aren’t meant for the community,” Joshua Hernandez of Defend Boyle Heights tells The Hollywood Reporter. “These galleries are targeted for more affluent, not necessarily white, but when you go to the galleries, there’s a lot more white people and people with money.”
Art lawyer Joshua Roth established UTA Fine Arts in January 2015. Since then, they have brokered numerous deals such as getting client Kanye West’s video, “All Day/I Feel Like That” shown as an exhibit at LACMA, as well as contributing to the documentary Sky Ladder about Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang.
UTA wouldn’t comment on heightened tension in the neighborhood, but at the September opening, CEO Jeremy Zimmer told The Hollywood Reporter, “The way people tend to respond to new things is with a healthy degree of excitement and skepticism,” adding, “the good news is we get to define it as we go along.”
Some redefinition might be in order. Many in a community rife with drug addiction and poverty view the decision to show Larry Clark’s photos of teenagers hooking up and shooting up as insensitive to their plight. “We still struggle with addiction and gang violence,” said Hernandez, who has lived in Boyle Heights for 30 years. “As far as I know none of my community members were included or invited to go see this. It was for an affluent group while our community still struggles with this. So this is kind of commodifying our own struggles.”
UTA Artist Space isn’t the only one being targeted. Self-Help Graphics & Art, a community mainstay since the Chicano movement, was condemned for assisting Hopscotch, an avant-garde opera in cars staged in the neighborhood a year ago. And last week, police at the Hollenbeck Division brought hate crime charges against whoever spray-painted Nicodim Gallery with the words, “F— White Art.”
“This is not a hate crime. There are many white allies in our groups, artist themselves. This is a step toward fighting white supremacy,” says Hernandez, whose group issued a statement charging police with the deaths of five in their community so far this year, including 14-year-old Jesse Romero. “We just witnessed Trump’s election. Hate has been legitimized. We’ve been seeing it for a long time. So this is our political statement, it’s our community expressing its anger.”
In recent years, gentrification has steadily encroached on traditionally Latino Eastside communities like Echo Park, Lincoln Heights and Highland Park. But Boyle Heights, the focal point of the Chicano identity movement of the ’60s, is considered a culturally vital and quintessential working-class Latino community. There’s no doubt that rapidly rising real estate prices will drastically change a neighborhood where 75 percent of the population rents.
“We’re not naive. We understand change is going to happen,” says Hernandez. “What we want to do is guide that change. These buildings have been empty for a long time and they should be utilized for the community. We need housing, we need homeless shelters, we need work centers, we need youth centers.”
A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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