Skip to content Skip to footer

Art gentrification? How one gallery in Brooklyn is fighting against ‘artwashing’

During Chris Kraus’s After Kathy Acker reading at CUNY earlier this October, two protestors asked the author about her 365 mission reading in Boyle Heights. The author, best known for her book I Love Dick, stirred some controversy when she agreed to read in a newly opened gallery within the neighborhood. “I LOVE DIckSPLACEMENT,” was held up in the crowd during CUNY’s discussion with the author.

Boyle heights is a “predominantly working class Hispanic neighborhood situated east of L.A.’s Arts District.” Residents of the neighborhood believe that the amount of galleries opening up in their neighborhood will completely take over the originality of their hometown as well as cause a spike in rent and living costs.

Members of the community created a “Defend Boyle Heights” group, Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement, which addresses and fights the gentrification of their city. Angel Luna, a member and Boyle Heights native, told LA Weekly in October,

“We are asking all of the art galleries of the warehouse district of Boyle Heights to relocate somewhere else and not contribute to the gentrification of Boyle Heights. We understand that art galleries are a useful tool to increase financial speculation and drive up profit in gentrifying areas. This is our reality and our reason for the boycott.”

Artspace brought up an excellent point in their recent article, “Art & Gentrification: What is ‘Artwashing’ and What Are Galleries Doing to Resist It?

Though Kraus’s reading in Boyle Heights could be interpreted as insensitive or intrusive to the community around her, Artspace questioned the impact that the reading could have had in the audience.

“Has ‘arts district’ become a fancy way of saying ‘displacement’?” asks the publication, “What if artists and art spaces acknowledged their role in the displacement of communities, and worked proactively to counter the ‘artwashing’ of communities? Could they reverse the efforts of developers, and rather help a pre-existing community to thrive?”

Artspace spoke to Eileen Isagon Skyers, the creative director of Bed-Stuy gallery HOUSING, she opens up another outlook for the art galleries that have taken over gentrified neighborhoods. Though they exist and are persistent in their effects on lower income neighborhoods, “Artwashing” can be reversed and affect these neighborhoods positively, rather than the negative changes that these districts are currently experiencing.

“Artwashing is a part of this whole Anxiety that demographic changes in a neighborhood cue an imminent hike in rent and displacement—a process that disproportionately affects women of color… Remaining conscious of this, and participating in its undoing in a small way, is the least that art spaces can do.”

However positive art has been in Brooklyn, Boyle Heights doesn’t seem to share the same sentiment.

Vandalism hasn’t been a stranger in Boyle Heights either. To express their anger, residents have used spray paint, vandalism, and even acts of violence to protest the galleries. From Artspace,

“Residents fear that the influx of gallery spaces in their neighborhood will lead to their displacement and ultimate cultural erasure. Members of the Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement (BHAAAD) are demanding that art galleries in Boyle Heights relocate to other, more affluent areas of the city.”

Skyers still seems confident that these issues can be addressed and corrected.

“We’re not here to engage in ‘urban renewal’, or promote narrow notions of ‘community.’ We live here, and we are in love with the neighborhood exactly as it is. While we don’t know how much we can truly counter some of these insurmountable issues, we still want to do our part: raising attention, exhibiting works that might resonate with people in the neighborhood, and urging others to support local businesses that have operated in the area well before it was ‘up and coming.'”

Could these new galleries work towards helping un-gentrify these neighborhoods?

Probably, if we can get to the root of the cause. If artists and gallery owners alike work hard to reverse artwashing within these communities, we can begin to move forward and seriously address gentrification and all the effects it holds onto the people living in lower-income neighborhoods.

Hopefully, more owners such as Skyers will step forward, bringing neighborhoods the change they need.