Where Do the Artists Go?
“People over profit!” “Boyle Heights se defiende!” “Gente si, gentrify no!”
But who is our gente? Who makes up our community? And most importantly, who gets to decide?
The anti-gentrification push in Boyle Heights is strong due in large part to the community being able to recognize the warning signs of gentrification as seen in neighborhoods such as Highland Park and Echo Park. “In the early 2000s up to the housing boom, I watched Echo Park change. It was like a tidal wave. They started opening up cafes and flower shops and galleries and at first it was like ‘Oh, that’s kind of interesting.’ And then it just flipped quickly and no one anticipated it. As this happened in Highland Park and then coming here into Boyle Heights and the Eastside, people knew what to anticipate. I think that’s why there’s been this push back like there wasn’t before”, says artist Wayne Perry. The push is also one that has divided the community and made gentrification synonymous with coffee and art. What this push often forgets about and fails to acknowledge is that artists are a part of the community too. They’re subject to the same rent burden, population density, and poverty level that play a factor in the “eligibility” to gentrify a neighborhood. They’re trying to make a living with their art and often times artists of color are some of lowest paid work force.
While art and the importance of art in communities of color has been undermined by various community organizations, Perry’s story is one that reminds us that gentrification and displacement affect everyone. “The city is going through a massive transformation. There’s an influx of people from the suburbs, the Midwest, and other states that are flocking to cities, especially Los Angeles. It is booming and it is becoming the creative capital of the country. All the galleries in Boyle Heights are descending on this community. They’re on top of this community. They’re not including this community.” A ceramic artist who has been working professionally for 25 years, Perry can no longer afford to live in the city. Instead of targeting artists and community art centers, we should be defending and uplifting the artists who invest and give so much to our community. We must learn to value the work that artists of color produce and recognize it as labor. The arts don’t have to be a white, elitist, privileged practice nor do they have to be viewed that way. Our community is filled with artists of all backgrounds and skill levels. Instead of polarizing them we should be engaging in collaborative efforts with them to combat gentrification.
Wayne Perry is an artist, art fabricator, public art restorer, and educator living in Los Angeles. Perry explores the conflict between nature and the metropolis to reveal personal stories of struggle, relationships, dreams, and the elevation of the human spirit. His print, "DispLAced" is available for purchase at Self Help Graphics & Art. To view more of Perry's work visit wayneperryart.com.
Arleny Vargas is a Boyle Heights-bred resident. She’s currently an undergraduate student at Wellesley College pursuing her degree in Spanish and Studio Art. Passionate about art and representation, she seeks to combine her writing and art in an effort to combat negative media representation and amplify the narratives and experiences of the Latinx community.