Connecting the Dots Between Art, Activism and Gentrification

Written by Taliah Mancini

In the past few years, the links between art and gentrification have been at the center of many conversations in Los Angeles. Most recently, anti-gentrification protestors in Boyle Heights have brought attention to what they call “art washing” — the role that wealthy and white artists and galleries play in spurning displacement.

But there is another way that art and artists become intertwined in the larger fight for housing justice: Independent, grass-roots artists themselves are being evicted from their neighborhoods, and their creative practices are being made increasingly invisible.

In Downtown Los Angeles’ (DTLA) so-called Arts District, the long-time residents of 800 Traction Ave. — Japanese American community activists and artists — are being evicted from their live-in work artist lofts, with no relocation assistance. Now, they’re mounting a fight for their livelihoods — and their homes.

In June, Donaldson, Lufkin and Jennrette Real Estate Capital Partners (DLJ-CS), a large New York developer led by Credit Suisse executives, bought the 800 Traction building. DLJ-CS has an alarming human rights record — they have faced a conviction for felony conspiracy tax evasion, charges of laundering drug cartel money in Italy, convictions for assisting and covering up corporate crime in Japan and a lawsuit for investments in the former apartheid government of South Africa. An executive was also jailed for causing the 2008 financial meltdown.

DLJ is now evicting the tenants at 800 Traction Ave. in order to make a profit, likely with the intention of turning the building into a multi-use restaurant space. This is not an isolated attack: DLJ has purchased multiple historic buildings in Los Angeles and converted them into upscale apartments, lofts and commercial spaces. And while the real estate group has gone to the Cultural Heritage Commission of L.A. to request a “historic building designation”¯ for 800 Traction, the new owners have completely disregarded the tenants who’ve made the neighborhood what it now is.

The building at 800 Traction dates back to 1916 — and, since then, artists have worked tirelessly to make the once-industrial area a vibrant center for cultural activism and artistic pursuits. They created a Traction Ave Community Watch, beautified the historically desolate landscape, and cultivated creative spaces in which artists could organize.

Nancy Uyemura, one of the women being evicted from 800 Traction, has been in the building for 32 years; Jaimee Itagaki, another woman being pushed out, has called the building home for over 20 years now. Together, the residents created family at 800 Traction.

“We’ve had weddings, birthdays, parties and more parties,”¯ Uyemura said in a zine created to educate the public about 800 Traction.
We created and worked, made art and celebrated life.”

On October 18, despite the residents’ refusal to give up their only home, Jamie Itagaki received her official Unlawful Detainer notice — the court order for eviction. But the artists working to save the building and fight the city’s housing crisis are not backing down and they have doubled their efforts against DLJ, including an anti-eviction parade on November 4 to kick-off this new stage of their campaign. The parade, a march in support of tenants at 800 Traction as well as 454 Seaton St., another building under threat, represents a growing movement against corrupt city officials who push for systemic displacement and a calculated attack on the city’s most vulnerable communities.

The activists fighting to stay in 800 Traction are part of an ongoing struggle against greed, displacement and cultural repression. As explained in a statement from the tenants, the current development of DTLA is nothing new — “¯it is simply a continuation of forced displacement.”¯ The recent evictions are part of three waves of displacement and redevelopment that have historically impacted the Japanese American and Little Tokyo community: the WWII Japanese American concentration camps, the expansion of DTLA’s Civic Center in 1952 and the displacement and evictions by the Community Redevelopment Agency in the 70s and 80s. Now, the community faces a fourth wave: the redevelopment of Little Tokyo and the Arts District. And their struggles connect directly back to the fight to protect and support women.

Creative expression makes space, and provides visibility for, those fighting oppression in the various forms it takes — from rising rent prices to sexual violence to attacks on immigrant communities. While high-brow galleries infiltrate brown, working class communities, independent artists continue to use their practices as a means of social activism. These artists are the ones pushed out so that big galleries can make a profit. They are also the ones that allow feminist spaces to grow, that push for a more just society, that allow other activists the freedom to demand basic rights.

The core of 800 Traction’s struggle is the fight for basic access to affordable, comfortable housing – -and the right to creatively and vocally push for a more equitable future. That’s a feminist fight, and one that matters across the country more than ever.

This post originally appeared on Ms. Magazine

Photo Credit: Passion Leica/Flickr

28 comments

Stephanie s
Stephanie s24 days ago

Thank you

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Stephanie s
Stephanie s24 days ago

Thank you

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Ruth S
Ruth S25 days ago

Thanks.

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Lisa M
Lisa M25 days ago

Noted.

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Lisa M
Lisa M25 days ago

Noted.

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Clare O
Clare O25 days ago

You can call it art, I call it graffiti

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Clare O
Clare O25 days ago

th

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Ellie M
Ellie M25 days ago

ty

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Winn A
Winn A26 days ago

Thanks

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Anne M
Anne M26 days ago

What else is new ??

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