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An Analysis of Gentrification in Society Today

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In Art and Complicity, the author defines gentrification as the restoration of public stores or private homes in urban areas occupied by predominately hispanic and black citizens. As the article states, an affected community includes Boyle Heights in Southeast Los Angeles, where the residents have examined the role of artists. The negative affects of gentrification include the loss of small businesses, reduced salary for low-income families, and the loss of homes in urban neighborhoods, as written in Hyperallergic. Several of the articles list the results of gentrification as the exploitation of artists, temporary visibility of races in art spaces, and gang violence on the streets. These struggles remain unfortunately relevant today. As Juarez, O’Brien, and Marin say, artists must “act our way into thinking” (page 2).

The fear not only of gentrification but of gang violence is present in urban neighborhoods such as Pico-Aliso. According to Caribbean Fragoza, the people of Pico-Aliso have tried to prevent gang violence happening on their streets while also struggling with losing their homes. The citizens of Pico-Aliso have experienced violence from dangerous members of the community and from the local police for over twenty years (Fragoza). The tactics women in the community use to prevent drug exchanges include spontaneous barbecue grills held in drug-dealing areas and safe walkways to school for children. The members of the community needed to find ways to protect their families and stop the death of their loved ones.

Another way that members of the community would try to “reclaim their streets” was to get a job. In the 2000s, certain galleries began moving into certain warehouses, thus causing residents to be cautious of future income. The strive to get a job was not just motivated by increased income and stability, a job was a way to get troubled citizens off of the streets. This way, they would focus their time and energy on making money in a factory, not by selling drugs. Homeboy food workers in Boyle Heights created a saying for this positive effort, “nothing stops a bullet like a job”.

Artists tend to go to these neighborhoods because of the cheap cost of living and for a community they can show their art to. Although, artists in these areas face complications with “the arrival of investors, speculators, and more affluent residents”. As stated in The Guardian, “make an area interesting and you attract interesting people to you”, these visitors are drawn to the fascinating work being created in urban communities. A common assumption is that the influx of wealth and intrigue from these guests would benefit the artists. In some ways it does, wealthy audiences will buy art which benefits the creator. However, rich investors will come to these urban places and lease an art space away from its original occupiers. Residents of Boyle Heights, who experienced this form of gentrification with PSSST, state that these speculators “planted themselves here” and did not think of the longstanding residents input beforehand.

The “hipster” term has been coined recently as a trendy, stylish young person. However, according to The Guardian, “the hipster is a capitalist” apart from style and social media. The main concern of a hipster is to “break away from the mainstream economy with independent-minded and ethical ideas and work practices”. The hipster is a common type of artist in urban communities, the innovative young artist that attracts older and wealthier investors. A hipster is also known as “ethical, sustainable, and highly mobile”, a highly neoliberal citizen who holds the ideals of “cultural rebirth, connectivity, and economic revival”.

The hipster pioneer mentality is described as a “socialist” lifestyle, that hipsters are not trying to “build empires” but to simply “make a living”. These citizens left their secure government jobs, making them “reincarnated pioneers” who’s efforts resemble that of the 19th century British colonialists. Stated in The Guardian, Hancock not only views hipsters as “small-scale capitalist innovation” but also “a coded form of cultural imperialism” which now seems to drive the Britain’s creative industries. The state now views hipsters as “autonomous, small scale capitalist expansionism” along with the artists of the community. Artists draw in hipsters before being uprooted by them and middle-class fellow citizens. Both artists and hipsters break away and explore from developing capital investment, thus continuing the course of gentrification (The Guardian).

One aspect in urban art spaces that intrigues visitors other than hipsters is “diversity”. That term is used lightly due to the temporary visibility of different races in artistic spaces. In An Artist’s Guide to Not Being Complicit with Gentrification, listed as a lesson learned from museum and gallery goers is an inquiry into “the power of art spaces to decide who is included in the first place”. The advantage gallery owners have is their ability to show what they want, which also means their ability to highlight certain races and people groups. Owners in these urban neighborhoods consisting of primarily black and hispanic families, pride themselves in including different races, even if that means showcasing one painting created by a Muslim woman amongst multiple paintings curated by white artists. The ruling class in the art world is white, and by displaying one piece of art by a person of color, owners believe that one act casts a shadow over the existing majority. O’Brien, Juarez, and Marin ask the question of “what is an art institution’s intent when they only temporarily feature a social movement in their space?” Owners might do this because they believe that more people will come and see their exhibits, which may be true, because viewers today are sick of seeing conservative art. These gallery owners need to realize that showing “diversity” for a short amount of time does not make it a diverse gallery.

Members of the community tend to contribute to the hypocrisy because they partake in these exhibitions. By doing so, they give money to these institutions and are loyal to the positivity of art. Yet through gentrification, the foundations of long-term residents are destroyed. The LA Tenants Union holds themselves susceptible by coordinating protests for the “human right to housing” and by creating the School of Echoes, a “space for critical reflection on the condition of the working class and poor communities” (Hyperallergic). This is a way that artists can be part of the community, by using their creativity to start conversation and by taking responsibility for the negative impact they can have on people’s lives due to gentrification. As artists, we can “involve ourselves deeply with tenant rights groups” instead of noticing the problems in our communities, we can “act our way into thinking”.

As explained in Hyperallergic, artists need to break away from the assumption that they are exceptional and they need to start acknowledging their part in gentrification. Art is a “part of how people struggle and resist in life”. Once people don’t consider their contribution to gentrification, art can be alienated and “the critical voice of the artist is lost”. The work of the LA Tenants Union is to create spaces of “intimate solidarity”, political action centered in relationships, love, and care (Hyperallergic). By creating nonviolent, political protests in these urban neighborhoods aimed at protecting the voices, property, and lives of long-term residents, we can spark change in gentrification

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