Boyle Heights art space to show work by USC MFA students who dropped out in protest

As the Los Angeles art world's center of gravity has continued to migrate eastward, a growing number of art spaces has begun to open up shop on the eastern banks of the Los Angeles River. Now those spaces are about to be joined by a new artist-run nonprofit with high-minded ambitions.

Pssst, as the new space is called, is scheduled to open its doors in a converted warehouse next month with a program that leans toward the experimental — including a show of work by the MFA students who withdrew in protest from USC almost one year ago. (The group now goes by the moniker MFA no MFA.)

Also in the pipeline are lectures, performances and group shows, as well as artist residencies. In fact, the first resident will be Guadalupe Rosales, the Los Angeles artist who has made a name for herself by creating a digital archive of Chicano youth culture of the '90s with her "Veteranas and Rucas" Instagram feed. 

Pssst, which will be housed in a 4,000-square-foot warehouse in Boyle Heights, is the brainchild of L.A.-based artists Jules Gimbrone and Barnett Cohen. The pair met as students at the California Institute of the Arts, and it was their experience there, in part, that led them to launch their new nonprofit.

"We were imbued with the philosophy and mission of being this really experimental space where artists have time to take risks and collaborate and focus on ideas," says Gimbrone. 

The mission, says Cohen, is to create a place where artists of all stripes — poets and dancers and visual artists, with advanced degrees and without — can present their work without the pressure of making sales. And to do so in a space that keeps artist needs top of mind.

"We are so not curators and we are so not gallerists in the making," says Cohen. "We are artists through and through. That's an important point."

As part of that, Pssst is even looking to address the pay inequity that occurs at many nonprofit exhibition spaces — where curators, installers and other staff are paid for their time, but artists frequently are not. The organization is working on getting certification from Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E.), an activist group in New York that helps regulate artist fees at nonprofit arts institutions.

Moreover, Pssst is focused on allotting its studio spaces according to creative as well as financial needs, in the hopes that they can nurture careers that may not be receiving much professional support elsewhere. 

"It's a conversation we're trying to spark given the tremendous amount of wealth inequality," says Cohen. "You can scroll through Instagram and see shiny new art all the time, [but] that doesn't reflect what it means to be an artist in America."

Funds to help launch the space were supplied by a donor who remains anonymous. But Gimbrone and Cohen are doing additional fundraising to support the programming.

They are also working with an advisory board that is helping guide some of the decision-making. The lineup includes established art world figures such as independent curator Michael Ned Holte (who helped co-curate the last "Made in L.A." biennial), multimedia artist A.L. Steiner, Los Angeles County Museum of Art curatorial initiatives coordinator Pilar Tompkins Rivas and Hammer Museum assistant curator Jamillah James.

Pssst joins other arts nonprofits in the greater L.A. area, including Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE) in Hollywood, the 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica and the Mistake Room in the nearby arts district.

Pssst opens to the public on May 13 with the group exhibition "Everybody! Come Stand on the Altar!" The show runs through May 28. 1329 East 3rd St., Boyle Heights, pssst.org.

Find me on Twitter @cmonstah.

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