Amid anxieties over gentrification, art institution is one step closer to securing its future in Boyle Heights

Joan Zamora, shown last year, works on an art project at Self-Help Graphics and Art in Boyle Heights.
Joan Zamora, shown last year, works on an art project at Self-Help Graphics and Art in Boyle Heights.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times )

Amid concerns about displacement that at one point roped it into an ongoing battle over gentrification, a venerable Eastside art institution got closer to securing its future through a planned purchase of its longtime headquarters in Boyle Heights.

The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to approve an $825,000 funding commitment proposed by Councilman Jose Huizar to help Self Help Graphics and Art purchase the property along East 1st Street.

Self Help Graphics had secured $2.8 million, through a mixture of loans and grants, but the city funding will bring it to the full appraisal price of $3.625 million.


“Self Help Graphics & Art is an arts organization that grew out of a real need in the 1970s to nurture Chicano expression in the arts at a time Chicano Art wasn’t recognized as legitimate,” Huizar said in a statement. “These funds will allow them to continue being the great community asset that they are and to remain in Boyle Heights — the neighborhood they were founded in — for years to come.”

Self Help Graphics staff members joined Huizar at their headquarters ahead of the vote for the announcement of the funding commitment.

In the early 1970s, Sister Karen Boccalero turned an East L.A. garage into Self Help Graphics, a thriving cultural center that gave rise to some of the city’s most successful Latino artists. Its first official space was in Boyle Heights.

It later moved to a 1920s-era building on Cesar Chavez Avenue in East L.A. After being displaced from that home, Self Help moved to its current location in Boyle Heights.

“Very few community-driven spaces like Self Help Graphics survive four decades,” Betty Avila, co-director of advancement and administration, said in a statement. “Securing a permanent home for Self Help Graphics greatly increases the social and cultural wellness of the Eastside and offers residents the opportunity to achieve wellness, lower barriers and build the skill sets needed to break through and thrive in the creative economy of Los Angeles and the world.”

Despite its own struggles with displacement, last year Self Help Graphics found itself accused of helping usher in gentrification. At the time, activists called for a moratorium on the organization’s work with outside artists and galleries, saying those businesses could price people out of the neighborhood.


Anti-gentrification groups have long been waging a battle against businesses — from art galleries to a cafe — that they believe could lead to increased rents and push out local business owners and working families.

The funding Self Help is receiving is through the council district 14 CRA-LA excess bond proceeds.

The City Council will vote on the sale of the city land to Self Help Graphics on Friday.

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