Eastside Arts Institution Moves West, To Boyle Heights

Self Help Graphics & Art moves from its long time location on Cesar Chavez.

By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer

Self Help Graphics & Art, a non-profit arts institution with deep roots in unincorporated East Los Angeles, will move to Boyle Heights at the end of this month.

Last Friday’s announcement was bittersweet for the artists who have long worked at the site, but are now hopeful that the lower rent for the new location with the same amount of space will allow them to strengthen their operations. But they admit they will miss their old home on Cesar Chavez Avenue, which is more than just a building to many in the community.

Evonne Gallardo, Self Help Graphics’ executive director told EGP that even though they are moving they want to see to it that the building is protected. “We care about the building, and we’ve supported the LA Conservancy’s nomination of the building to the California Register of Historic Resources,” she said. But the cost to stay in the location has hampered Self-Helps’ ability to grow.

In August 2010 the Los Angeles County Historical Landmarks and Records Commission voted unanimously to recommend landmark designation of the Self Help Graphics and Art Building to the State Historical Resources Commission.

The building’s nomination is on the commission’s agenda for May, Karina Muñiz, of the Los Angeles Conservancy told EGP. The nomination is important to protecting the building’s historic and cultural features because there is no preservation ordinance in unincorporated East LA, she said.

In 2008, a real estate investment company purchased the building, constructed in 1927.

Less than two years later it was on the market again, according to the LA Conservancy website. If the site is listed in the California Register of Historical Resources, any future development proposals for the site will be subject to review under the California Environmental Quality Act. CEQA is used as a tool to protect historic resources by providing a public review process in cases of proposed demolition.

The L.A. Conservancy considers the building both architecturally and culturally significant. The building features integral mosaic artwork by Eduardo Oropeza, which they say makes it a community icon. The site has played a significant role in Chicana/o art, cultural identity, and political movement-building on local, state, national, and international levels, Muñiz said.

“I think the building has certainly intertwined with the organization’s identity, but the organization is not a building. We are made up of artists, individuals as a community…” Gallardo told EGP.

Self Help will move to 1300 1st Street, directly across the street from the Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez Learning Center and the Pico/Aliso Metro Gold Line Station. Gallardo expressed hope that the East Los Angeles youth they currently serve and residents at large will use the light rail to visit their future center.

Self Help Graphics has been a great institution in East LA and surrounding communities, said Benjamin Cárdenas, president of the East Los Angeles Residents Association.

“It’s definitely sad, it’s always sad to say goodbye, whether it’s to an individual or building… but the change is for the best and I think that we are excited about entering this new chapter,” Gallardo said, noting that they hope to create partnerships with organizations in Boyle Heights.

The organization has already been invited to be a supporting partner with Dolores Mission’s Proyecto Pastoral “Boyle Heights Neighborhood Initiative,” the recipient of a coveted Promise Neighborhoods grant that provides cradle-to-career services for young people in the area. “We look forward to working together with our neighbors to serve our youth in a much more impactful way,” Gallardo said.

In December, Councilmember Jose Huizar and local artists kicked-off a $12 million streetscape project in Boyle Heights’ burgeoning Arts District along First Street, from the Pico Aliso area to the city limits at Indiana. A gallery, theatre and bookstore currently compose the heart of the district near the intersection of Cummings and 1st Street, just east of the I-5 and I-10 freeways.

Self Helps’ new building will be just over the 1st Street Bridge heading east out of downtown. “We will be the first point of entry into the Eastside Arts District,” Gallardo said.

“The opportunity to be a vital part of a new arts district, combined with our need to ensure a fiscally sound future for the organization, compelled us to make the decision to move,” said Stephen Saiz, president of the organization’s board of directors in a written statement.

“Self Help is grateful for the opportunity to partner with the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency and the City of Los Angeles to serve thousands of artists, youth, families, and community with quality arts programming.”

The announcement of the institution’s move comes three years after the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese sold the building that housed the organization rent-free for nearly 40 years. The new owners began charging Self Help rent at the beginning of 2009. Plans to fundraise and purchase the building did not materialize as the economy plummeted.

The organization will continue offering Tuesday after-school programs and Saturday morning Aerosol art workshops while packing takes place this month. Volunteers are needed for the move on April 2; for more information call (323) 881-6444.

For more information about the building on Cesar Chavez and the LA Conservancy’s efforts visit http://www.laconservancy.org/issues/issues_selfhelp.php4

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March 3, 2011  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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