12/05/17 Announcement of $825,000 funding for Self Help Graphics & Art in Boyle Heights. Photo by Antonio Mejías-Rentas

Self Help Graphics & Art will be able acquire the old seafood processing plant that has been its Boyle Heights home since 2011 thanks to $825,000 in former Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) funds approved Tuesday by the Los Angeles City Council.

That amount will fill the venerable arts organization’s funding gap towards acquiring the Ocean Queen Building at the corner of First and Anderson Streets –which the city has appraised at $3.625 million.

The funding comes from 14th Council District CRA excess bond proceeds secured by Councilman José Huizar, who held a brief press conference at Self Help prior to the council’s vote to allow the funding.

“This is one of the greatest dates for artistic expression in Los Angeles,” said Huízar, who was flanked by Self Help co-directors Betty Ávila and Joel García and a number of artists and current and former board members.

On Friday,  the city council voted to allow the sale of the former CRA property to the local nonprofit.

“Today we are one step closer to ensuring the permanence of the organization in the Eastside”, said Ávila at the Tuesday press conference. She explained that the organization founded in Boyle Heights in 1970 “has not been able to get permanent roots until now” and that the funding comes at a critical time, considering the “risk of displacement” she said Self Help faces.

The $825,000 come as a “community benefits loan with a commitment from Self Help to provide community benefits in arts services and programming to the local community” which, according to a release from Huízar’s office, the organization “has done for 47 years.”

“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,” Huízar said in the released statement. “Yet in spite of challenges, this organization has grown in capacity, influence and recognition, benefiting eastside artists and our youth with their programming and assistance. 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.”

Although the building’s acquisition is now secured, Ávila said Self Help is continuing it fundraising campaign, both to continue programming as well as to implement improvements needed in the former site of the Ocean Queen facilituy that once processed sea urchin served by area sushi restaurants.

Self Help’s 2011 establishment at the building at 1300 E. 1st St marked the organization’s return to Boyle Heights after decades of leasing a popular East Los Angeles location. But in 2014  the organization was forced to close the building because of needed roof repairs and the presence of mold around its old refrigerators, and it remained closed for almost a year.

At the press conference, Ávila called the acquisition “a major cultural arts win.”

“Very few community driven spaces like Self Help Graphics survive four decades,” Avila, Co-Director of Advancement and Administration, said in the statement released by Huízar’s office. “Community based cultural centers like Self Help Graphics are foundations that reflect the existing community and provide a space for creative growth, gathering and incubation. 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 skillsets needed to break through and thrive in the creative economy of Los Angeles and the world.”

“Making Self Help Graphics’ current building its permanent home means a continued source of cultural programming, arts education and creative workforce development for a community that sits in the largest creative economy in the world,” added García,  Co-Director of Programs and Operations, in the statement. “Self Help Graphics is a space for healing and creative expression and it represents a major cultural arts win, during a time where our nation’s highest office is questioning the validity of the contributions and experiences of the Chicana/o and Latinx communities to this country. The office of Councilmember Huizar and the City’s support for the effort to call [this] Self Help’s permanent home, is an important statement about the values of the City of Los Angeles and space in the Creative Capital of the world.”

Día de los Muertos altar dedicated to the late Self Help founder Sister Karen Boccalero and created by artist Ofelia Esparza served as the backdrop for the press conference.

Currently, Self Help is showing Día de los Muertos: A Cultural Legacy, Past, Present & Future, an exhibition part of Pacific Standard Time LA/LA that looks at the organization’s pioneering role in establishing the popular Day of the Dead celebration in the United States.

In spite of its revered status, Self Help has been criticized by some local groups as an enabler of gentrification and accused of collaborating with galleries and other nearby Arts District organizations that will force the displacement of low-income area residents.

This post was edited on 12/6 to correct the amount at which the building is appraised, which is $3.625 million.

The post was updated on Dec. 14 to reflect City Council approval of sale of property to Self Help.

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Antonio Mejías-Rentas

Antonio Mejías-Rentas is a Senior Editor at Boyle Heights Beat, where he mentors teenage journalists, manages the organization’s website and covers local issues. A veteran bilingual journalist, he's...

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