Nicodim, An art gallery in the warehouse district of Boyle Heights. The galleries have been the focus of protest by local groups. Photo by Ernesto Orozco

One of the first major art galleries to move into Boyle Heights that was targeted as a gentrifying force by local activists is now moving to a new downtown location because of rising rents in the neighborhood. 

“They’re nearly doubling our rent and our lease expires in December,” says Ben Lee Ritchie Handler, director of Nicodim Gallery, which announced the move out of Boyle Heights’ warehouse district this month. “That’s happened to a lot of the galleries here, most likely in anticipation of what the Sixth Street Bridge could bring to the area.”

Taking advantage of vacant buildings and low rents, several galleries began moving into the area just east of the Los Angeles River about 10 years ago. But Handler said he believes property owners within a close vicinity of the viaduct reconstruction are already raising rents to account for a projected increase in foot traffic following completion of the new viaduct, which has been pushed back to early 2022.

“Nicodim leaving Boyle Heights is a victory for the community, and we are happy to see it go,” said Defend Boyle Heights in a Facebook post. The grassroots organization, which has long contested the galleries, added it also opposes the gallery moving downtown and will continue to fight against it. “We want them to shut down, permanently,” the post added. “We stand in solidarity with oppressed and working-class communities everywhere facing down gentrifiers like Nicodim.”

When reached for a comment, Defend Boyle Heights said that the space on South Anderson Street that Nicodim is abandoning could be better utilized to provide for community needs, such as accessible daycares, community centers, and grocery stores.

Nicodim and other art galleries just across the bridge from downtown’s Art District were the target of a string of protests against gentrification in 2015 and 2016. The Boyle Heights Against Artwashing and Displacement (BHAAAD) coalition, which led some of the protests, claimed that such establishments paved the way for wide-spread gentrification by bringing outsiders to the area, raising property values, and displacing long-time renters. 

During a protest in the Fall of 2016, the words “F*ck White Art” were spray painted on Nicodim’s front entrance and the case was subsequently investigated as a hate crime by the LAPD.

“It was definitely hurtful, especially to the owner who is a Romanian refugee and myself with my own family being Jewish,” said Handler. “We didn’t understand it because we consider ourselves good members of the community and we’re always open to everybody. We foster a space and support a diverse group of people. It’s hard to get told by people that we’re not from here and to get out, but I also respect that a lot of people are hurting because of gentrification.”

At least one other gallery said the protests forced it to shut down. In 2017, the nonprofit PSST gallery said it was closing because its staff and artists were routinely harassed online and in-person. 

Gallery directors said in a social media post that although its founders were dedicated to fostering a dialogue between diverse communities through art exhibits, “the ongoing controversy surrounding art and gentrification in Boyle Heights caused PSSST to become so contested that we are unable to ethically and financially proceed with our mission.” 

But although Handler said that Nicodim staff faced much of the same treatment since they opened in Boyle Heights in 2009, the decision to leave the neighborhood had nothing to do with the protests. 

“I hope they get what they’re looking for,” says Handler. “It’s challenging especially because these buildings were empty for years, and now there’s going to be a big corporate boom once the [bridge] construction is finished.”

The last show at Nicodim closed August 10 and the gallery is expected to move soon after into a new 10,000 square-foot space on the ground floor of an industrial building at 1700 South Santa Fe Avenue, which it will share with other galleries.

Nicodim was founded in 2006 by Romanian art dealer Mihai Nicodim. A solo show by the Zimbabwe-based artist Moffat Takadiwa will inaugurate the new venue on September 7th.

This post was updated on Aug. 13 to correct closing and opening dates for Nicodim Gallery.

Alex Medina is a graduate of Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School and 2018 alumnus of the Boyle Heights Beat. He is a recent graduate of Hamilton College in Central New York where he majored in Hispanic...

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