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Self-Help Graphics Will Own its Building For First Time in History

Self-Help Graphics & Art, the Eastside arts institution that’s been around for more than 40 years, may have beat back the tide of gentrification and rising rents in Boyle Heights and will be owner of the building it occupies.

The organization that began in the heyday of the Chicano Movement with Sister Karen Boccalero just finished the year with a double-dose of funding from local government agencies, ensuring it can stay at its current location just east of the L.A. River. It will be the first time in its history that the organization will own a building for its array of exhibits, printmaking, festivals, and workshops.

Yesterday (Dec. 19), Self-Help announced it is receiving $450,000 in redevelopment funding from the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. Along with $825,000 secured earlier this month in redevelopment funding from the City Council, this means the organization has enough to buy the state-owned site it currently uses on East 1st Street, in the flats of Boyle Heights.

The sale is for $3,625,000 for the former Ocean Queen seafood packing plant. In its quest to become owner of the building, Self-Help Graphics had already raised $2.8 million in private donations and foundation funding, said Betty Avila, co-director of Self-Help.

‘This is a homecoming for Self-Help Graphics.’

The building is in a section of Boyle Heights that has seen rapid changes with the arrival of galleries from outside the area — or even outside the city — turning it into a flashpoint in the ongoing struggles over L.A.’s eastward-marching gentrification.  Avila said the timing of the purchase was urgent because prices were sure to rise further in 2018 in the area.

“Obviously we wanted to lock in a price knowing how the market is,” Avila said in an interview on Tuesday with L.A. TACO.

“The conversation did at some point go to, ‘Do we go somewhere else? Does it have to be this building?’” she added. “For us it was a matter of staying in the neighborhood. If we wanted to go a building that was more affordable, we’d be going completely out of the range of the communities we serve.”

Self-Help has been renting at the First Street building since 2011. Before, it spent decades at a mosaic-covered historic building in unincorporated East Los Angeles, where one of the city’s oldest Muertos festivals had taken place. But that building, owned by the L.A. archdiocese, was sold to a private firm, forcing Self-Help to move to Boyle Heights — renting on the market.

Now Self-Help is reaching the status of owner. However, the sale is not expected to become final until spring 2018, said Self-Help spokesperson Jennifer Cuevas.

Meantime, people can help the organization celebrate by checking out its current PST:LA/LA exhibit on the cultural legacy of Dia de los Muertos.

“This is huge,” Avila said. “This is a homecoming for Self-Help Graphics.”

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