Gutted from the Inside: A Q&A with ALMLA

Gutted from the Inside: A Q&A on Artist Displacement in the Arts District
with the Artists' Loft Museum Los Angeles (ALMLA)

Downtown has recently welcomed another new museum into the fold, the Artists' Loft Museum. But this new museum - housed in the home / studio of artists Alyse Emdur and Michael Parker - may not be here for long. We spoke with ALMLA's creators about their current eviction battle, what the museum represents, and where they're taking this fight.

GDT: The word “museum” is thrown around a lot today, and we’ve found this to be especially true in Downtown. What type of museum is this?

MP: It’s a place to celebrate the long-time artist tenants - which is a really important four word phrase - who have lived in the neighborhood for a long time and have been part of the cultural importance of the city.

AE: By calling our studio a museum, it’s saying that the long-time artist residents in the center of the city - which this area has now been named after, the Arts District - are a dying breed. Due to the cost of rising rent and traction of outside money into our community, it’s becoming impossible for long-time artists to stay here. It’s a museum because it’s past tense.

GDT: You are two of those “long-time artist tenants” in the Arts District. When did you first arrive here and why?

MP: I arrived in Downtown Los Angeles on August 15, 2001. I moved in with Christina Guerrero Harmon, a peer and fellow artist. We were looking for studios where we could both live and work. She at the time got a job with LA Opera and I worked as an EMT on an ambulance.

GDT: When you moved in, was an amount of time you’d be able to stay here on your mind?

AE: There was always some precarity to it because it was a month-to-month lease for the first eight years.

MP: Yes. And as the housing bubble grew in 2005, 2006, 2007 so fast, the building changed owners a couple times. And each time, the landlords were not renewing leases and raising rents to make it easier for new landlords to buy it.

GDT: When did it really dawn on you that you might not be able to stay?

MP: In 2011, our current owner started really raising the rents really fast, going up by $500-700 a year, year after year. 

AE: We figured out ways to stay here by inviting more artists to be part of our space, reconfiguring the space to support more roommates and studios. But many other long-time tenants, some who had lived here over 20 years, were displaced by a combination of rent increases and patterns of harassment that made it unbearable to live here.

That was so sad to see, people in their 60s who had lived here for decades, being displaced by short-term commercial businesses. And now, five of the 17 units are now occupied by Airbnb. Long-time artist tenants have been displaced for a hotel. It’s no longer the community that we thrived in before all these rent increases.

The reality of this building today is the living cultural assets have mostly been gutted from the inside and we’ve been replaced by these superficial backdrops that are used as marketing devices that tourists pose in front of for their Instagram selfies. These murals that the Arts District is becoming known for are being commissioned by developers to make their properties more valuable as they force the actual artists out.

GDT: As you’re facing your own eviction, how is your work linked to the work of others who are fighting displacement in their own communities?

MP: It’s very similar to what’s happening in Mariachi Plaza. Mariachis are artists, they’re performers. The fact that the building they lived in for so long has now been bought and renamed Mariachi Crossing is the same kind of cultural appropriation insult that’s happening with our building. The owner has plans to build a 12-story building here called the Arts District Center. But there’s no plans for artist tenants.

AE: We’re organizing a panel discussion on November 4 as part of the Common Field Conference with an anti-eviction parade following that.

MP: We’ve partnered with The Box, arguably one of the most important cultural institutions in the Arts District, who will host Los Angeles Poverty Department’s float in our parade and they’ll do a performance. The day of action will also feature young artists in support of the tenants at 800 Traction, another building slated for eviction in the Arts District.

GDT: Though you’re using your studio as a place to draw attention to the issue, do you see ways in which artists like yourself might be able to take action?

MP: One of the main assets is ALMLA in the larger struggle of housing justice is a way to visualize this issue. For example, people can follow us on Instagramwhere we’re posting the process of forced displacement.

AE: People can also bring awareness by calling our elected officials to help mediate between our landlords. Our goal is to get people to visualize this issue and start conversation how to actually change policy. At a certain point, there’s a breaking point where artists leave a city, like in New York, and San Francisco, and that’s possible in Los Angeles if this cycle of abuse continues.

For instance, our landlord put us on a commercial lease and refused to give us the option of a residential lease. The building is zoned artist-in-residence, we’re under the management of the housing department, and yet we do not have the same renter protection that someone under a residential lease would have. We’re hoping to use our own predicament to inspire conversation that will change policy.

MP: Specific policies that could be addressed are the Ellis Act and the Costa Hawkins Act that could change and could help long-time tenants in communities more in tact.

AE: The real question is how do we keep people of economic and cultural diversity in the city? I don’t want to live in a shopping mall. I left Manhattan for this reason. I hope this work will get policymakers to think and reflect on what kind of city their constituents want.

 The Artist's Loft Museum Los Angeles in the Arts District. (Image via  ALMLA )

The Artist's Loft Museum Los Angeles in the Arts District.
(Image via ALMLA)