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Contested Spaces and Artistic Places – The Aestheticization of Wall Space in LA’s Arts District


Art occupies a controversial place in processes of gentrification. The role art has in gentrifying neighborhoods plays out uniquely in Los Angeles where cultural erasure is prominent through practices of ‘white-washing’ in a city dense with public art. ‘White-washing’— where artists, property owners, and municipal actors paint over particular artworks—is juxtaposed to the large-scale anti-gentrification protests led by activist groups in Boyle Heights fighting against ‘artwashing’— the process by which developers and artists appropriate and aestheticize markers of urban decay in order to market real estate to consumers seeking an industrial backdrop through beautification projects, such as those promoted by the LA Arts District (ADLA). This paper examines how public art, specifically murals, street art, and graffiti art, create territories of contestation and how certain aesthetics, identities, and histories are revealed through the artworks that are created, contested, and censored. I ask how power relations take shape and influence socio-spatial representations made visible and invisible through the enactment of certain policies such as mural moratoriums and ‘white-washing’. I approach public artworks first, as creative and theoretical spaces—sites of epistemological inquiry—by examining the content and aesthetics of the art in the LA Arts District; and second, as a lens into how muralists, graffiti artists, and street artists engage in territorializing practices that both resist and reproduce inequalities associated with gentrification.

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