Development/Gentrification

Ocean Front Walk Artists Speak Out Against Snapchat

Earlier this year on Nextdoor.com, someone created a subject for discussion about Venice and the artists that set up every day on Ocean Front Walk. It was titled “New Rules for Venice” and asked, “If you could change anything about Venice what would it be?” The author then answered her own question stating, “I’ll start: Vending on the boardwalk may be a draw for tourists, however, vending seven days a week diminishes the quality of life for local residents. Allowing vending seven days a week encourages homeless individuals to congregate daily along the boardwalk including setting up defacto camping spots. If vending were not permitted on a daily basis, these individuals would have to find an alternate place to hang out.”

There is obviously a lot wrong with that theory and that line of thinking – too much to even write out in this article. And it’s no surprise that the author of that has only been a resident for 5 years. She was then rebutted multiple times by a resident of 31 years who basically told her how wrong she was for many reasons – biggest reason being that the vendors shouldn’t be crucified because of her dislike for the homeless. Given the timing of Snapchat’s arrival in Venice and the current hatred the community has towards them, a valid thought is whether or not this resident of 5 years is a Snapchat employee. Although the answer to that question is not known, this is the mindset that many newcomers of the community have, and an undeniable culprit in that type of thinking is the presence of Snapchat and the Snap-Effect they have created since they began turning our community into their self-called “Corporate Campus”.

I’m sure most would agree that the artists, vendors and street performers along Ocean Front Walk are a big part of what makes Venice different than most beaches. In addition to retaining the artistic history of the area for multiple decades, they are the heart and soul of what Venice is today. Removing or limiting their presence would make Venice one step closer to being like every other beach in the world, one step closer to Ocean Front Walk being a home for a Disney Store or a Starbucks, and one step closer to ruining the vibe and attraction that Venice has been so well-known for.

Since the protests against Snapchat earlier this year, many artists along Ocean Front Walk have joined the rally against Snap Inc. and have used their art as a way to express how most of the community feels – with paintings, poetry, signs and banners. The artists and vendors on Ocean Front Walk see what’s going on with Snapchat every day. They see it all, they hear it all, and many have more intel on Snapchat’s everyday business than most Snapchat employees themselves. In addition, one advantage they have, as opposed to the storefronts on the westside of the walkway, is they have nothing to lose – Snapchat can’t do anything to them. They can’t buy their land, can’t buy their building, and can’t push them out. Multiple store owners this year have been hesitant to speak out against Snapchat in fear that they will be pushed out much like many other businesses have – the stores at The Freak Show building and Gingerbread Court in particular. Don Salmon used to have his Rastawear store at Gingerbread Court, but continuously said that Snapchat made his life a living hell after he spoke out against them in an article in LA Times. He had enough of it and eventually moved downtown. The artists and vendors that setup every day along the beach however…Snapchat can’t do anything to them, and they show their hatred for this company through their artwork. They, more than anyone, represent what Venice stands for.

Longtime artist Ra said Snapchat employees “never even stop” and revealed one story where a badged employee looked through his paintings, told him he’d be back the next day, and when he came back the next day and looked through his paintings again he rushed through them really fast while muttering “I’m not supposed to be here right now” and ultimately didn’t buy anything at all even after Ra allowed him to take photos. “It was like someone told him not to associate with us”, said Ra. Todd Ray, owner of the recently departed Freak Show, said that Snap employees wouldn’t even look at him when he tried to coerce them into conversation and invite them to see his collection of oddities. Local eateries still complain that Snap employees barely go to their spots because they can get free food from their private commissaries. It’s a chain reaction that ultimately kills the neighborhood.

Daniel, another vendor on OFW, also mentioned they don’t buy anything. “They’re into tech, not what I have to sell. I know them to be nice people overall,

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t they’re caught in a crossfire. It’s not their fault; it’s their CEO’s fault. I’m sure they want to be loved and not go to work every day and be unhappy, but if you take over a community the way they are, people won’t take that lightly”.
The parking lot Daniel works in is at 601 Ocean Front Walk – this lot was also rumored to be the potential headquarters of Snap Inc. and was in litigation for years until this past September when the developers finally dropped their lawsuit against the city to reverse the West LA Planning Commission’s denial of the project. This parking lot is next to the Blue House at 523 OFW, Snapchat’s first office in Venice. Snap, Inc. still uses the Blue House for random meetings and events, and all the nearby artists and vendors hear and see everything that Snapchat employees do there and outside all of their properties. They see Snapchat employees go out to the beach for brief meetings or go out to the walkway to make personal calls given the lack of privacy in their own offices. They knew about the Spectacles Store opening back in March before most people, and constantly hear news about their drones, cameras, and television shows.

The most visible of the anti-Snapchat artwork along the walkway is across from the parking lot. An anonymous source brought a big long yellow banner with a white ghost on it to a group of artists who then painted it in a way that’s hard to miss – it says, “Fuck Snapchat, Unfuck Venice”. The artists said they haven’t received one negative comment about it and the reaction towards it has been only positive, with many people asking what it is and why they are against Snapchat.

Brad Eckhart, a henna artist near Rose, sets up an easel every day displaying the map of Snapchat properties in Venice along with a sign that reads, “Our neighborhood is not a tech park!! #GETOUT”. He says “Many people think it’s about gentrification in general and that’s not what it’s about. Or they wonder why we’re against the app itself with no idea what this one company is doing to our community, so if they take the time to stop I will educate them. If they do just walk by, it’s fine because then they see more of it elsewhere and really start to ask questions and wonder what’s going on. No one even knows they’re here, except for us because we hate them, and I have to educate them. Snapchat thinks they’re cool because they’re here, but they’re NOT cool because no one even knows they’re here. People that use Snapchat don’t know they’re here. There are no signs on any of their buildings. They’re leasing most of their offices, so they’re just pissing away money just to say they’re here and it doesn’t matter to anyone except the community that hates them”. Another local then added, “They can’t be selling enough Spectacles to warrant having that space. It’s almost like they’re losing money on purpose and not caring at all about killing the community or the vibe of Venice.”

Another local stated, “It’s great that the artists are speaking out. It’s gets people asking questions and talking about it. And then they see that hideous Spectacles Store and realize the artists are probably right! Every artist along the walkway should have something that’s anti-Snapchat. It’s too big of an issue in this community not to, and once people learn about what’s going on they sympathize and talk to their friends about it.” Local activist group, The Venice Dogz, has been rumored to be putting together a contest for all the artists and vendors on Ocean Front Walk for the Best Anti-Snapchat Artwork to be had sometime next year in 2018. It will be quite a scene if that happens.

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