by Mike Bravo
On Saturday morning April 1, 2018 at about 9:30 I received phone calls about an LAPD sweep and homeless harassment on 3rd between Sunset Ave. and Rose. Upon arriving at Sunset Ave and 3rd at about 10:30 am I touched base with other community protectors including David Busch to debrief and clarify initial reports that we received.
Initial reports included claims of arrests which were later found to not be true. However, four people were given citations and for all intents and purposes the Unhoused folks there were in fact pushed and intimidated off the street by LAPD for an art event that CD11 Councilman Mike Bonin described as “the grand opening of the city’s newest public art space, behind the Google building, on 3rd Avenue.”
The event was called “Our Story” and was basically a graffiti exhibit with youth outreach. It was put on by the STP Foundation which is a talented old school graffiti crew expanding from LA to the Valley with some local Venice heads in their membership. They do a lot of great youth outreach work via the arts.
The flyer for the event included Google and Venice Chamber of Commerce logos so we know they involved in facilitating the space. There was talk of Mike Bonin having part in facilitating “the new public art walls” as well as him appearing at the event but that was never substantiated— in writing.
Bonin’s logo and city seals were not on any flyers or literature, but surely such a significant and permanent public art space would require city permits and approval right? Judging from Mike Bonin’s social media commentary venerating the “the grand opening of the city’s newest public art space” on Sunday April 22nd though, I am confident he participated in approving “the new public art walls,” but to what extent and role still needs to be clarified.
Walking into the event area at about 10:30 as the artists were still setting up (the event didn’t start till noon) to talk with the STP Foundation, I saw Brian Ulf from the VNC Homeless Committee as well as George Francisco (VNC Vice President and Venice Chamber President directing logistics and setup.
I communicated my concerns about the sweep that morning with STP Foundation leadership and more importantly, concerns about that space and their sincere intentions being used for Artwashing — using art(ists) as social capital and proxy to displace and marginalize people. A concern that should be prioritized especially in light of the recent collusion between LAPD and certain homeowners associations to disrupt encampments and place obstructions in places ideal for resting. All this conniving “neighborly” planning and push to criminalize unhoused citizens with no equivalent force of mental health resources, facilities, or housing efforts at play is unethical.
The STP Foundation assured us that as they were setting up, they invited all the Unhoused folks who were there to stay and enjoy the event. The main organizer is a sincere individual and I have no doubt they were indeed being inclusive in their actions. However, my assessment is that the police presence and the initial morning sweep created an energy that dissipated any sincere efforts by the STP Foundation to create an inclusive space for the Unhoused folks there.
While mediating a lot of the miscommunication and initial tension between local community protectors and the graffiti artists I discovered that there was a gentrifier going around spreading false rumors about Unhoused activist David Busch. This was an obvious attempt to discredit and obstruct our involvement in interceding the situation at hand. I can only assume the culprit of the rumors to be either George Francisco, Brian Ulf, or Will Hawkins who said he was there but don’t remember seeing. Whether intentional or not, that added tension to what many people on both sides perceived as two highly marginalized social groups being pitted against each other, the Chicanx and Unhoused communities of Venice and Los Angeles.
Despite the initial tension and gentrifier haterism, we had constructive dialogue with the STP Foundation and the planned counter protest was called off. We agreed to further dialogue with them to see how we can help expand their phenomenal work without inadvertently affecting the already dire conditions of Venice’s Unhoused citizens in a negative way.
The VNC Homeless Committee, Venice Chamber, and Bonin’s obvious yet intentionally obscured involvement with facilitating “the third sanctioned and curated revolving public art space in Los Angeles” deserves your scrutiny. There is was no mistake or innocence in them encouraging and choosing this location.
If the parties involved in facilitating this “new public space” on 3rd and Rose were truly sincere in advancing the outstanding work of the STP Foundation they should offer them prime locations instead of what is arguably the most contentious public space in Venice. 90% of the spaces gentrification artist, apologist, and local developer lapdog Jules Muck’s has hogged up would be a great start. But we know that won’t happen, diversity and racial equity is nowhere near their radar of concern or intention.