After five years in Los Angeles’s Boyle Heights neighborhood, 356 Mission—an artist-run exhibition space run by the artist Laura Owens and Wendy Yao, the founder of Ooga Booga art book store—announced it will close in May. The closure will follow the completion of current solo exhibitions by Charlemagne Palestine and Alake Shilling as well as an installation Victor Rosas.
Since its founding in 2012, after the building’s initial use as Owens’s painting studio, 356 Mission has established itself as one of Los Angeles’s most talked-about art venues. The Kunstahlle-style space mounted solo exhibitions of work by Owens as well as other artists including Trisha Baga, Seth Price, Ruth Root, Jay Chung & Q Takeki Maeda, Trevor Shimizu, David Reed, and many others.
Starting in 2016, activist groups including Defend Boyle Heights and the Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement have accused 356 Mission of gentrifying the neighborhood. Owens has actively engaged the protesters’ claims and, following related protests of her own exhibition at the Whitney Museum in New York, issued a lengthy statement defending 356 Mission while saying “I respect people’s right to protest in a safe and non-violent manner and to have their voices heard.”
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times today, Owens said that the space’s lease is up in June and that she felt it was time to move on. Asked if the decision owed to the protests, she said, “If it was for that, we could have closed a long time ago. Wendy and I have talked about this so many times. If you’re in the neighborhood, you make an effort to engage.”
In a statement announcing the close, Owens and Yao wrote:
356 Mission was an experiment in showing art and sharing space. We collaborated with over a thousand individuals and groups, hosted events and programs that were free and open to all, and worked to produce an alternative to the conventional gallery system in order to support and realize the visions of a wide range of artists. It was a labor of love, with finite resources, and never intended to last forever. We still believe that art can make a difference, that art spaces are vital to the cultural empowerment of all people, and that artists can be allies of vulnerable communities. Some took issue with our impact on the neighborhood—although we don’t agree with their perspective, we respected it, and attempted to bridge that divide while working toward proactive solutions to the best of our abilities. For both personal and practical reasons, we have decided that 356 Mission is no longer sustainable, but we will continue to support open access to arts programming and the health of existing local economies. We are deeply grateful to everyone who has supported us along the way, and look forward to continuing to engage the incredible communities of people who came through these doors.