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

Authors: J Zoe Malot*, UCLA Geogrphy
Topics: Urban Geography, Cultural Geography, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: Art, aesthetics, art districts, gentrification, territory, territoriality
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 32
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Art plays an increasingly controversial role 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. This 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 this plays out in the ways in which certain aesthetics, identities, and histories are revealed through the artworks that are created, contested, and censored. Inherent in the questions I ask are the power relations relevant to the geographic imaginaries made visible and invisible through the variegated enactment of certain policies such as the mural moratorium and practices of ‘white-washing’. I apply murals and street art 1) as a creative and theoretical space, a site of epistemological inquiry and an activist space by examining the content of artworks in the LA Arts District; and 2) as a lens into how muralists, graffiti artists, and street artists engage in the battle to combat the social inequalities reproduced and reinforced by gentrification.

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