It was like a bad B-movie with the powerful, evil conglomerate evicting the struggling protagonists—for a profit. Once a PR tool used by the Los Angeles Archdiocese to portray themselves as benevolent benefactors to Self Help Graphics & Art’s internationally acclaimed Chicano/a art center—the unmasked and crumbling religious foundation appears to no longer have a need for Self Graphics. Without warning, in a clandestine underhanded maneuver, the Archdiocese has sold the Self Help Graphics building to the odious developers who have been circling in on the east side.
Since the closure of Self Help Graphics by the then Board of Directors (June 7, 2005), Self Help Graphics has begun to rise, aided by artists, volunteers, community members and the spirit of founder Sister Karen Boccalero. Maintaining the small integral staff, getting back in the black, restoring the building to a safe functional level, protecting the art collection, reconnecting with artists, continuing the tradition of artistic center with community based cultural celebration, has been the focus of a group of diligent Self Help Graphics volunteers. It has been the visual, performance, written, crafts, culinary and musical artistic communities, as well as individual community supporters that have sustained Self Help Graphics these past years—without public funding, without grants, and without the local politicians’ help.
Over the last few years the Board of Self Help Graphics had met with the Archdiocese, the nuns from Sister Karen’s order and their representatives to strategize on a comfortable plan to transfer ownership of the building to Self Help Graphics, Inc. More like a ping-pong game—with Self Help Graphics as the ball—these entities each claimed to have no power to reach any decision with respect to the building—urging Self Help Graphic reps to ask one of the other entities—but not them. At the same time, they vehemently assured Self Help Graphics that the occupancy of the building would continue as always—there was no need to feel nervous about the relationship, if anything were to change or the building were to be up for sale, Self Help Graphics would be notified first.
Then suddenly last week–(predicted by many disillusioned community members) the call came, “The building has been sold and escrow closed—you have until December 31 to be out.” Shock, injustice, betrayal, wounded, angry and incredulous are not strong enough words to express what one feels, because you wanted to have hope in the process of the spirit, in truth, in common decency, in the respect for Sister Karen’s idealism.
As a volunteer at Self Help Graphics during the Sister Karen years, the Tomas Benitez years and post 6/7/05, I have seen the various seasons of change. Witnessing Sister Karen’s commitment to Self Help Graphics, a dedication with pressures and worries that cut her life short—I find it hard to believe that she did not make any provisions regarding the continuation of Self Help Graphics, after she was gone. Self Help Graphics was her life and her passion. Could she have also entered into a verbal agreement with her not-so Christian family—that also conveniently got forgotten? Half files, incomplete documents, select meeting minutes, empty drawers left by the pre-6/7/05 Board of Directors—also tell a story.
I don’t believe in hell, but I do believe in the dark forces that work feverously to destroy anything good. Those that work to create beauty, goodness and righteousness in the world must work doubly hard to wipe out the injustices that have taken place and at the same time take a step forward into a better humanity.
A public press conference is scheduled to take place at Self Help Graphics & Art on Friday, July 11, 2008 at 10am. Members of the Self Help Graphics Board of Directors will be present to answer questions about the future of our beloved and historical art center.
For those that are not able to attend the press conference, please know that your input and thoughts are direly needed. For updates on upcoming actions, please keep checking on the Self Help Graphics website at www.selfhelpgraphics.com