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Emi Fontana is a prolific woman in the arts who produces projects in Los Angeles and beyond. An independent curator and writer, she studied the Venetian Renaissance and participated in the creative wing of the student movement in the seventies. She also recently began teaching yoga, which she compares to her curatorial practice, but within which she considers herself a perpetual student. The fierce Italian cofounded the first archive of women artists working in Italy and ran a gallery in Milan for 17 years.

I’ve admired Emi ever since we met over dinner in Pasadena with Alex Israel in 2005. She had just launched the nonprofit arts organization West of Rome with a large-scale, site-specific installation by Olafur Eliasson. Since then, West of Rome projects have brought works by local and international artists to the streets of Los Angeles. Having the opportunity to work with her on the exhibition Women in the City was a formative experience for me.

Unknown-2Barbara Kruger installation at LACMA West, from Women in the City.

Emi and Los Angeles County Museum of Art curator Rita Gonzalez curated a benefit auction (bid online through August 23 here) to support the restoration of the Church of the Epiphany in Lincoln Heights, a birthplace of the Latino struggle for civil rights. The Romanesque Revival chapel and English Gothic Revival-style main church make it an architectural landmark. At 6 p.m. on August 16, Vespers at the Epiphany, the first in a series of events, will launch with performances by Jeffrey Vallance and Julie Tolentino in conjunction with the first viewing of the benefit auction pieces.

I chatted with Emi about this important initiative:

How did you first become involved with the Church of the Epiphany?

I became involved through Escher GuneWardena Architecture, which is in charge of the restoration of the church. I’ve known Ravi [GuneWardena] and Frank [Escher] for a long time.

What is the history of the church?

First, it’s the oldest Episcopal church in L.A. County, and that, for California, for Los Angeles, is a big deal. And it’s important for issues of diversity because it’s really where the Chicano movement started, and it served as Cesar Chavez’s headquarters. It was also the headquarters of John Kennedy’s presidential campaign.

I’m really sensitive to places like this church. A big part of my curatorial practice is to curate the location somehow. The church is impregnated with its history, so there is a great energy, and it’s in a diverse community. I’m always interested in the possibility of bringing art into places where normally you wouldn’t see it and what effect this may have on the community there.

Tell me a bit more about Julie Tolentino and Jeffrey Vallance, and their performances.

They’re both new performances. Jeffrey did something similar in Switzerland, in Geneva. It’ll be a conversation about the Bible and the notion of writing a gospel with Tom Carey, the vicar of the church. Jeffrey wrote his own gospel [published in 2011]—it’s a little bit about the idea that everyone should be able to write their own gospel. Julie is going to give a dance body-related performance that is also inspired by the church itself.

Bid on pieces from the benefit auction through August 23 at Paddle8, here.

Photos: Courtesy of Emi Fontana; Frederik Nilsen/Courtesy of West of Rome

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