Interview With West of Rome Public Art's Emi Fontana

West of Rome Public Art is a Pasadena-based initiative dedicated to the realization of artists' projects in the public sphere. ForYourArt interviewed founder Emi Fontana about West of Rome's inspirations and the challenges of producing art in unorthodox exhibition sites, as well as their upcoming benefit orchestrated by artists Mike Kelly and Michael Smith.

Join West of Rome Public Art for their first benefit, A Night of Growth and Discovery, July 26 at 7pm at The Farley Building. For tickets and information visit

What inspired you to start West of Rome Public Art?

When I started West of Rome in 2005 with Olafur Eliasson I was already seeking to create different conditions: for the artists to create outside the white box of commercial galleries and outside the constraints of the institutional frame. Olafur was coming out from the hugely renowned Weather Project at the Tate Modern in London. For his next project Olafur wanted to work within a domestic scale. That is how Meant to be lived in (Today I am feeling prismatic) found its location at the Jamie residence, by architects Frank Escher and Ravi Gunewardena, on the top of a hill in Pasadena. Since then I have wanted to create different conditions for the public to experience contemporary art.

Women in the City, an on-going project, is the pinnacle of all of this. The first part took place in 2008 with more then 300 locations all over the city. At the moment, Jennifer Bolande's Plywood Curtain is starting to go up in empty storefronts all over Los Angeles. The project will spread in time and space for one year, creating a viral effect. In October we are showing a project by Marnie Weber at the Altadena graveyard in Mountain View.

West or Rome is committed to realizing artist's projects in public or nontraditional locations, why do you see a particular need for this in Los Angeles?

When we started, there were no organizations of this kind in town nor were there many similar initiatives-nothing like Public Art Fund or Creative Time existed here. I feel West of Rome's vision and ongoing practice has been a leader in pioneering the recent surge in public art in L.A., that our activities have been inspirational for other organizations. Los Angeles is the perfect setting-as it has been for movies it could be it for art-the city itself offers infinite possibilities to create alternative politics of exhibiting.

What is the biggest challenge in producing public art?

I have been producing art for 20 years, and even when I was working in the commercial realm I always saw myself more as producer then a dealer. I like to commit to artists' largest visions and to make the impossible possible. Funding is a big challenge at the moment. But I think our vision is clear and we proved what we could make happen, so donors trust they are supporting the right cause. We legitimate ourselves through the work we do for artists and for the audiences. We have had record-breaking attendance at the Mike Kelley and Michael Smith exhibition A Voyage of Growth and Discovery that we have up at the moment in Eagle Rock-and everyone walks in without having to pay for a ticket.

The upcoming benefit is orchestrated by artists including Mike Kelley and Michael Smith among many others - can you give us a couple hints about what will happen?

I can say that it will be an unforgettable night for art in Los Angeles; we have over 20 artists involved in different capacities, it will be like a total artwork, a performance festival in a benefit disguise. It will be difficult for our guests to maintain a sense of reality... a lot of transformative sensorial experiences will take place. We'd like this magic evening to give a sense of what the art community is in Los Angeles. We'd like to offer to our guests something radical and cutting edge, the whole West of Rome experience.

What do you see for the future of WOR Public Art?

I see the future of West of Rome Public Art bright and crisp like the light in Los Angeles on an early spring day.