Four Philanthropic Pairs Making it Happen in L.A.

BY By Laura Eckstein Jone and Kelly Philps Badal | November 22, 2019 | People

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PATRON: JAY BROWN // PLAYER: KENTURAH DAVIS

“You see certain images... and they just come alive and make you happy,” says Jay Brown. “As soon as I saw one of Kenturah’s pieces on the wall, I thought, wow. It was a self-portrait. And she had me at hello.” The ROC Nation CEO and co-founder is talking about the work of Kenturah Davis, an artist he’s become aware of since his appointment to the Hammer Museum’s (hammer.ucla.edu) board of directors in 2018. The Hammer is in the midst of acquiring a piece by Davis for its permanent collection; Brown is also awaiting an in-process work from her that will become a cornerstone of his personal collection. The L.A.-born and -bred artist primarily explores portraiture, language and design through her work. “I chose a way of creating work that’s intricate, and while you don’t feel the intricacy from a distance, when you get up close, the components start to pop out at you,” says Davis of her works, most of which depict her friends in L.A. “Some people may notice that they’re images made up of text, or they may not notice, and I’m fine with that.” Davis is coming off of a solo show at Hollywood’s new Matthew Brown gallery, and in 2020, thousands more may see her work daily: She’s installing a large-scale, site-specific work on the new Crenshaw/LAX rail line, a commission from LA Metro. “I think she’s somebody everybody should pay attention to,” says Brown, who notes that he’s excited to take part in shaping and supporting the Hammer’s programming, but also to learn more about art, period, in his role. “I’m 100% behind the arts community overall—that includes music, sports, fine art, sculptures, everything,” he says. “Because if you took away all creativity, what would we have left?”

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Photo by Felicidad de Lucas

PATRON: LUISA FERNANDA ESPINOSA

“I look for a few key elements when I choose an organization to work with,” explains consultant Luisa Fernanda Espinosa, who recently joined the L.A. Dance Project (ladanceproject.org) board. “First, I look for unrelenting passion from the team. Second, a shared vision. Third, they need to be leaders in the communities in which they operate and use that leadership to create opportunities for emerging artists. Finally, [they must be] a highly collaborative team working to make a difference in the cultural landscape.” Espinosa sees all of this in the company she’s been supporting for years and, beyond that, is energized by Artistic Director Benjamin Millepied’s commitment to making a home for dance in Los Angeles. “L.A. is such a sprawling urban center, but not one typically known for dance,” she says. “At LADP, I saw a space that can bring people together and create community around the performing arts. Plus, have you seen the company dance? Their talent and passion is nothing short of inspirational.”

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Photo by Filip Van Roe

PLAYER: BENJAMIN MILLEPIED

When Benjamin Millepied founded L.A. Dance Project in 2012, he ushered in a fresh perspective that the city desperately needed. “At the time, word on the street was ‘L.A. doesn’t like dance; there’s no audience; there is no support from the community,’” says Millepied on why he started the institution. “In many ways, it was true. L.A. is probably the toughest city to crack when it comes to building an important dance repertory company.” Over the past several years, the company has risen to the occasion, making a name for itself with memorable performances at home and internationally, a proper rehearsal and performance space downtown and a highly anticipated world premiere of Romeo & Juliet. But despite all that, for Millepied, this is just the beginning. “I hope we help create a repertory true to the city we live in, that we help discover many artists, that we’ll inspire new companies to emerge,” he muses. “A world with more dance is a world living at its fullest, enjoying ourselves and others through the physical expression of emotions that celebrate our time on earth.”

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Photo by Kimberly Genevieve

PATRON: CHARLES S. COHEN

As the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles’ (MOCA) lease for its satellite studio at the Pacific Design Center came to an end this year, PDC owner Charles Cohen was struck with new inspiration for the white, lofty standalone space left behind. “My idea was to find a way to connect that gallery space to the PDC more intimately, and in particular, bring it more in line with what the PDC is all about: artwork and installations that are interior design by nature,” he explains. Cohen commissioned the L.A.-based collaborators of Fallen Fruit (fallenfruit.‌org) to kick off the space, renamed The PDC Design Gallery (pacificdesigncenter.com), with a custom installation. “[Fallen Fruit’s] work is very decorative and eye-catching, with a lot of pop to it; these artists are provocative and game-changing,” says Cohen. “We want to push the envelope, but with a strong design, interior, exterior and architectural component.” The gallery plans to house three four-monthlong exhibitions each year.

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Photo by Kimberly Genevieve

PLAYERS: DAVID BURNS & AUSTIN YOUNG

L.A. artists David Burns and Austin Young are, in their own words, “pretty fruity.” The collaborators, better known as Fallen Fruit (fallenfruit.org), first gained attention by mapping and publishing the locations of public fruit trees growing in Silver Lake in 2004; since then, their work has expanded to include public fruit park projects and site-specific art installations. Fresh off of a wildly successful installation in Sicily last year, this exhibition marks the first time the pair have displayed in L.A. in nearly eight years. SUPERSHOW, an immersive environment of vivid wallpaper, refinished furniture, sculptures and more, brims with a kaleidoscopic array of fruit eye candy. “It’s a dream come true to make a work like this, because this is a commissioned work from Charles Cohen,” adds Young. “As an artist, to have someone support your work, to give you the space to create a work of art—and this is an entirely new work of art—it’s the most exciting thing in the world.”

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Photo by Stefanie Keenan

PATRONS: NICOLE AVANT & TED SARANDOS

Being the industry capital for film and television, it’s somewhat shocking that L.A. hasn’t had a museum devoted to the subject until now. Opening soon, the Renzo Piano-designed Academy Museum of Motion Pictures (academymuseum.org) has Hollywood abuzz, with heavywights like Ted Sarandos, chief content officer of Netflix, championing the cause, along with his wife, former Ambassador Nicole Avant, a producer of the 2019 documentary The Black Godfather. “I am most excited about giving back to an industry and a city that has been so good to me and my family, doing what I can to ensure the museum is accessible and relevant to young creators and fans,” says Sarandos, who sits on the board. “It will put into perspective the intersection of art and commerce that is the motion picture industry and the lifeblood of Los Angeles,” they agree. “It is a long time in the making but will be worth the wait.”

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Photo by Kimberly Genevieve; makeup by Brandon Bentley, @bentleyartistry, at Nars Melrose Boutique

PLAYER: JESSICA NIEBEL

“L.A.’s identity is very much impacted by the film industry, so to have a museum here is very much the right thing to do,” says Jessica Niebel, exhibitions curator at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Prior to her new position, Niebel spent 10 years at Frankfurt, Germany’s Deutsches Filminstitut, where she worked her way from intern to curator. This global perspective most certainly informed her work on the Academy Museum’s first special exhibition, on Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, famous for animated films including My Neighbor Totoro and the Oscar-winning Spirited Away. “We want to of course speak to our L.A. audience, but also to all of the tourists that come here,” Neibel explains of the exhibition’s international appeal, noting that the museum will also highlight classic American films—Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz are in the permanent collection—and hold screenings in two pristine theaters. “You’ll be able to see films as they were meant to be seen at the time they came out,” she says. “Films can truly have an impact on how you think and feel about things, so it’s important to understand how they work.”

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