Welcome to the 19th installment of the interview series Meet LA’s Art Community. Check out our past interviews here.
This week, we interview Letitia Fernandez Ivins, a senior manager of Transportation Planning (Arts & Design) with Los Angeles Metro. From large-scale artwork installations in the subway to community events, Ivins sees these projects as not only improving the transit experience but “ultimately quality of life.” Ivins has worked in the nonprofit arts sector for 20 years at the Getty Foundation, Ryman Arts, and the LA County Department of Arts and Culture. She is an advisory committee member of the LA County Cultural Equity and Inclusion Initiative, a member of the Dahlia Heights Elementary School Social Justice Committee, and just retired from the Pilipino Workers Center Board after 10 years of service.
Where were you born?
Los Angeles. I grew up Culver City adjacent, just west of the 405 and south of Mar Vista.
How long have you been living in Los Angeles?
Nearly my whole life. I’ve lived in Los Angeles since my return from Poughkeepsie, New York and Venice, Italy post-college. LA is my place. Eagle Rock is my home.
What’s your first memory of seeing art?
My grandfather was an artist: a painter, a potter, a professor, a gardener and a horseback rider, a WWII Vet, a fisherman, a storyteller and a sculptor. My morning eyes grazed the shelves of ceramic sculpture, stacks of paintings, and a cow skull in his basement studio where my sister and I spent our nights during summer trips to Wyoming where he and his sons built his last home. It was through his work that I felt connected to Grandpa Tony — an elder for whom I felt both admiration and intimidation. Looking into his abstract paintings, I found worlds that revealed from whom I am and who I could be.
Do you like to photograph the art you see? If so, what device do you use to photograph?
Since my kids could crawl, I’ve brought (and chased) them around art spaces, so the photography pause is a luxury. I prefer the unfiltered art encounter but when the work strikes me hard, and I want to document it, I whip out the iPhone and send images to friends for immediate discussion. The photograph also gives an extra memory imprint.
What was your favorite exhibition in Los Angeles this year?
My favorite exhibit was put together just north of Los Angeles (cheating?) in Oxnard’s Carnegie Studio Gallery by artist and curator Jennelyn Tumalad. The show, Trabaj/ho: Resistance of a Colonial Imprint explores parallel and intersecting narratives of Filipinx-American and Latinx-American artists whose artistic acts of decolonization are its own labor. The work makes visible a connection that is felt in our culture but is rarely given space, language, and agency. Experiencing the show felt personal and made me tingle. That’s my criteria.
What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
Red Card is journalistic juice (in a book). Ken Bensinger exposes deep corruption within international soccer through the human narratives of power players who built up and pinned down FIFA. I’m a lifelong soccer player — so I’m particularly scandalized by these scandals.
I’m also reading (I read three books at a time and I’m not proud) Underground Railroad by Colston Whitehead, which is difficult but grounding during this health crisis.
I’ve just returned to Pablo Helguera’s Education for Socially Engaged Art, which gives me nonfiction comfort. It’s a forthright read about and for an art practice that can seem a bit murky as it can intersect with many disciplines at once.
Do you prefer to see art alone or with friends?
I prefer to experience art with friends who give me space to pace but with whom I can quickly reconvene and debrief in that moment, and later, as we turn the work over in our heads. I rely on my friends (and mom) to get to shows. We co-motivate.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working with a brilliant group of artists on a series of artworks for three future downtown Los Angeles underground Metro stations. They are all approaching site-specificity in completely different ways — through cultural geology, legacies of social justice movements, mobility and migration and the cosmos. It will be a beautiful line of bold work capturing this moment. I’m also managing the installation of a monumental land art piece by landscape and public artist Walter Hood that expresses the little-known cultural and geological history of Santa Monica’s naming.
What is one accomplishment that you are particularly proud of?
I’m proud of my recent foray into teaching. Since 2019, I have taught a public art course with Claremont Graduate University’s Arts Management Program. The knowledge exchange, the energy output (including performance), the ability to reframe, evaluate and grow the field in a learning community, and even coping with mild imposter syndrome — it’s invigorating.
Where do you turn to for inspiration for your projects?
People. The cultural experts of a place spark ideas that will manifest with and in service to their communities. The poetry and reality of people is paired with the practical context of public infrastructure to envision and realize access, equity, and progress. Inspiration comes from personal interaction. And, though daunting, I am a ready to explore new forms of engagement that can and must emerge during this global pandemic.