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Look for Angels: Local artist Jill D'Agnenica's attempt to heal Los Angeles with surprise and inspiration

Artist Jill D'Agnenica at her studio in Lincoln Heights
Artist Jill D'Agnenica at her studio in Lincoln Heights
Kevin Ferguson/KPCC
Artist Jill D'Agnenica at her studio in Lincoln Heights
Extra angels from the project at Jill D'Agnenica's studio
Kevin Ferguson/KPCC
Artist Jill D'Agnenica at her studio in Lincoln Heights
During the project, artist Jill D'Agnenica gave volunteers for the program specific instructions on how to and where to distribute the angel sculptures.
Kevin Ferguson/KPCC

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On April 29, 1993 – one year after the L.A. Riots began – artist Jill D'Agnenica embarked on an extremely ambitious art project.

"Look For Angels" commemorated the anniversary by placing 4,687 magenta angel sculptures all around Los Angeles, including highways, parks, buildings, and the Sunset Strip.

Off-Ramp Producer Kevin Ferguson talked with D'Agnenica about her experience during the Riots, the angels, and how she looks back on the project:

On how she experienced the L.A. Riots

"The first night when I got home, I was watching the news and it was surreal watching things happen in my city in places where I had been, I know L.A. It sort of looked like a half a world away. But then I would walk outside on the loading dock outside my studio and I saw the helicopters and I could smell the smoke, and hear the sirens.

The next morning, another friend of mine and I went down to South Central to see if we could help and there were hundreds of people down there from across the city doing the same thing. There were people there with food baskets, baskets, I think that day we cleaned up some graffiti and did some clean up around the neighborhood. We came down I think four days in a row. The thing was I would go home at night and turn on the news again and all I was seeing over and over again were the same clips of the violence, I wasn't seeing any of those hundreds and hundreds of people that were trying to be of service. I was perplexed, it wasn't any new information they were replaying the same information.

At some point after the riots there was a lot of soul searching in the city of Los Angeles – people, residents in the city, and also a lot of media coverage continued. The magazine cover, I can't remember if it was Time or Newsweek [...] said, 'Has the city of Angels gone to hell?'

That struck me at the time, it's that feeling of, you're so disconnected from this. You're not here the city is going on and there's good and bad every day."

On how she came up with the "Look For Angels" project

"I had purchased a little plaster garden cherub from an art store that I thought was cute and I painted it magenta on a whim and I had it in my studio and I kept moving it around the studio and no matter where I put it, it sort of brightened up the space and made me laugh. And I kept thinking, 'gosh, this angel looks good everywhere.' One night i was driving in toward downtown L.A. on the 10 Freeway and I saw the city in front of me, and it hit me that the angels belonged all over the city of Los Angeles.

I had gotten back to my studio and i was writing down what I wanted to do and it was at least 20 minutes before I realized, oh, because the city is called the City of Angels. I didn't even get it myself, that I had made this pun.

So then I realized that the first anniversary of the civil unrest, I think it was 10 weeks, from when this idea hit me. The first night what I thought that I would do, I would put 4,687 angels throughout the city in one night. In my artwork in general, I'm very concerned with numbers and how many, and in this case I did a little bit of research and figured out that Los Angeles is 4,687 square miles. I thought that 10 angels per square mile was the minimum I could do to make an impact, and it was probably the most that I could physically place."

On the meaning behind the angels

"My idea was to put these angels out in the city, and leave them for people to find and potentially take, and that the random and chaotic appearance of angels throughout the city would be a catalyst for personal and communal reflection. So I decided with this funky, funny little symbol to try and create a symbol that united everyone."

"It was beyond my wildest imagination of what something could do. It was incredible. That's exactly what a really smart friend of mine asked me, she said there's no way you can do it in one night and in failing you won't do the project at all. If you start putting them out a little at a time, people will start to potentially talk about them."

On the status of the project today

"The angels got taken pretty quickly, even when they were placed in places where you would think people wouldn't take them, like up on a roof somewhere. One day I walked into the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on Larchmont and I looked up and one of the angels was up in the rafters there by the espresso machines. I was kind of delighted and shocked and surprised and thought, 'Oh that must be what people felt like when they were looking for them and found them.' That was about five years after the project, so it's been a while since I've seen one in the street.

Someone told me they found a few if them at a yard sale at one point and they had been painted gold. So the person who found them had taken them, painted them gold and was giving them up in a hard sale. It was great, that was the whole point, that people in encountering these angels would have that experience they had, whatever that may be."