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‘Rock artist’ receives Chancellor’s Achievement Award

Artist Donna Billick, a longtime Davis resident, poses with the bee sculpture she created in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at UC Davis. Kathy Keatley Garvey/Courtesy photo

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From page A1 | December 28, 2012 |

Donna Billick, an artist known for crossing disciplines and borders from Davis to Central America, has been selected the UC Davis staff recipient of the Chancellor’s Achievement Award for Diversity and Community for 2012-13.

The award recognizes Billick for her “contributions in enhancing inclusiveness and diversity within the campus community,” Rahim Reed, associate executive vice chancellor of campus community relations, wrote in a Dec. 21 letter. A $500 monetary prize accompanies the award.

Billick will be honored at a reception at Chancellor Linda Katehi’s residence on Feb. 6.

“Donna is an exceptional leader who has devoted her life to creating access to the arts and sciences to the broadest communities possible,” said entomology professor Diane Ullman, associate dean for undergraduate academic programs in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and co-founder and co-director with Billick of the UCD Art/Science Fusion Program.

Billick’s art projects are found not only on campus and in the Davis community, but elsewhere throughout California and in Mexico and Central and South America.

“She has a remarkable ability to coach novices and help them find confidence in their artistic expression,” said Ullman, who nominated Billick for the award with three UCD Arboretum officials: director Kathleen Socolofsky, assistant director Carmia Feldman and assistant director and senior museum scientist Emily Griswold.

“Donna excels at supporting and bringing out the best from students and community members,” they wrote. “She takes this accomplishment one step further by orchestrating the work of a broad and diverse community to create cohesive, beautiful and meaningful permanent and art installations for all to enjoy.”

They praised the Davis artist for her work in engaging children, teachers, parents, grandparents and K-12 to university students “in creative expression that crosses disciplines and borders.”

They particularly singled Billick out for her work with the Art/Science Fusion Program: for her leadership “in the evolution of artistic materials and technologies,” the creation of an on-campus community outreach program and the creation of a K-12 outreach program for teachers and students, resulting in their input to UCD projects and permanent installations on elementary school campuses.

The Art/Science Fusion Program, launched in 2006, began with a single innovative course in entomology in 1996, fusing art with science, and evolved into a multi-course program with outreach activities. It involves design faculty, science faculty, museum educators, professional artists and UCD students.

“Participants see and feel art and science, hold it in their hands, hearts and memories — in ceramics, painting, photographs, music and textiles,” Ullman said. She herself previously received the Chancellor’s Achievement Award for Diversity and Community for faculty.

“In carrying forward the mission of the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program, Donna has succeeded in creating an environment in which the faculty, students and staff leave their disciplinary silos and begin collaborating,” the nominators wrote. “This is a tremendous challenge and Donna has overcome many obstacles to do this.”

In addition, Billick developed mentoring strategies for graduate students to learn how to use the Art/Science Fusion Program’s innovative teaching methods, which have resulted in teaching awards and post-graduate teaching positions.

Billick is also heavily involved with Arboretum GATEways art project: GATE is an acronym or Gardens, Arts and The Environment. She has served on the board of directors of two other art-inspired programs: the Tile Heritage Program, with particular contributions to “Keeping the Craft Alive,” and the Community Built Association. She continues serving on the CBA board.

Her work — and the work of the Art/Science Fusion Program — can be seen in the UCD Arboretum, Shields Oak Grove and the Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, among other sites on campus.

One of the key Art/Science Fusion Program projects is Nature’s Gallery, a ceramic mosaic mural showcasing plants and insects found in the Arboretum’s Ruth Storer Garden. The U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., displayed the mural in 2007. Later it was shown at the UC Davis Centennial Pavilion and at the California State Fair before its permanent installation this year in the Storer Garden.

A self-described rock artist, Billick founded and directs the Billick Rock Art of Davis, a studio that has brought large-scale public art and community-built art to communities across the nation since 1977. She also founded and has directed since 2006 the Todos Artes, a program providing destination workshops and community-built art in Mexico.

A graduate of UCD, Billick toyed with a scientific career before opting for a career that fuses art with science. She received her bachelor of science degree in genetics in 1973 and her master’s degree in fine arts in 1977, studying art with such masters as Robert Arneson, Roy De Forest, Wayne Thiebaud and Manuel Neri.

Billick traces her interest in an art career to the mid-1970s when then-Gov. Jerry Brown supported the arts and offered the necessary resources to encourage the growth of art. He reorganized the California Arts Council, boosting its funding by 1,300 percent.

Billick’s work is displayed in numerous public and private collections, including the Oakland Museum, Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, Carborundum Museum in New York, Richmond Art Center, Richard Nelson Gallery at UCD, William Sawyer Gallery in San Francisco and Mills College in Oakland.

Billick created the 6-foot-long honey bee sculpture for the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, and the ceramic mosaic sign that fronts the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. In the city of Davis, Billick is known for the whimsical Dancing Pigs sculpture and the Cow Fountain, both in The Marketplace shopping center at Covell Boulevard and Sycamore Lane; a sculpture in the Central Park Gardens downtown; and a sculpture at the entrance to the West Area Pond at Shasta Drive and Arlington Boulevard.

Last spring, both Billick and Ullman were invited to give TEDx talks on the Art/Science Fusion Program. Their talks are posted on YouTube.

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Kathy Keatley Garvey

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