Aida Mancillas: 1953-2009
Aida Mancillas: Creative community force believed in merging art, life
7:38 a.m. February 16, 2009
A creative force and vocal advocate for public art, Aida Mancillas left an imprint throughout the community.
From the cobalt-blue Vermont Street pedestrian bridge in Hillcrest to her work on an affordable-housing complex in Poway and her dedication to local arts organizations, Ms. Mancillas' endeavors reflected her belief in merging art and life.
A past commissioner of the San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture and past president of Centro Cultural de la Raza, Ms. Mancillas also helped start Public Address, a public-art advocacy group, and Las Comadres, a multinational women's collective of artists, educators and critics.
Ms. Mancillas died of brain cancer Feb. 3 at her North Park home. She was 55.
Friends and colleagues said she was passionate about the concept of “the citizen artist.” She believed arts could and should be a vital part of community planning and development.
Local artist and teacher Ruth Wallen said Ms. Mancillas fervently believed that “artists have the ability to imagine different futures and the ability to symbolically express those possibilities.”
In her weblog, Ms. Mancillas wrote: “The artist is an important contributor to society because we help people find the feast. It's our role, and it's an important one.
“We're not entertainers, although some of what we do will entertain. We're not gadflies, although some of our work will prod and poke. We're not decorators, although some of our work will dazzle with its skill. We are meaning shapers in a world that desperately needs us.”
While painting was her main medium for several years, Ms. Mancillas was equally creative in writing, sculpture and public-art design.
She was awarded a $20,000 artist fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1991. After working as a solitary artist, she began to work collaboratively and with community groups and agencies on large scale public-art projects.
In the mid-1990s, Ms. Mancillas was part of a trio of artists, which included Gwen Gomez and Lynn Susholtz, commissioned to meld art into the refurbished Vermont Street pedestrian bridge.
The elevated walkway that unites University Heights and Hillcrest features quotations about walking from such famous people as “Dr. Seuss” and architect Irving Gill. The team also designed pillars at each end to complement the architectural styles of the two neighborhoods the project bridged.
The project was honored with an Orchid Award from the American Institute of Architects and an award from the American Planners Association.
Other projects include one known as The Playground of 100 Frogs, the first phase of a major redesign of an urban park in the North Park area, and the design of a playground and plaza for an affordable-housing development in Poway.
Ms. Mancillas was proud to work on projects that connected people to the spaces where they lived, said Andrea Villa, her partner of three years.
“She was a visionary. She was always creating, designing and coming up with new ideas,” Villa said.
In addition to her work with various city and arts groups, she was a state representative to Marriage Equality USA and a member of the Latino Services Advisory Committee of the San Diego LGBT Center.
Aida Mancillas was born Feb. 28, 1953, in Los Angeles to Manuel and Consuelo Mancillas. The family moved to Oceanside when her father was stationed at Camp Pendleton. She graduated from Oceanside High School in 1971. She received a bachelor's degree in visual arts from Humboldt State University in 1985 and a master's degree from the University of California San Diego in 1988.
In addition to her partner and her parents, Ms. Mancillas is survived by her son, Eamonn Doyle of San Diego; a grandson; a sister, Gina Wilson of San Diego; and two brothers, Rene and Manuel Mancillas III, both of Oceanside.
A memorial service will be at 3 p.m. tomorrow at St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, Nutmeg and Fifth Avenue in Hillcrest, with a reception following in the Great Hall.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations be made in Ms. Mancillas'name to Dorcas House, a foster-care program for children of people incarcerated in Tijuana, at dorcashousefriends.org.