Bridging Communities — Aida Mancillas

I began working as an artist in the late 1980’s having received my education in the visual arts at Humboldt State University (BA, 1985) and UC San Diego (MFA, 1988) In 1991 I received an individual artist fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts for my “works on paper” which constituted one of a kind artists’ books and paintings done on paper. This fellowship allowed me the opportunity to work for a year on my own work, developing themes and a working process that I have carried through today. This process involves layering and mixed media.

80-AidaFrom small books and paintings I went on to work on large scale public art; a real change. I also went from a solitary artist to one who works collaboratively and with community groups or agencies. In the public art sphere the artist doesn’t have complete control over the process or sometimes even the outcome; one shares vision and direction with others. That seems to work for me, at least in the beginning. I enjoy the dialogue and building with others.

The Vermont Street Pedestrian Bridge (dedicated 1995) was my first project on a large, public scale. It has had both community support and accolades from the American Institute for Architects, which awarded it an Orchid Award, the American Planners Association that gave it an award for planning, and an entry of note in the Liquid Art exhibition that was featured in both catalog and KPBS television.

Projects that followed the bridge include the Park of 100 Frogs in North Park, a gateway project for the Dryden Historic area of North Park, and the development of the Art Produce building on University Avenue for which I programmed events and exhibitions. I have worked on numerous community projects including North Park Community Association and North Park Main Street.

In June 2007 I was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor and began an odyssey of treatment and spiritual discernment. Art making has figured into the healing in unexpected and profound ways. Many artists have made objects for me, and I am making art again after a long hiatus. My current choice of media is journal, number 9 pencil, and altered, reworked artists’ books from an earlier period.


Small and intimate works now occupy my time, although I just finished work on a low-income, solar development project for the City of Poway. It was dedicated this June. I designed the paths and tot lot and gave creative input to the “green” vision for the project. My co-collaborator and project manager was artist Nina Karavasiles. For the bridge my fellow designers were Gwen Gómez and Lynn Susholtz who also worked on the Mission Trails interpretive wall and Park of 100 Frogs.

I continue to be engaged in the arts and community sector through my service as an arts commissioner for the San Diego Commission for Arts & Culture to which I was appointed in 2000. I now serve on that commission’s Policy Committee. Rollo May, the nation’s best known existential psychologist, is quoted as saying, “Art has kept me alive!” I’ve hung close to those words during the harrowing journey through my illness with every day a treasured blessing, and an opportunity to learn and deepen as a human being.

Public arts projects

  • Hillcrest: Vermont Street Bridge — Connecting University Heights & Hillcrest
  • North Park: Park of 100 Frogs, Polk Street, Entry gateway to Historic David Dryden District
  • North Park: 28th Street at Pershing/Upas — Joint use playground for North Park Elementary School (Orchid Award) Masterplan “Islands on a Common Ground” for North Park Community Park (first time that artists were used to develop a masterplan for a city park)
  • Mission Valley: Mission Trails Interpretive Wall — Mission Gorge Road
  • Escondido: Hanging sculptures — Escondido Medical Arts Center — Designed in collaboration with Gwen Gomez & Lynn Susholtz (Orchid Award winner)

First published in HillQuest, an Urban Guide to 92103 & Beyond, volume 5

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