Checking In With Chancellor May: Celebrating Art and Innovation

Student sketches Eye on Mrak Hall, an Egghead sculpture located outside of Mrak Hall on UC Davis' main campus.

Checking In With Chancellor May: Celebrating Art and Innovation

To the UC Davis Community:

UC Davis’ commitment to art reinforces the vital role of liberal arts in education — one that enhances our understanding of the world around us, enlightens us and prompts us to seek social justice. These skills are critical, even for students who don’t plan to pursue a career in the arts or humanities.

Every student will be better prepared after graduation if they can demonstrate critical thinking, an ability to express themselves clearly and creatively. Whether a person is planning to become an engineer, a composer or a business executive, the ability to question the status quo will serve them well.

The Year of the Eggheads

Robert Arneson’s Egghead sculptures embody our culture of curiosity and commitment to public art on campus. Starting in April, we will celebrate 30 years since these iconic Eggheads were first installed on campus. You can’t miss them, with five installations and a total of seven Eggheads on campus.

The university has adopted these works of art as informal mascots, a sign of the centrality of the arts at UC Davis. Our celebrations this year will include special events at the Manetti Shrem Museum, an interactive website, and — for the first time — Egghead-themed apparel and merchandise. 2024 is shaping up to be the Year of the Eggheads, and you can stay informed by signing up for email updates about upcoming events and more.

You can also register for a free ticket to the Year of the Eggheads campus-wide birthday celebration on April 4, which includes discounts on specialty items at the main campus bookstore and Memorial Union Games area, a scavenger hunt and more.

The Eggheads are part of UC Davis traditions, such as students rubbing Bookhead next to the Shields Library during finals week for good luck. They endure as a signature place where students take photographs to commemorate key moments in their academics, including graduation.

The Eggheads and other public art around campus are so much more than popular spots for selfies. They enhance our environment and inspire dialogue. They encourage us to laugh at ourselves and to appreciate our surroundings in new ways. They leave us inspired by their creativity.

Arneson's Eggheads define the kind of unconventional yet innovative thinking that abounds at UC Davis. They symbolize that we're serious about all we do, but we're also comfortable with being a little quirky or unorthodox.

As a collective installation they’re a humorous wink at university intellectuals, with the slang term “egghead” at the core of the joke. The sculptures are a continuation of Robert Arneson’s legacy as an art professor for 29 years, one who passed along UC Davis values of freedom of speech and critical thought to generations of students.

Through student engagement, the Egghead Series has taken on a life of their own since the beloved Bookhead debuted on campus in 1991. Throughout all those years, the Eggheads persist. They were meant to be  appreciated by the widest public possible, all while weathering the elements and serving as hubs of interaction.

We celebrate the Eggheads as iconic public art on a campus that excels at its mission of teaching, research and public service. They are sites for learning, where visitors and campus community members can discover more about each Egghead and reflect on their experience on campus.

A legacy of artistic ingenuity

The rich history of the arts at UC Davis is driven by our faculty’s impressive commitment to their students. From its founding in 1958, the UC Davis Department of Art and Art History established itself as a place where ideas were pushed to the edge and artists spoke truth to power. Arneson and Wayne Thiebaud were among the pioneering faculty who helped place the West Coast on the modern art world’s map.

The art department’s legacy was further enhanced by such faculty as Mike Henderson, who taught at UC Davis for 43 years and is known for paintings and films that confront the anti-Black violence of the Civil Rights Movement, as well as mentoring generations of students. Annabeth Rosen, a distinguished professor of art and the Robert Arneson Endowed Chair, is a true innovator of ceramic sculpture and received the UC Davis Lifetime Achievement Award in 2021.

Meanwhile, the Manetti Shrem Museum flourishes with three current exhibitions showing art by UC Davis professors and alumni, and as a learning space. On Tuesday and Wednesday, its non-public days, the museum is open exclusively by appointment for UC Davis professors to bring classes. A wide range of classes visit, from creative writing and Chicana and Chicano culture, to modern dance and industrial design. This kind of interdisciplinary experience provides opportunities not only for students who want to pursue careers in the visual arts, but for our whole community. It defines who we are at UC Davis.

Creativity across our campuses

Our university is driven to support visionary work, not only in the studio and performance stages but far beyond. That includes our UC Davis Health campus, where the creativity and experimentation drives work that addresses the greatest health challenges of our times. That includes developments such as the first physician in the world to implant a retrievable pacemaker in a child and a thriving robotic neurosurgery program.

Some of our novel research even focuses directly on eggs, such as the ability to determine the gender of a fertilized chicken eggs by scent alone. With the help of a Davis-based startup, a study found that it’s possible to sort eggs by sex while still in incubation by “sniffing” volatile chemicals through a suction cup.

Our Department of Design is home to cutting edge research that crosses disciplines. That includes Gozde Goncu-Berk, a recently named Chancellor’s Fellow, who researches wearable technologies that are designed to support underserved populations and those with chronic illness.

The College of Engineering is exploring wearable technologies, including biomechanical tattoos that can monitor diseases. Another research project probes ways that facial jewelry can trigger wireless commands such as turning down lights or sending text messages.

More arts on the horizon

This Year of the Eggheads further illustrates that the future of fine arts and liberal arts shines bright at UC Davis. That was made evident to me in the most recent episode of “That May Be the Chancellor,” where I learned more about arts programs on campus from students and faculty.

Our artistic spirit is kept alive at the Gorman Museum of Native American Art, which re-opened in an expanded space last September. The museum is truly unique and is among the best of its kind, with a collection of 2,250 works of art that include paintings, ceramics and textiles among other media.

Meanwhile, we celebrate Beatriz Cortez, an associate professor of art who is the first current UC Davis faculty member in 40 years to be invited to participate in the Venice Biennale, the world-renowned arts and culture exhibition.

And in June, our Arts and Humanities Graduate Exhibition returns to showcase the work and projects from Master of Arts, Master of Fine Arts and doctoral students in departments across the College of Letters and Science. It’s one of the few graduate exhibitions to include multidisciplinary participation.

Our endless curiosity and desire to shape the world for the better, whether in sculpture or research, will continue to take us to new heights. I encourage you to explore the artistry that flourishes at UC Davis and look forward to seeing you at our Eggheads celebrations. Until then, have a restful and safe spring break.

Go Ags!


Gary S. May

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