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UAMA to hold Celebration of Life for Dennis L. Jones

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The University of Arizona will be commemorating the life and accomplishments of artist and administrator Dennis L. Jones, who died Feb. 8, 2019, on Monday, April 8. Jones contributed much to art, culture and education at the university and in the world.

Jones was born Jan. 27, 1943, in Detroit, Mich., and moved to Tucson in the summer of 1983. He became director of the UA School of Art’s 3D Studies program that same year. 

For 32 years, Jones served active roles as a professor, the director of Graduate Studies, interim director of the Graduate College, director of the School of Art and interim Director of the UA Museum of Art until his retirement May 25, 2015.

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Though he only directed UAMA for a short time, according to the museum curator Olivia Miller Jones led the staff with the intention of moving forward. He saw world-class faculty and an extraordinary art collection and wanted others to appreciate it all.

“He treasured it,” Miller said. “He was simultaneously really proud of it and really frustrated with how hidden we were. ‘Hidden treasure’ was our tagline.”

Before meeting Jones, Miller had no plans to continue her education, but Jones changed her mind. Now, she is taking her last class toward her Ph.D. and intends to thank him in her dissertation.

“I will always be grateful to him for pushing me to enter a Ph.D. program,” Miller said. “At some point, I think everyone finds themself with imposter syndrome, and that’s where I was. He gave [me] the level of confidence that I needed at the time to take a risk.”

Jones was described by his assistant Joanna Mahon as an inspiring mentor, friend and outstanding leader.

“He seemed to have a way of accomplishing the impossible and turned obstacles into opportunities,” Mahon said. “He was a great advocate for staff and for me specifically. He was a warm, generous, humorous and ambitious man with great vision for possibilities.”

According to Mahon, Jones envisioned the School of Art as one of the country’s most outstanding programs and did all in his power to elevate the school’s quality and reputation. 

“He was so proud of our faculty and students and encouraged everyone to raise the bar in their various roles within the school,” Mahon said.

Due to his efforts, the Visual Arts Graduate Research Lab was established as a brand new facility to house individual studio production spaces for all studio art graduate students. 

He converted the basement of the Art Building into a student services center and created a student scholarship through his Steelcase commission. Jones also spearheaded a new curricular design for arts professors that lightened the workload for faculty members without reducing coursework.

Jones was innovative and dedicated as both an administrator and an artist. His artistic projects are varied and high quality, but he is most renowned for his large-scale public sculpture projects.

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His larger works stand in many high profile locations, including the Cleveland Clinic, Steelcase Corporation, Phoenix Art Museum, Arizona State University Art Museum, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Tucson Museum of Art, UAMA, UA Cancer Research Center, UA College of Law and UA Steward Observatory.

“His iconic, highly reflective, stainless steel works matched his character: larger than life and highly polished,” said Andrew Schulz, dean of the College of Fine Arts, in an email announcing Jones’ passing.

Jory Hancock, director of the School of Dance, said “everyone’s favorite memories were the ones where he made us laugh.”

“Dennis was always a brilliant mind and had a really delightful sense of humor,” Hancock said. “I’ll always remember him for this kind of wry, dry sense of humor, and that was one of the reasons why people like him so much.”

Perhaps Jones’ greatest impact is in the lives of his many students, like Carlton Bradford, who assisted Jones with his sculpture projects in graduate school.

“He was a great example and pushed me to become as good as he was,” Bradford said. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today without him.”

Jones is survived by his wife Karen Domnitch; his children Melinda, Kerstin and Jay; and his grandson Chase.

A celebration of Jones’ life will be held at the UA Museum of Art this Monday, April 8, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.


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