SIGGRAPH 2019 Distinguished Artist Award: Cox

  • ©2019, Donna J. Cox



    Distinguished Artist Award


    The 2019 ACM SIGGRAPH Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement in Digital Art is awarded to Donna J. Cox, a recognized pioneer in the art of scientific data visualization. As an artist, she collaborates with scientists and technologists to create insightful presentations of numerical data and scientific concepts. She has created a large body of work in collaboration with the Advanced Visualization Lab (AVL), a Renaissance Team of artists/scientists who collaborate with geoscience, astrophysics and other scientific domains at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UI).

    Cox’s work has been internationally pivotal in the convergence of art/science digital research. She’s best known for defining Renaissance Teams, “where specialists provide a broad spectrum of skills in the quest for discovery,” and for her pioneering use of supercomputers in artistic applications, the design and cinematic presentation of numerical data, groundbreaking IMAX science films, popular fulldome planetarium/museum shows, science documentaries and virtual reality software.

    Over the last 25 years, she and her collaborators have inspired millions of people through compelling virtual tours, interactive exhibitions and high-fidelity groundbreaking productions. She was associate producer for scientific visualization and art director for the Pixar/NCSA segment of the IMAX film Cosmic Voyage, nominated for a 1997 Academy Award. This film set a precedent for featuring data visualizations in IMAX movies and resulted in patented virtual reality software during production.

    Cox and the AVL created virtual flights through data and designed a significant portion of the Hubble 3D IMAX film premiering at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, March 2010. The film won three Giant Screen Cinema Association Awards for best film produced exclusively for the giant screen, best film for learning and best cinematography, and continues to tour in over 10 languages. She and her team designed the opening and closing scenes for A Beautiful Planet IMAX 3D digital film, premiering on Earth Day 2016.

    She has collaborated with numerous digital fulldome planetariums, including the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, and American Museum of Natural History, New York City. She uses best art and design practices to direct and co-produce content for original international fulldome shows including Dynamic Earth and Black Holes: The Other Side of Infinity, in collaboration with Thomas Lucas Productions.

    Cox has authored numerous papers on scientific data visualization, digital media, information design, education and critical theory. She is co-editor with Ellen Sandor and Janine Fron and contributor of New Media Futures: The Rise of Women in the Digital Arts (2018). This volume chronicles the work of women in the digital arts in the Midwest and elucidates women’s creativity and collaborative processes in technology and the arts.
    Cox coined the term “Visaphors” to describe digital visual metaphors, synthesizing concepts in art practice and the philosophy of science; she contributes to both art and science publications.

    She has been given numerous awards and citations, including the Coler-Maxwell Medal for Excellence 1989 from the Leonardo International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology, for her seminal article coining Renaissance Teams and outlining emergent digital opportunities for artists and scientists through supercomputing. The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, honored her as one of 40 “modern-day Leonardos” and included her collaborative works in conjunction with the Leonardo da Vinci: Man, Inventor, Genius exhibition. In 2017 she was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the international IMERSA (Immersive Media Entertainment, Research, Science & Arts) organization for her positive and profound influence on immersive media and for public outreach projects featuring data visualization.

    Cox is a recognized international keynote speaker and has addressed a wide variety of audiences around the world. Inviting institutions include MIT, Princeton and the National Library of Medicine. Her collaborative work has been cited, reviewed or published in hundreds of publications including Newsweek, TIME, National Geographic, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education and Discover magazine.

    She has contributed artistic scientific animations in international exhibitions, festivals and performances, including shows at Arts in the Academy, a program of the National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C. She also collaborates with performing artists to bring digital visuals to the interactive stage. Over the years, she has appeared in numerous television programs and was featured in the National Library of Medicine’s exhibit The Once and Future Web. One of her most well-known collaborative works is the first data visualization of the National Science Foundation Network (NSFNET), co-created with Bob Patterson. This image has become an icon of the early Internet and is historically reproduced in textbooks, articles and broadcasts.

    Currently she is the first Michael Aiken Endowed Chair, director of the AVL and director of research and education at NCSA; director of the Emerging Digital Research and Education in Arts Media (eDream) Institute; and a professor in the School of Art + Design at UI. She’s the principal investigator of the National Science Foundation grant the Centrality of Advanced Digitally ENabled Science (CADENS), which has partially supported fulldome and documentary digital films, including award-winning Solar Superstorms (2015) and Birth of Planet Earth (2019). In 2018 UI awarded her with the Innovation Transfer Award for work with potential significant societal impact.

    She received her Master of Fine Arts in CGA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and PhD in Computing and Communications from the University of Plymouth, U.K. She was elected to the Board of Directors for ACM SIGGRAPH, August 1988–1992, and was chair of SIGGRAPH Experimental Technologies, 2005. She and her team continue to contribute to SIGGRAPH venues and festivals.

    ACM SIGGRAPH is honored to recognize Donna J. Cox as an important pioneer in the art of scientific data visualization.


    ACM SIGGRAPH Citation



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