James V. Nixon Jr., art visionary and champion of Black artists, dies at 61
"He made Philadelphia a better place for artists, and especially for Black artists," said William Valerio, CEO of the Woodmere Art Museum.
James V. Nixon Jr., 61, a major arts activist and patron credited with supporting many new Black artists and personally helping local art institutions become more inclusive, died suddenly Tuesday, April 6, of complications from a heart attack at his Willingboro home.
Not only did Mr. Nixon put his money where his heart was, buying art and lending it to institutions so it could be shown, say members of the local cultural community, but he personally took Black artists under his wing, helping them network, exhibit their work, and pursue a path to success.
“Jim Nixon was a towering figure in the art community, both for his art collecting and his deep and committed support of the artists he worked with,” said Roberta Fallon, executive director of Artblog.org, a leading online voice for the alternative art community, especially artists of color, women, and members of the LGBTQ community in the Philadelphia area.
William Valerio, CEO of the Woodmere Art Museum, called Mr. Nixon “a champion for change in our museums.”
“At Woodmere, he made a real difference in making it possible for us to acquire the work of African American artists for the collection, substantially expanding our ability to bring diversity to our galleries and exhibition program,” he said.
“It is no exaggeration to describe that through his support and love, he made Philadelphia a better place for artists, especially for Black artists.”
Brooke Davis Anderson, director of the Museum at the Pennsylvania Academy for Fine Arts, said Mr. Nixon’s death was heartbreaking.
Born in Philadelphia to James V. and Algie Nixon, Mr. Nixon grew up in a section of Northeast Philadelphia called Camelot. His father was a welder. Blessed with an infectious smile and easy laugh, his early loves were his little sister, Stephanie, drumming, and playing football. An injury dashed his hopes of playing professionally — he had a tryout with the New England Patriots. So instead, he redirected his competitive drive into business, eventually earning an M.B.A. from Philadelphia University.
Mr. Nixon had a successful career in finance before becoming CEO of Community Council Health Systems, attracted by its mission of providing mental health and education services.
But he also used his means and stature to support his passion for art and artists — especially Black and female artists. He joined the boards of several art organizations and institutions, and he and his wife formed the James and Jennifer Nixon Foundation to help carry out their art-supporting work.
The artists Mr. Nixon helped say he will be greatly missed.
“The best part of being selected to be included in his collection was you immediately gained an art champion and cheerleader!” said artist Lavett Ballard. “Jim became not just a collector, not just a friend, but he and his family became part of my extended family.”
Said artist Dara Haskins: “He taught me that all obstacles are temporary, that anything is achievable with dedication and vision.”
That Mr. Nixon was extremely dedicated to his family almost goes without saying.
“He was always supportive of our decisions, letting us learn our own lessons, and any time we had fallen, he’d be there,” said daughter Jamie Nixon.
While the Nixon family home is in Willingboro, the golf-loving Mr. Nixon and his wife bought a house outside Augusta, Ga. — near the site of the Masters golf tournament — where the extended family would gather for the Thanksgiving holiday. As artists were made to feel like family, the Nixon offspring knew their father would welcome whomever they brought to dinner.
“That was the dynamic he built,” his daughter said.
In addition to his wife, daughter, mother, and sister, Mr. Nixon is survived by another daughter, Christina; a son, Charles; a granddaughter, and many other relatives and friends.
A Celebration of Life service is planned for 11 a.m. Saturday, May 22, outdoors at the Woodmere Art Museum, 9201 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. 19118. The rain date is Sunday, May 23.
Memorial donations may be made to the Artblog, 1107 Spruce St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19107, or online at theartblog.org; the Woodmere Art Museum, woodmereartmuseum.org; and the Brodsky Center at PAFA, PAFA 118-128 N. Broad St., Philadelphia, Pa., 19102.