The Expansiveness and Inclusivity of Art: A Keynote Address Celebrating 25 Years of Art by Nixon Leger
Written by Reza “Rites” Clifton; Abbreviated Version Delivered Saturday, July 16, 2022

Thank you for the warm welcome. It is truly an honor to be in attendance, and before an audience, to speak of and spotlight the artistic voyage of Nixon Leger, and to build a connection between his 25 years of artistic excellence, and my own life and work as a writer, artist, and “cultural savant.” I named this talk “The Expansiveness and Inclusivity of Art” as a way to highlight Nixon’s work as an artist, and as the mastermind behind the fundraising part of tonight, as well as to take you on a journey to truly think about the reach, impact, and sometimes subtlety of art.

I don’t want to oversimplify or hide the relationship I have with the aesthetics and iconographies you can find in Nixon’s work, and of other Haitian artists. As a teenager, I had the opportunity to visit Haiti when my uncle was stationed there doing diplomatic work in the 90s – an experience that not only affected my uncle and I, but also my cousin Camille. Camille, who is a few years older than me, ended up so moved by her time, experiences and exposure there, and accompanying her father, that as a young adult, she supported and highlighted art from Haiti through a gallery she opened in Newport, RI – and through day-to-day conversations about art.

Fast forward to my introduction to Nixon. When I began seeing his work, I was already in a love affair with the colors, stories, and multilayered presentations in Haitian art – but now, I had a chance to be closer to an artist from the region. Whether is an ode to music, a statement on Christianity, a dance with the Caribbean Sea, or an homage to women and mothers, I am constantly in awe and, quite frankly, emotionally charged when I see Nixon’s work. His subject matter is expansive, and inclusive of the lives, anecdotes, and dreams of his observers and, I theorize, his country men and women in Haiti.

I think this last point is important when we think of the intersections between the past and present of Haiti, the role of art in the Caribbean – and world – and the effect that will emerge through tonight’s fundraising. Consider these highlights from research I did to prepare this talk:
After reviewing a number of websites, internationally the top art galleries were identified as located in Italy, France, Germany, Spain, and Russia, to name a few. Nowhere in the Caribbean was listed when I searched for global “facts.” In addition, not one museum in Haiti was listed as a part of the “Museums Association of the Caribbean.” On the other hand, Nixon with his 25 years of excellence, his current exhibits around Providence, his upcoming one in Brockton, and his inclusion and participation in a Caribbean Festival in Quebec tells us something is missing from these lists.

Click here or on the Soundcloud link above to hear the (super) abbreviated version of the talk, which was abbreviated by request due to time constraints at the event.

Nixon’s 25 years of excellence as an artist also means that he is much closer to the industry, economy, and professional world of art; let’s talk a little about the facts and stats about this world.

  • Globally, the art market is valued at 65.1 billion US dollars, by some estimates, and as reported in 2021.
     – UNESCO – or the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization – reports that there are at least 104,000 museums worldwide. Think of how low this number is when you consider privately-run art galleries, pop-up shows, cafes and restaurants that hang art, etc.
  • In the US, some figures show that the museum industry in the US alone is worth 16.33 billion dollars, while 40.5 million dollars was budgeted for museum services. Apart from that, the Smithsonian institutions received over a billion dollars in government monies and appropriations.
  • In 2019, the production of arts and cultural goods and services brought in more money as an industry than construction, transportation, agriculture and mining. Of course, these would be pre-Covid numbers. Still, those numbers also showed that there were 5.2 million workers that were part of the arts and culture industries – and this figure does not include self-employed folks.
  • Overall, according to the Department of Commerce, 2020 saw 876.7 billion dollars generated through the arts and culture economy.
  • Art also positively correlates to travel. 76% of people who travel for pleasure in the US participate in cultural or heritage activities, and cities with museums and other cultural sites and activities rank higher in surveys that compare cities. In fact, in 2018, ore people visited museums, historic sites, and other arts/culture/history spaces than professional sporting events.

Haiti is, however, part of Caricom, the Caribbean Community umbrella organization that helps bring prosperity and support to the entire region. They recently launched an initiative called “Creative Caribbean: An Ecosystem of Play for Growth and Development.” Part of this project is about highlighting and supporting the history, tradition, and needs of the art community – especially in the post-Covid era. One goal is ensuring that the creative sector has a sustained positive impact on the lives of artists and entrepreneurs, and on festivals and art initiatives in the Caribbean. Another goal of this Creative Caribbean initiative is ensuring opportunities continue and grow for the participation and creative energy of youth in the area.

If this is a macro effort, then like me, you probably see Nixon’s efforts tonight as a micro effort, but important contribution toward this goal. Nixon’s objectives with the fundraiser, and money going toward the Centre Cultural Soleil Leve, is about providing supplies to youth and encouraging access and mentorship to and through professional artists in Belle Anse. And it’s important to think about Nixon’s efforts, not just through the lens of the Caricom initiative, but when considering the impact art has on the lives of young people. One statistic I came across describes how children who visited a museum while in kindergarten show higher achievement in reading, math – and science! – even when accounting for youth identified as “at-risk” of lower achievements or facing higher educational deficits.

These are the big elements when we think of Nixon and his efforts tonight, but I want to remind us all about the subtleties as far as the expansiveness and inclusivity of art. Because what these datapoints fail to account for are the day-to-day exposures and interactions with murals and street art, the sights and sounds of neighborhoods – including the aesthetics of survival – and the way people take in what I call “the bountiful beauty of nature.” Around the world, and right here in RI, you find people taking in water vistas, daydreaming in the green of plants and trees, and getting comfortable gazing upon sunrises and sunsets. Yes, this too is about the expansiveness and inclusivity of art.

So as I approach the end of this talk, I want to close by returning to Nixon; his 25 years of excellence speaks to the expansive industry, opportunities, and reach that exist for artists and professional engagement in the art world. His personality, and fundraising efforts, speak to the inclusivity that comes with the warm smiles he brings to the canvas and gallery openings – and to the children of Haiti. And his work reminds us to see and appreciate the beauty that lives in everyday sites, sounds, and stories. Art is expansive, like Nixon.
Thank you.

Abbreviated List Sources/References:

  • UNESCO
  • National Endowment for the Arts
  • US Department of Commerce
  • Caricom.org
  • Statista
  • Museum Association of the Caribbean
  • The American Alliance of Museums
  • Annarubin.com