MassArt Investigates Acclaimed Photographer Nicholas Nixon In Title IX Probe

Acclaimed photographer Nicholas Nixon, who has been an instructor at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design for decades, is under investigation at the school amid "allegations of inappropriate behavior" and has retired from his position.

Nicholas Nixon (YouTube)
Nicholas Nixon (YouTube)

In an email sent Thursday to students and staff members, MassArt President David Nelson wrote that the public college launched a Title IX investigation after "recently received allegations of inappropriate behavior" surfaced against Nixon. Title IX is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. MassArt has hired an outside consultant to conduct the investigation, Nelson's letter said.

The letter said Nixon "subsequently announced his decision to retire," effective March 2. Nelson added that Nixon "is no longer in the classroom or on campus." Nelson's message to students and staff encouraged anyone who has "experienced sexually inappropriate behavior at MassArt" to report it to the school, adding that MassArt staff "will listen, we will take you seriously, we will investigate, and we will take appropriate action to address concerns and to maintain a healthy living and learning environment at MassArt."

Nixon, whose work is currently on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art, rose to prominence in the mid-'70s. The Brookline photographer is best known for "The Brown Sisters," a series of annual photographs he's taken of his wife and her three sisters since 1975. His work has been shown at New York's Museum of Modern Art and National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., among others.

Nixon's photographs have been on view at Boston's ICA since December in an exhibit called "Nicholas Nixon: Persistence of Vision." The retrospective of his work was slated to be shown until April 22.

"We are truly disheartened by this news and take it very seriously," an ICA spokeswoman wrote in an email Friday, saying museum staff learned of the investigation against Nixon Thursday. "We do not currently have adequate information to fully understand the scope of these allegations. The ICA is committed to a culture of inquiry, respect and democracy, and once we have more information we will move to act responsibly and responsively."

In a video on the ICA website, Nixon and his wife sit at the exhibit, speaking about their relationship. He says his wife has been there for him, at times when he even put photography first: "Maybe now I can step back a little and be for her what she's been for me."

Below is the full statement sent out to current MassArt students and staff:

Dear MassArt Community:

As the Me Too and Time’s Up movements continue to reshape our society, I am heartened to see so many brave acts of personal and collective determination. I write today to reaffirm the MassArt community values that I have stated previously. Ensuring a safe and healthy campus climate has been my priority since I became MassArt’s president in June 2016. We take reports of any form of sexual harassment or any other discriminatory behavior that violates our Equal Opportunity policies very seriously.

We recently received allegations of inappropriate behavior concerning photography professor Nicholas Nixon and determined that a Title IX investigation was warranted. Nick subsequently announced his decision to retire, effective March 2, 2018, and he is no longer in the classroom or on campus. The Title IX investigation, which is being conducted by an external consultant engaged by the college, will continue to its conclusion.

Looking at the bigger picture, in order to ensure the safety of our entire campus, we are further assessing our campus climate in regard to Title IX and equal employment opportunity policies. To that end, we are reaching out to you – our students, faculty, staff, and alumni – so we can hear every voice, we can work to address concerns, and together we can ensure a culture where each member of our creative community can thrive.

If you have experienced sexually inappropriate behavior at MassArt, or if you know of someone who has, please report it to us. There are several MassArt staff members who are here to help. We will listen, we will take you seriously, we will investigate, and we will take appropriate action to address concerns and to maintain a healthy living and learning environment at MassArt. To report an incident, simply go to for contact information, report forms, and other helpful resources.

I also want to state again our commitment to helping change the culture of the professions in which our students and alumni work. For too long, we have heard that “it’s just the way it is” with respect to sexual harassment and sexual violence. I reject that notion, and I know you do too. We can effect change by empowering students who challenge that idea and by preparing leaders who are committed to a better future for the art and design world.

At the heart of the MassArt mission is our commitment to preparing students to “engage in the well being of their society.” Working together, we can address these issues in the right way and make the world more like the place we all want to live.


David Nelson
Massachusetts College of Art and Design

Correction: An earlier version of this post indicated the wrong number of sisters in Nixon's portrait series. We regret the error.

This article was originally published on March 23, 2018.

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Maria Garcia was WBUR's Managing Editor and the creator of "Anything for Selena."



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