The first time Philadelphia-based contemporary artist and social activist Nilé (pronounced Ni-EL) Livingston heard of Spokane was in grade school. Playing a game of trivia, she learned that Father’s Day was started in Spokane.
The second time was when Rachel Dolezal’s story saturated the news. “What bothered me the most was when she lied about who her father was but, well, humans are complicated,” she said.
The third time was when she met Rebecca Chadwell, the creative director of the Richmond Art Collective in Spokane, when Chadwell was visiting Philadelphia. “I had expressed an interest in reaching a global audience with my art and she reached out to me about exhibiting my work in Spokane not too long after Philly Voice published an article including me with ‘10 Philadelphia female artists you need to know,’ ” Livingston said.
Livingston’s Spokane exhibit opens Thursday at the Richmond Art Collective’s new gallery space in the historic Richmond Building, 228 W. Sprague Ave., with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m.
The Richmond Art Collective is a group of artists working out of a shared space in the Richmond Building. Formed in 2013, the collective offers living and work spaces, artist resources and creative community support. The same building is also home to the Laboratory Residency Program, which hosts interactive artists from around the world.
Livingston’s exhibition will be the collective’s first show in its new gallery, the Richmond Gallery. “We’re looking forward to offering new ways of thinking about community and art,” said Chadwell.
As part of the exhibit, Livingston will also (weather permitting) secure a piece of her work to the side of the Richmond Building with wheat paste. She’ll deliver a visiting artist’s lecture at Eastern Washington University at 11:30 a.m. Monday.
Growing up in Philadelphia, Livingston was a shy child. Her parents encouraged her to try different forms of expression and to pursue creativity and so she did, exploring the sources of her anxiety through art and gently pushing herself out of her comfort zone.
“Creating art expands my world and sustains me. It’s been my excuse to get to know people,” she said. “By producing artworks that are reflective of my experience and perceptions I’ve been given opportunities to develop stronger relationships with people that come across my work. My mission has been to document narratives and encourage an individual’s understanding of others.”
Her social activism is rooted in community building. “I’m learning that the importance of art can go beyond education, beauty, cultural understanding, and improvement of the environment around us; art stands for something that makes people feel valued,” she said. “Creating uplifts the human spirit and can also have a positive impact on shaping reality. Art can give people the perception that this is a safe place for them and their ideas.”
She has led community mural projects and invited others to participate in her artistic endeavors; sketching strangers, handing them a paint brush or bringing them into the conversation during a performance or lecture.
Though soft-spoken, Livingston speaks loudly through her work with bold strokes and vibrant colors; relaying beauty in the seemingly mundane activities of her neighbors, in portraits of the famous and unknown, in cityscapes and landscapes, and in many mediums including paint, ink, Sharpies, ceramics, mosaics, collages, prints, fashion design, and computer graphics.
With only second-hand knowledge of Spokane, mostly through online searches, Livingston hopes to connect with the community in a more intimate way, through art. “I’m witnessing ways art could be a useful tool in driving more opportunities and tolerance for others, which is what the world needs more of,” she said.