T.J. Dixon (posthumous) and James Nelson

Honorary Degrees

​​​​​ T.J. Dixon  


California State University San Marcos​​

T.J. Dixon and James Nelson began working together as public artists in 1991, later marrying and continuing to collaborate on their work for more than a quarter century. Specializing in large scale, figurative, public sculpture and design work, the duo created myriad award-winning projects that achieved public acclaim while adding a unique sense of place to numerous institutions and communities.

In the mid-1990s, Dixon and Nelson were among six groups that submitted proposals to create a statue of social activist and humanitarian César Chávez for California State University San Marcos (CSUSM). The vision of the Leucadia-based bronze sculptors won the hearts and votes of the campus community with their vision for the statue.

Working with a tight budget of $25,000 – similar projects created at the time cost nearly three times as much – Dixon and Nelson created CSUSM’s first outdoor public art. It was Dixon and Nelson who suggested that the statue be placed at the top of the staircase on the edge of the plaza that now bears Chávez’s name. The artists thought the placement would stand as a "powerful figure, proud, persistent, dignified, gentle, yet immovable. The stairs would become a metaphor for the hard climb in the struggle for social change and social justice." It was also Dixon and Nelson who proposed including the bronze lettering that sums up Chávez’s powerful maxim: Si Se Puede. It Can Be Done. Since its unveiling on March 31, 1997, the Chávez statue has become an iconic landmark on CSUSM’s campus. It is a favorite spot for graduates to pose for photos, and campus lore says students who rub the book in the arms of the statue before an exam will receive an A. But the statue’s importance goes far beyond, serving as a symbol of CSUSM’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and social justice.

In recognition of their outstanding accomplishments and creation of a beloved part of the campus and region, the Board of Trustees of the California State University and California State University San Marcos are proud to confer upon T.J. Dixon and James Nelson the honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts.