The Frank Bette Center at a decade.
The last 10 years have been good for Alameda artists.
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Frank Bette was a longtime Alameda resident, a furniture maker and restorer, and an artist, although one who worked in isolation and rarely showed or talked about his work. Indeed, many of his friends were only dimly aware of his artistic production.
But when Frank Bette died in 1999, he donated his house and a small estate to provide a space for “readings, meeting, showings and other creative doings.” His vision established the Frank Bette Center for the Arts, that funny yellow building on the corner of Lincoln and Paru that greets drivers with its incongruous and cheerful Victorian presence mid-Island.
Open since 2003, the volunteer-run center with a tiny budget has become something of an institution in Alameda, managing to consistently provide a wide range of artistic-themed events and activities over the decade—just as Bette had hoped. It continues to struggle financially, though donations, class fees, fundraising events, and small occasional grants and the dedication of committed volunteers—most of them artists themselves—enable interesting creative doings. FBC does its best to share those doings and upped the ante recently with a chirpy, info-packed enewsletter announcing programs as well as volunteer needs and opportunities.
Never meant just an exhibition space, FBC is known for its figure drawing, watercolor, and computers-for-artists classes as well as for its poetry, prose, and storytelling workshops. It’s also a venue where arts lovers can buy locally crafted items such as jewelry, bags, aprons, and adorable little handmade books.
And, as part of the center’s focus on building community, twice a month there is a Community Art Night, where painters, musicians, and poets can come to work on a project, “or to simply mingle, chat, and enjoy being part of the art community.”
Throughout its tenure, FBC has also been serious about using Bette’s home as a space to share visual art with the community. It fills its eclectic and warm gallery space with monthly group shows, monthly juried shows, and bi-monthly solo shows plus special exhibits throughout the year. FBC garners widespread accolades for the annual Plein Air Paintout (aka PAPo, established in 2005) and Alameda on Camera events, which have become true artistic fixtures on the Island. A widespread component of their popularity likely derives from using Alameda—its shoreline, Victorians, bungalows, parks, shops, and even people, for instance—as the backdrop and theme of the exhibits.
Evidence of Bette, his work, and how he inspired others remain in evidence at FBC through sculptures, a chair, his paintings, and stairs inlaid with his image and poems. Bette may have shied away from the limelight, but what he wanted his legacy to build—a vibrant, committed community of artists who benefit from interacting with each other, from showing and talking about their art—takes center stage today.
The Frank Bette Center, 1601 Paru St., Alameda, 510-523-6957, open 11 a.m.–7 p.m. Wed.–Sat. and 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Sun. www.FrankBetteCenter.org.
The FBC newsletter turns out loads of useful info.
Jaan Carter took over the FBC newsletter in 2012, bringing her whimsical and lively voice to its 500-plus readers and became director of communications in September.
Q: How and why did you first get involved with the FBC?
A: Gunpoint. No, I first went to the Bette early in 2012 to attend a storytelling program led by Cathy Dana. I fell in love with the building, the art, the vibe of the place. It’s so charming, and sort of homey—Frank did live there. And I just thought, “What a cute place. I want to be here.”
Q: What’s your newsletter philosophy, and what are your main tasks as director of communications?
A: The eye is always searching for something interesting, and the Frank Bette is all about art, so it made sense to me that the newsletter should have plenty of art in it. It’s simply a lot more interesting that way, but also the Eye of the Beholder and The Writers Block [sections focusing on featured artists and writers, respectively] were my ways of promoting our artists, not just in the gallery, but every which way we can. The website is my first challenge as the new director of communications, and it’s the big vehicle for our artists and the gallery itself. We want to promote our artists, engage the art community, and we want the art community to be inclusive of everyone in Alameda, and the Bay Area, and the world, if possible. We’re all capable of creativity.
Q: How do people sign up to for the newsletter?
A: To get on the mailing list, one may sign up on the website, FrankBetteCenter.org/newsletter, or sign up in person at the Bette Gallery, or email me, Jaan@FrankBetteCenter.org, or even call the Bette by phone (510-523-6957) and ask them to enter you, or leave a message with your email (speak slowly and clearly).