Renowned Sculptor Bruce Beasley and the Art of Philanthropy

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Twenty-five hundred years ago, Sun Tzu wrote the classic book of military strategy, “The Art of War,” based on Chinese warfare and military thought.

 

Since that time, all levels of the military have adapted teachings of Sun Tzu about warfare and civilization and applied them to our every-day environments.

The “Art of Philanthropy” encompasses a similar set of principles that define the ‘tools and rules’ of giving, and also shows the path to a set of expected outcomes if understood and effectively applied.

 

Enter sculptor Bruce Beasley, life-long resident of West Oakland.

Beasley’s career as a sculptor began in 1962 when he graduated from UC Berkeley.

 

Most graduating students start their careers in their chosen fields at an “entry-level” position in a business. As a graduating art student, Bruce had a different “entry-level” experience when he entered the world of art.

 

In 1962, the Museum of Modern Art acquired one of his sculptures, making him the youngest artist to have their work in the permanent collection of the flagship of modern art museums.

 

The following year, he was one of 11 artists to represent the U.S. at the Biennale de Paris, where French Minister of Culture Andre Malraux awarded him the purchase prize.

The professorial staff in the art department at UC Berkeley asked Bruce to join them and pursue a career in academia.

 

But Bruce had other ideas.

 

He rented a dilapidated building in West Oakland to begin his art career. He soon discovered a building that was for sale and was considering making West Oakland his permanent home.

 

“Everyone advised me that ‘It was the right building but in the wrong neighborhood.’ There were no city services, no street lights, no curbs and gutters, no street trees, it was red-lined by the banks, and West Oakland was pretty much considered a no-go area by most people,” he continued.

 

He thought to himself, “If it’s the right building, why not help turn the wrong neighborhood into the right neighborhood? As a young artist, my economic status was similar to my neighbors, but I knew that was really a voluntary choice on my part because of pursuing an art career. I had options that my neighbors did not. My neighbor’s economic status was involuntary.”

 

This was the point at which he realized he needed to turn a vague and unfocused sense of social responsibility into real action aimed at real, tangible change. He has honed this skill over the span of his artistic career.

 

A few months ago, Bruce bequeathed $20 million in property and art to the Oakland Museum of California to create a Sculpture Center in West Oakland.

 

This legacy gift is the foundation of what Bruce envisions will propel sculptors, artists and artisans, and their works to the next level.

 

In the single gesture of this gift, he has ‘paid forward’ his notion of social responsibility and set precedence for others to follow.

“I chose the museum as my beneficiary because they have the long view,” said Beasley. “They are strategic and thoughtful about how their work fits within the context of what’s gone on before and what’s coming next.”

 

One of the defining characteristics of the philanthropist is his or her ability to step back from their work and see the bigger picture.

 

Bruce sees the big picture.

 

“Art is something that all Oaklanders should have the opportunity to enjoy, and Bruce understands that,” said Mayor Libby Schaaf. “We are grateful for Bruce’s continued commitment to bettering his community through creativity and philanthropy.”

Conway Jones. Artwork by Errol Zachery.
Conway Jones. Artwork by Errol Zachery.

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