Make Frank Bette’s Wish Come True

 

How Frank Bette’s wish to turn his home and business building into an art center came to be is an interesting story. Gretchen Fleischer was quite surprised to learn that she was named in Frank’s will. She thought maybe he had left one of his books or a print for her. 

Fleischer had gotten to know Frank from the Writers West group and became one of his friends. She gave him rides to writers group meeting, grocery shopping, breakfast at Ole’s Waffle Shop or field trips to the Oakland hills to visit “his trees.” 

She was totally blown away to find that she had not only been named executer of his estate, but was also tasked with converting his place, known to all his friends as “Frank’s place,” into a nonprofit community art center. She accepted her task, learning as she went how to set up a 501(c) (3) nonprofit corporation, how to provide lighting for a gallery and for drawing classes, how to make the downstairs handicap assessable and how to hang a gallery show. It took almost two years before all was ready for the first exhibit. 

Looking back Fleischer wondered why Frank had given her the task to carry out his final wishes. Then she realized that he had been silently interviewing her as he watched and encouraged her while she organized writing workshops for their group and the public as well. She had helped him put together his books like Frankisms and The Left Handed Ballet a compilation of drawings done with his left hand after his arthritis made his right hand difficult to use. In all those times together he had never told her his plans for his building.

Once the Frank Bette Center for the Arts was up and running Fleischer hired Debra Owen as the gallery director. Under Owen’s direction the center began new programs which encouraged artists to exhibit and to teach, share poetry, prose writing, story telling and music groups to share their creative spirit in Frank’s place. 

Alameda on Camera was started in 2006 as was the Frank Bette Plein Aire Paint Out. Both events have remained very popular, bringing together local artists and photographers with artists from out of town and around the country. New group and solo exhibits rotated in the galleries showing the work of countless local artists. 

Many people grew to love the center and what it had to offer. But money remained tight in the mid-2000s. Not as many paintings sold as projected nor were donations as big. To survive the tight times of the recession Owen and the board decided she should be laid off and the center would be run entirely by volunteers. It has been successfully run on a tight budget by the volunteer board of directors for several years now, fulfilling as best we can, Frank’s wish to have a place for meetings, greetings, showings and other creative doings. 

Money still remains tight. Now we must deal with the needs of our historical building by repairing and updating our electrical systems, repairing the upper landing on the exterior stairs and fixing so many small things like windows and sticky doors. Donations make all the difference on our being able to continue fulfilling Frank’s dream to make his place, a Victorian built in 1894, a center for creative people to flourish. 

Donations can be made on our website at www.frankbettecenter.org, by mailing a check to Frank Bette Center for the arts, PO Box 1007, Alameda, CA 94501 or donating to our gofundme campaign: Reopen Frank Bette Center at www.gofundme.com/yyvza5rx.

 

Fred Fago is an artist who lives in Alameda.