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Turning His Life Into Art, Then Into Business

Turning His Life Into Art, Then Into Business

richard beavers ebony magazine september 2016

Richard Beavers wasn’t a bad guy, but as a kid he made some terrible choices.

“I left high school in the 9th grade, and from the age of 17 until I was 25, I was doing all kinds of illegal stuff,” the 46-year-old says. “The last time I got arrested, I prayed to my grandmother for guidance because I had a son, and I didn’t want to become that statistic. I said, ‘Grandma, if you get me out of this, I’ll never sell another drug.’ I remember this voice telling me, ‘If you never sell another drug, I promise to take care of you.’” Some may say the way his future unfolded was purely happenstance or the result of well-directed efforts, but two things are clear: He kept his word, and his life changed.

As a high school dropout, the Brooklyn, N.Y. native lacked transferable work skills, but he was a diligent and natural leader. He enrolled in a GED course and a computer skills program. After acing both, MTV’s human resources department recruited him. While working for the media giant, he rediscovered his passion for art. “I remember falling in love with my first piece at a gallery owned by two Black women when I was 12,” recollects Beavers, whose interest was rekindled in his late 20s after attending an art show. “It was by Leroy Campbell, who, ironically, later became a mentor and father figure to me.”

He paid a lot of dues before the famed Campbell anointed him. For almost two years while he was still at MTV, he spent every weekend working at a gallery under the mentorship of a woman he lovingly refers to as “Mrs. Brown.” There, he absorbed the business of art. “I swept floors, made deliveries and watched. I didn’t know what I wanted to do but understood I was getting valuable information about entrepreneurship,” he says. In 2002, Beavers had a chance encounter with Campbell at an art show. “I fell in love with an art piece of his worth thousands of dollars. Campbell asked how much I could afford. I said $400; he said, ‘It’s yours,’ and walked away. His wife told me he had never done that before. I became his apprentice shortly thereafter.”

Using his sick and vacation days to take off and do shows, Beavers helped Campbell manage his workload. Four years later, the mentee was ready to venture out alone. He borrowed $5,000 from a friend and used his savings to open House of Art, now called The Richard Beavers Gallery, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.

These days, the married father of five spends his time scouting talent, negotiating deals and traveling the world to connect with artists, customers and other gallery owners, or gallerists. He devoted the past decade to building contacts. Going forward, he plans to add more art fairs and pop-up shops to his calendar. “I’m often the only Black gallerist at art shows. Booths may be $25,000 for a four-day week,” he says. To build the company’s financial portfolio, Beavers has expanded into working with investors to purchase collections for his gallery.

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“I’m a strong believer that we shouldn’t allow other people to tell our stories,” he says. “I opened a gallery to give Black artists an opportunity and to play a major part in providing art to an underserved community. For us to say, ‘I have a gallery in my neighborhood’ is a source of pride.”

This story originally ran in the September issue of EBONY.  Pick up the magazine on newsstands now or subscribe right HERE.  

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