As an artist himself, President Steve Beal often enjoyed interacting with students and visiting classrooms on campus.

A thank you to Stephen Beal

As we celebrate 25 years of President Beal’s leadership at CCA, friends and colleagues pay tribute with fond memories and reflections.

After 25 years of remarkable leadership at California College of the Arts, President Stephen Beal retires to devote more time to travel, his painting practice, and family. During his tenure, Beal led the college through many transformative milestones, including the unification of CCA’s programs and operations in San Francisco and overseeing the largest fundraising campaign in CCA history.

Prior to his retirement, President Beal received a special honor: he was appointed the position of President Emeritus, the first president to ever receive such an honor at CCA. On September 26, CCA’s Board of Trustees unanimously voted to move forward with this well-deserved designation.

President Beal's guidance has left an indelible mark on the college, shaping not only its future as a leading art and design school, but also countless individuals in the community. We have gathered a few heartfelt reflections from faculty, staff, students, and friends.

From Sunny Smith, Dean of Fine Arts

“I first met Stephen Beal when he interviewed me for the position of tenure-track assistant professor back in 2008. I always felt comfortable going to Steve with my ideas and concerns, and his door was always open. I never doubted his passion for art and artists and, combined with his own very interesting studio-based painting practice, it's given me such a sense of pride and belonging knowing that he was at the helm. For almost a decade, I lived across the street from the internationally renowned Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, where he served as board president. That's when I learned about his advocacy for artists with developmental disabilities. Over the years, and then more frequently as dean, I was able to get to know him better at the many memorable dinners hosted by Steve and his wife Dee to celebrate recently tenured faculty members. I have many fond memories of the conversations and the colleagues I would grow to know at those events, enhanced by the presence of his wonderful kids, delicious home cooked meals, and his incredible record collection. What came through in those conversations and many others both public and private was Steve's deep faith in art school pedagogy, his unwavering commitment to CCA, and his belief in our collective future.

In his time at CCA, Steve has hired incredible people to teach and lead, many of whom are LGBTQ+ and women. His devotion to the legacy of the college and his ambitious vision of campus unification, with its emphasis on a vibrant interdisciplinary maker culture grounded in the values of social justice and environmental sustainability, are unique and profound. Despite the pressures on the field of higher education and some of the challenges of our location in San Francisco, he has always focused on the positive, connecting extraordinary opportunities and individuals to build a vision for the unified campus, and indeed our strong position in the Bay Area arts ecosystem, that is audacious and bold. His ability to shepherd the college through such historic transitions, also marked by political unrest and the global pandemic, are deeply commendable, to say the least. By any measure, his mark on the college is indelible, and while I will really miss working with Steve directly, I know we will take his prudent, wise, warm-hearted spirit forward into the coming years and into the next exciting chapter of CCA.”

From Melanie Corn, Former Provost at CCA (2012–16)

“Steve was a terrific mentor to me over my many years at CCA. He asked me directly what I needed to advance my career and how he and the college could help, and then he followed through with that support in a big way. Most importantly, he was a role model for me in many ways, demonstrating a leadership style built on collaboration, informal collegiality, intellectual debate, and passion for arts education. The one thing I still need to master is running and leaving a meeting with nothing more than a Post-It note!”

From Gerardo Chow, CCA Alumni (BFA Painting & Drawing 2007)

“I remember Stephen let me borrow two of his art books when I was fresh out of City College and attending CCAC. Yes, this back before they dropped the "C." Stephen was the only professor to go out of his way in this manner and I always meant to give his books back and wondered if he remembered lending me his books for me to look at and to muse over. I always wondered if he had moved on from teaching at CCA and today I open my emails and I see that he's retiring from being CCA's president. Thank you for being a caring and selfless person and educator. Congratulations on becoming CCA's president and now retirement. Let me know if you would like for me to return your books the night of your retirement or at another time. You rock!”

From Max R. Sims, CCA Alumni (MFA Industrial Design 2012)

“My brother got help from him at a critical time when he was at the School of Art Institute Chicago. Years later President Beal mentioned David Seders as a former student who was my brother Julio's friend and classmate at SAIC. Small world! He had helped my brother early in his career and decades later, mine.”

From Larry Rinder, Founding Director of the Wattis Institute, Dean of Undergraduate Studies

“Steve kept the college on track during years of tremendous change. He had a unique ability to balance restraint and boldness, protecting the college from any number of misguided notions (some of which may have even been mine) while encouraging many other creative innovations. Steve was instrumental in transforming what one former president called (jokingly I hope), "the best art school in Rockridge," into one of the best colleges of art, architecture, design, writing, and business in the world. Congratulations Steve, and thank you!”

From Judy Timken, CCA Board Member and Past Chair

“When you arrived on the CCA campus in 1997 as our provost, change started to happen. It was subtle at first, but your years as president have made the biggest impact in all the years that I have served on the board since 1988. You brought CCA into the 21st century and beyond. When the new campus is finished, it will be a testament to your leadership and it will be a fitting legacy to our hard work and leadership. Enjoy your retirement with Dee; it has been well-earned and you deserve it. I will always enjoy your beautiful painting which enjoys a place of prominence in my home.”

From Todd Hido, Former Adjunct Professor at CCA

“My most fond memory about Steve is not about art nor is it about being a student at CCA, it's about me being a homeowner and member of the community near the Oakland campus. I was lucky enough to have been able to buy a home in 2001, just three blocks up the hill from the campus. A few years ago when there was the proposal for a 19-story building on the site of the Oakland campus obviously a lot of people in the neighborhood were quite concerned how that may change things for us here. I'm well aware that one person doesn't make these huge decisions. Of course they are made by many, but what I was impressed with is that Steve readily accepted the invitation to visit my nearby home and to stand in my studio. I invited him so he could see my perspective that looks outward over Broadway. As an artist I wanted him to see the afternoon light that I use for my photographs personally, and to look out of my windows and see what I could be losing if there would be a newly constructed 19-story building on Broadway. We had a very nice visit—he met my family too—and we were very thankful he was willing to look at things from our point of view. A lot of people don't go that extra mile. Thank you for that Steve.”

From Susan Avila, Former Senior Vice President of Advancement at CCA

“Steve led with his genuine kindness and commitment to do his best for CCA students. He was an inspired leader who held the school together through tremendous challenges. I owe him a debt of gratitude for his support and partnership in the success of our efforts to inspire philanthropic investment in CCA.”

From Lynda Grose, Professor of Fashion Design & Critical Studies at CCA

“I remember Steve and his wife's tradition of hosting a dinner for newly tenured faculty at his home. It was a family style dinner, with the faculty member being able to invite whomever they liked to the 12 seater table. Being in the home of our president was both special and intimate…literally inviting me into the CCA family.

Steve also had a tradition of bringing a group of newly tenured faculty together at de Haro Street for a glass of bubbly, and with Steve offering a few words that I have held close ever since: ‘Presidents come and go, chairs come and go...but tenured faculty stay and really steer the values and mission of the college’ and … here we are … with this president moving on… Thank you for your hospitality, warmth, and guidance.”

From Robyn Muscardini, CCA Alumni (BFA Textiles 1973)

“A scholarship was set up honoring the Muscardini Family by my father-in-law, John Muscardini. It has been a pleasure meeting students who have received scholarships over the years. I recall Stephen's enthusiasm for the students of CCA and his commitment to having a robust scholarship program for as many students as possible.”

From Jason Engelund, Former Student Council Chair at CCA (BFA Individualized Studies 2000)

“Steve Beal knows how to party. In 1999/2000, when the San Francisco campus was having a gala party with all the donors and stakeholders to celebrate the campus, the students weren't invited. We asked Steve about it and he said ‘yes absolutely we will also have a student party.’ Not only did he help oversee the general plans, but also contributed to the budget. I was the fine arts student council chair and Steve always took time to have meetings with me. This experience gave me the practice to move into arts administration graduating. That party was a stepping stone to community arts:

In planning for the SF Campus student party, there was an idea to hang a 10-foot canvas from the rafters, wearing a swinging harness on roller-skates, dip a paint roller into a paint, swing over the canvas, create splashes of paint, and swing back and forth to make a painting. Messy, but awesome. I set up a review process and Steve helped oversee this and other party installations. Recommendations were made and student projects were approved and funded, and we had a killer party. Years later, while working at the Center for Art and Public Life, I applied the same trust in students and process to create the Center Student Grant program. It encouraged students to collaborate with community partners on projects addressing social issues. Following a similar application, review, approval, and budgeting process, the student-funded program, later known as the Impact Awards, had a global reach and tackled real-world needs. So, thanks Steve for knowing how to party and knowing how to support people and programs.”

From John Laskey, Former Professor and Chair at CCA

“Strangely, Steve didn't think it would be crazy to form an MFA in Writing Program at our art school. In fact, it was his idea. Steve was the knowing presence behind the creation of the program when we moved to the new campus in 2000, and has remained a knowing presence ever since. Many, many students and faculty have taken heart and benefited and been grateful over the years, of which I've been lucky to be one. Steve also saw to it that the program was housed in a rather idyllic home—though I probably shouldn't mention that too loudly.”

From Dustin Smith, Senior Director of Youth Programs & Continuing Education

“I am so grateful for President Beal's support of several areas at CCA that have directly impacted my professional experience within our unique learning and working community. His support of the Staff Advisory Committee 10 years ago in partnership with Human Resources allowed the grassroots volunteer initiative to thrive. His commitment to pathways for young creatives was also clearly demonstrated in his support of relaunching our youth programs and advocacy to create new programs for Bay Area middle and high school students including CCA's role as leader for the Bay Area chapter of the national Scholastic Art Awards. On a personal note, he took the time to meet with me and discuss future pathways and professional opportunities at CCA when I was looking for career mentorship, which was an invaluable gesture of kindness.

A huge THANK YOU, STEVE! for your leadership and all that you have contributed to the college so that future generations may have the opportunity to 'Make Art That Matters', now and always!”

Stephen Beal’s tenure as the president of CCA has fostered academic excellence and a sense of community, innovation, and engagement that will resonate with the CCA community for generations to come.

Congratulations on your successful career and well-deserved retirement, Steve!

Published on October 10, 2023