Creativity community thrives at art center

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PHOTOS BY LAURA MORTON

Above: Grace Mendez, left, talks with Liz Tamayo, right, while teaching a class called Painterly Monoprints with a Gelli Plate at the Frank Bette Center for the Arts.

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Below left: Classes at the center include poetry, ukulele, photography and painting

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Below right: The nonprofit, volunteer run center offers a variety of classes and exhibits, including rotating programs throughout the year.

The Frank Bette Center for the Arts in Alameda is truly unique. Where else can you hear a group of retirees and older professionals play Green Day’s “Good Riddance” on ukuleles?

It’s a Wednesday night, and these ukulele enthusiasts — who also welcome guitarists and other instrumentalists — are having a jam session at the center.

“When I walk in here after a hectic day, I’m suddenly relaxed,” Alameda’s Pete Connolly said.

His sentiment is shared by the group’s leader, musician Janet Lenore. “I feel like this is my living room,” she said, looking around the small, comfortable studio the club uses once a month, with its wood floors and walls covered with photographs taken by local photographers.

Such is the ambiance of the Frank Bette Center, a jewel in Alameda’s thriving local arts scene. The yellow Victorian on Paru Street offers classes from poetry to ukulele, photography to painting and much more.

The arts center is named for its benefactor, Frank Bette, who was a furniture refinisher and artist, according to center spokesperson Kris Warrenburg. When Bette died in 1999, he willed the building to be used as an art center.

“He was a lifelong artist but was shy about sharing his art until late in life when friends encouraged him to show his work and to produce several books about his poetry and his sculpture,” Warrenburg said. “This camaraderie opened a new world of community for artists, which he wished to make possible for other artists.”

The center started off with a paid director, Warrenburg said.

“But when it became clear that having a paid director was unsustainable, we switched to an all-volunteer organization,” Warrenburg said.

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Frank Bette, who was a furniture refinisher and artist, willed the yellow Victorian to be used as an art center when he died in 1999.

When the center closed for several months last year for city mandated repairs, the Alameda community showed its strong support by helping raise funds and providing volunteer or discounted help to complete the repairs.

The classes offered change throughout the year. Currently, the center is offering drawing, painting, writing, mixed media, cartooning and ukulele classes, taught by Lenore but offered on a different night than the jam session. Some classes are one-day, others last up to six weeks, Warren-burg said. It also offers an ongoing life drawing group that meets with no instructor.

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Randi Plotner works on creating a gelli print at the Frank Bette Center for the Arts in Alameda.

If you go

Frank Bette Center for the Arts: 1601 Paru St., Alameda. (510) 523-6957, www.frankbette center.org.

The Frank Bette Center for the Arts offers three group exhibits for members of the community and center members. There are also six solo art exhibits in the signature gallery for members as well as four or five solo member exhibits at satellite galleries in the community, Warrenburg said.

There are also rotating programs throughout the year, such as Alameda Island Poetry: a workshop the first Wednesday of each month; the Alameda Writers’ Workshop; Acoustic Jam; a photography exhibit on South Africa; and a Spring Art Sale.

“Frank Bette had a broad view of the arts,” Connolly said.

Lenore adds as she tunes her ukulele, “This center is really grassroots. People have a lot of hands-on experience in whatever they are doing.”

The group launches into a rendition of the Beatles “Act Naturally” — an apt song selection for what comes naturally to them.