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Black Artists

How Kelvin Beachum of the Arizona Cardinals is tackling Black art

This NFL star says it’s not about building wealth, but supporting the next generation of artists

In recent years, prominent athletes who have entered the country’s loftiest tax brackets have flaunted their purchases of luxury cars, wines and sneakers. Not so much art. But recently, Arizona Cardinals offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum and his wife Jessica — collectors for almost a decade — put 10 of their paintings on display at his alma mater, Southern Methodist University in Dallas. The exhibit, which runs through May 22, features Black painters who include Dominic Chambers, Robert Hodge, Mario Moore and Sungi Mlengeya.

After attending SMU for five years, Beachum graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s degree in liberal studies, and he’s maintained close ties to his alma mater ever since. “I’d previously done some things with the university involving engineering and robotics,” he said. “I consider this exhibit as an extension of what I’ve been doing in the educational realm — making sure the community gets involved, that campus scholars are part of it and that young people are involved.”

Kelvin Beachum says the struggles many Black artists face resonate with him and his family.

Kim Leeson/SMU

Andscape spoke with Beachum, who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2012, about the new exhibit, when he fell in love with art and how he got into collecting.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

You grew up in Mexia, Texas, a small town 90 miles south of Dallas. Did you have any exposure to art as a child?

I had no exposure at all. The closest I had were the [handheld] fans in church. There was art on the back of the fans. My wife, who grew up in Dallas, had more exposure to art. Her grandmother would take her to museums in Dallas. My first real entry into art was when I went to college at SMU, where I met my wife. We would go to events and exhibits around Dallas.

When did you buy your first piece of art?

My wife and I got married in 2013. When we were on our honeymoon, we spotted a tiger painting by Craig Tracy [who’s known for his intricate animal-themed body paintings]. Our next couple of pieces were photographs by Peter Wick. The woman in Houston who sold us those also sold us a piece by Robert Pruitt.

Tracy and Wick are white and Pruitt is Black. As you continued collecting, what inspired you to focus on Black artists?

Being able to understand some of the experiences, the struggle, the adversity that many of these artists faced — it resonates with my family. And it does so on a daily basis living with the art in our home, allowing my kids to grow up in that environment. They can see themselves on the walls. The biggest thing for us is that we’re allowing our kids to live with something we never had access to. 

A lot of the artists that we’re showing at SMU are artists we have come to know [personally]. These are real relationships. Ryan Cosbert, Dominic Chambers and Robert Pruitt — whose works we’re showing — are coming to speak to students. I’ve learned a lot about art from these people, including about the old masters.

As an NFL player, you visit a lot of cities with major museums and galleries. Do you explore the art life of the cities you visit?

A mentor of mine, former NBA player Elliot Perry, encouraged me to do that. But it’s harder for an NFL player than an NBA player. You only have two hours to yourself after you land. It’s a lot easier in the offseason.

You’re an investor in the technology sector. I’m curious if that also applies to art, where we’re seeing the development and increasing monetization of NFTs [nonfungible tokens].

I dropped an NFT during a game this year. [Beachum donated the proceeds from its auction to the Phoenix Art Museum.] I see it from both angles, from the tech side and the artists’ side. I’ve bought some NFTs, too. Most of them were created by former Major League Baseball player Micah Johnson. It’s great to support the work of an athlete that’s become an artist.

As an art collector, are you also an art seller? Have you sold any of the paintings you’ve acquired?

No. We have no interest whatsoever in selling. For us, it’s about supporting an artist long term. We’re not interested in flipping the art for money. It’s the same long philosophy with tech investments we have.

Paul Wachter has written for The New York Times Magazine, Harper's, and The Atlantic. He lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.