CalArts Provost Emeritus Beverly O’Neill passed away on Sunday, July 16, after a long illness.
O’Neill, along with her filmmaker husband Pat O’Neill and several other artists and scholars, founded the Los Angeles Independent Film Oasis, an experimental non-profit screening organization that operated from 1975 to 1981.
A respected faculty member at both Occidental College and Otis Institute of Art prior to her tenure at CalArts, O’Neill joined then-President Robert Fitzpatrick’s administration in 1986 and left the Institute in 2002 after a 16-year tenure.
(O’Neill is pictured above leading the CalArts faculty and administration into the 1997 graduation ceremony. Photo: CalArts archives.)
CalArts President Emeritus Steven D. Lavine remembers that O’Neill, John Orders (Fitzpatrick’s assistant) and Acting CalArts President Nick England played major roles in leading CalArts through the transition between Fitzpatrick’s departure (to head Euro Disney in Paris) and Lavine’s arrival in 1988.
“With John, [Beverly] taught me my job,” Lavine said. “Beverly had a deep knowledge of and respect for the faculty as individuals, but she also knew that they could not be sustained unless the institution survived. As a Dean at Otis, during its painful separation from Parsons, Beverly had experienced how deep the difficulties could be in just keeping going. As a result, she was well-prepared for CalArts as it coped with historical and structural deficits, particularly in keeping an even keel in the midst of passionately expressed faculty concerns, and this was true again after the Northridge earthquake in 1994. Beverly is surely one of the unsung heroes of the CalArts story.”
Added Tom Lawson, dean of The School of Art at CalArts: “Beverly’s long involvement with the feminist art movement in Los Angeles gave her a clear perspective on the mechanisms of power in an institution. Grounded in the idea that ‘the personal is political,’ she made it her business to know everyone on campus, to better understand the human dimension of administration, to understand the felt repercussions of regulations and budgets. This intimate knowledge of the daily life of CalArts could make her frustratingly cautious at times, but it ensured that she was always on the side of progress.”
“Beverly understood the roots of experimental traditions in the arts, on which CalArts was, in some good measure, founded,” said David Rosenboom, dean of The Herb Alpert School of Music at CalArts. “She brought a subtle, but profound, wisdom to our mission, emerging from this deep comprehension interlaced with an energetic commitment to the goals of radical socio-cultural equality.
“Being a provost who was also a sitting Buddhist, she wrapped fires in blankets of calmness,” Rosenboom said.
O’Neill’s friend Tom Leeser, Program Director of the Art and Technology Program in the School of Art and the Director of the Center for Integrated Media at CalArts, wrote a touching remembrance.