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Mustang Alum Kelvin Beachum Has Gone From SMU’s Gridiron to Its Galleries

Together with his wife, Jessica, the 10-year NFL veteran offensive tackle and art maven has debuted an exhibition at his alma mater with works curated from their private collection.
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One of the first defining experiences of Jessica and Kelvin Beachum’s marriage centered on art. If Kelvin, the 10-year NFL vet and SMU alum, had it his way, their first date would have, too.

It was 2009, and the current Arizona Cardinal offensive tackle was midway through his college career on the Hilltop when a friend at Oak Cliff’s Greater Harvest Church of God in Christ wanted to set him up on a blind date. The girl? Jessica, who had attended the church since childhood, which he’d joined after moving to Dallas from Mexia for school. The place? The Dallas Museum of Art, where the “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs” exhibit was on display. Then, the snag. Before the date could get underway, Kelvin’s cell phone rang. Jessica had a flat tire and wouldn’t make it.

The two eventually met and began to date the following year, eventually marrying in 2013. But 13 years after the fact, Kelvin isn’t above giving Jessica a hard time about the date that never was.

“I got stood up!” he jabs, his wife seated to his left. It’s a Thursday night in late February, and they’re seated in a conference room at SMU’s Hamon Arts Library. In 20 minutes, dozens of people will filter in to greet them at the library’s Hawn Gallery and take in a preview of “Narrative As Reality: A World Reimagined,” an exhibition of 10 pieces of Black art curated from the Jessica and Kelvin Beachum Family Collection that “beholds an artistic world of hope, Black joy, reality, and aspiration.”

It’s the culmination of a journey that began in earnest on their honeymoon cruise, four years after that aborted first date. There, they purchased their first piece of art together, a body paint image made by Louisiana artist Craig Tracy depicting a tiger. Next came two pieces from photographer Peter Lik. A spark had ignited. Maybe this would be their way to decorate their home.

“But then it turned into, ‘Let’s really dive into this,” Kelvin says. “‘Let’s be curious about something that’s different from football or different from [Jessica’s background in] healthcare. Different from raising kids. Something that incorporates all those things.’ I think that’s what’s been fascinating about this journey thus far.”

Now the collection spans 68 pieces and counting. “Too big,” Kelvin says with an eye roll. Art is a staple of their travels; they’ve purchased pieces everywhere from New York to South Africa, Houston to Chicago. When the pandemic forced them into quarantine, they dabbled with buying online, too. “There are times when things arrive at the house, and I’m just like, ‘When did we buy this?'” Jessica says. Not everything works. One especially large piece, a 10-by-15-foot diptych called Fleeting Memories and Lasting Moments, got stationed at the Phoenix Museum of Art once the Beachums realized they’d have to remove and reinstall their HVAC unit just to get it inside their house.  

But the majority is displayed at home: in the bedrooms, down the corridors, on the walls of the living rooms and, for a while, bathrooms, too. Never mind that they have three kids under the age of 8. “This is art in the house that somebody took from their soul to put on canvas,” the Beachums tell their children. “It’s sacred to them, and it needs to be sacred to us.” They take it seriously, too: according to their parents, the Beachum children have never broken a piece. The eldest, 7-year-old Kalena, has taken over from her parents as the art tour guide whenever company visits.

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Perhaps it was inevitable that they would one day want to share their collection with the world. And that, when they did, it would be more than just an art exhibition.

In 2015, Kelvin, the current Walter Payton Man of the Year for the Cardinals, and Jessica started the Beachum Family Fund, which aims to provide underserved communities with better education (via STEAM opportunities) and food resources. That’s in addition to his work in clean water activism, which has led him write for CNN to raise awareness, visit Honduras, and donate money to Uganda.

The Beachums consider art to be the next step in their philanthropy. “Narrative As Reality: A World Reimagined,” according to curator Dr. Valerie Bennett Gillespie, is “centered on educational curriculum and programming.”

The process began roughly a year and a half ago, when the Beachums reached out to the DMA in search of a curator. They were connected with Bennett Gillespie, a Greenhill grad who teaches at the Winston School and co-owns Pencil on Paper Gallery with her husband, Emmanuel. Through a series of Zoom calls, the three of them pared down the 68-piece collection to 15 works, then 10. Immediately, they agreed on four. There was Dominic Chambers’ The Night Is Our Friend, an oil on canvas depicting two Black boys resting against a wall. Then Ferrari Shepard’s Girl Talk, an acrylic, charcoal, and enamel piece of six students at play. Mario Moore’s Joy and Pain, an oil on linen scene of a Black boy tumbling in a field as a police car speeds by. Finally, Robert Hodge’s The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, a mixed media work meant to recall TV color bars that Kelvin surprised Jessica with for her birthday four years ago.

The rest came together after that. Some, like Tanzanian artist Sungi Mlengeya’s At Heart, convey love and camaraderie. Others, like Ryan Cosbert’s Mayhem No. 2, which was inspired by the George Floyd protests, are rooted in pain and bloodshed. The common thread, Bennett Gillespie says, is “each piece works within the broad themes of identity, representation, Black bodies at rest, what’s happening in the world in history. They all said something.” 

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Once the exhibition was finalized, the Beachums, Bennett Gillespie, and SMU mapped out how to leverage it with ancillary programming. High school and college classes visiting the exhibition will benefit from curriculum developed in partnership with the Meadows Museum, while Chambers and Hodge will visit campus to meet with classes and discuss their displayed works. A third artist, Cosbert, was scheduled to fly down in February before icy weather canceled her travel.

Yet, as impactful as all of that is, Bennett Gillespie believes some of the most powerful teaching will be through the representation found in the pieces from the Beachums’ collection itself.

“I have a soft spot in my heart for when I think of our kids of color who walk into this space and they’re seeing these beautiful paintings with them in them,” Bennett Gillespie says. “They’re joyful, and they’re happy, but they still speak to a broader conversation that needs to be had. I just want that.”

The exhibit closes on May 22, but the Beachums plan to take their show on the road. Up next is Baylor, Jessica’s undergraduate alma mater, which is a 40-minute drive from Kelvin’s hometown. It probably won’t stop there, either. Kelvin stops short of calling it a tour, instead describing it as “taking the opportunity to utilize places where we’ve been.” Perhaps Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, where Jessica studied nursing as Kelvin spent four years with the Steelers. Or Jacksonville, or New York, Kelvin’s next two stops in the league. Arizona State, where Jessica recently completed her master’s in health care delivery, is yet another option.

It’s too soon to say where everything winds up, which is probably fitting. Little about their art journey to date has been predictable, going all the way back to the first date that never was. No matter. The Beachums have reason to believe that, whatever happens, it will end in a good place.

“Narrative As Reality: A World Reimagined” runs at SMU’s Hawn Gallery at the Hamon Arts Library through May 22. Admission is free.

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Mike Piellucci

Mike Piellucci

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Mike Piellucci is D Magazine's sports editor. He is a former staffer at The Athletic and VICE, and his freelance…

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