“He’s a legend,” says Stephen Beal, president
of CCA. “His commitment and dedication to
the arts and art education are enormous.”
He’s also an unlikely legend. An Oakland
native, Oliver grew up in a creative home, but
did not catch the art bug himself. His father
taught watercolor and pen-and-ink for three
years at UC Berkeley, and his mother and sis-
ters were both artists. Oliver preferred cars. In
his late teens and early 20s, he raced Formula
Junior race cars for a living, making enough
money to put himself through Cal, where he
studied business and engineering. But when
the earnings started to dry up in his senior
year, Nancy — whom he’d recently married —
offered a deal.
“She said, ‘I’m sick of seeing you try to kill
yourself every weekend. One of us ought to
have a real job. So I’m going to quit school
and I’ll go back to finish my degree when our
youngest child goes to school,’ ” he says.
Oliver readily agreed to that, especially
because Nancy wasn’t even pregnant. He was less
enthused when, eight years later, after their second child entered kindergarten, she handed him
the paper he’d signed and told him, “You’ll be
getting the laundry on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
As part of earning her American Studies
degree at San Francisco State University, Nancy
was required to go to museums and performances. Oliver didn’t like her going out alone
at night, so he tagged along. He says his “jaw
dropped” when he saw the Kirov Ballet for the
first time. After seeing Kienholz’s artwork, he
was hooked for good.
Ann Hamilton’s “tower” is a performance space
that seats 125 people on an interior spiral staircase.
Hamilton calls it “the vocal cord” for the ranch.
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