An avid art collector, Lurita B. Brown was taken aback by the dearth of black-owned art galleries-so she started her own. As proprietor of Clinton Hill Simply Art, a Brooklyn, New York-based gallery, Brown specializes in ethnic fine art reproductions, posters and original artwork on paper.
The turning point came for this connoisseur of black art when she heard white gallery owners discuss prices for ethnic art that were far below their true worth. “They didn’t value black art,” says Brown. “That meant we weren’t going to have a viable art market. What we have to do is elevate the art.”
So in 1991, Brown invested $50,000 in accumulated savings to set up shop in the predominantly black neighborhood of Clinton Hill, where rents are significantly less expensive than Manhattan’s coveted commercial spaces. Her next move was to stock the gallery.
Initially, Brown focused on ethnic posters, reproductions and framing. But customers expressed interest in original works, which Brown lacked the capital to buy, so she concentrated on a relatively small but booming field–original artwork on paper (watercolors, pastels, graphics, mixed media, collages and silk screens).
Brown encouraged painters and sculptors to allow her to sell their works on consignment. She has also branched out: Now, patrons can purchase sculptures, oil on paper and canvas, paintings and photography. “We have anywhere from 30-40 original works of art on display every month,” says Brown of the artwork depicting African American, Caribbean, Latin American and Southwestern images and ethnicities. Prices for original works range from $250-$5,000. The gallery’s revenues were just over $295,000 by the last quarter of 1996.
Robin King, corporate curator of the arts program at Harlem-based Carver Federal Savings Bank (the nation’s largest black-owned bank), says Brown “gives you quality work by guest artists who other people don’t know about.” Carver was Brown’s first major corporate account to purchase original works of art. (Recently, Brown was awarded a $60,000 framing and reproductions contract with Con Edison, a major utility company in the Northeast.)
To keep her edge in this niche, Brown is concentrating on developing the corporate market. Among her newest corporate clients are fast food chains and local community centers, which have expressed concern about art reflecting their clientele.
Clinton Hill Simply Art, 583 Myrtle Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11205; 718-857- 0074