Using her keen marketing sense, Brown, who lived her entire adult life in Jamaica, Queens, realized in the 80s that there was growing demand for African and Caribbean art from the rising middle class of African American and Caribbean American homeowners.
While reproductions of ethnic art were popular at street festivals and annual cultural events, few publishers, Brown discovered, actually produced them. The market was there, only the venue wasn’t. Those who were highly interested in ethnic art just had “no retail operation to go to” said Brown.
“I took a chance," brown said. "It wasn’t proven in terms of anyone else doing it.”
She became an entrepreneur in 1991, leaving behind her successful career to pursue her new venture of picture framing.
Today, her business, the Clinton Hill Simply Art & Framing Gallery, located in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, focuses primarily on custom framing. Brown attributes the shift to custom framing, which includes preservation and specialty framing, to decreased demand for paper prints of ethnic art.
Following the greater availability of prints sold in retail stores in the beginning of the decade and a more “aggressive” approach by artists who began to seek other venues to display their art, Brown took to changing her business.
“There will always be a consumer who will spend money on something that is important to them,” she said.
Brown’s ability to adapt to changes in the industry, the neighborhood’s demographics, and her primary customers has allowed her store to flourish for over 20 years. Her gallery is now hailed as the oldest independently operated custom picture framing business in the metropolitan area “wholly owned and operated by an African American female.”
It relies solely on referrals, business from returning customers, and recommendations through word-of-mouth, online and offline. Her new clientele – the younger generation – use Twitter and Facebook to spread the word about what she offers.
Brown, whose own passion for collecting global art sparked her interest in preservation and specialty framing, has encountered in her line of work objects from all corners of the world.
“I travel the world vicariously through my customers,” she said.