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Gallery Owner Malcolm Brown Promoted Black Artists When Few Did

A beloved figure in the Cleveland art world and champion of the work of African American artists will be laid to rest this weekend. Painter and gallery owner Malcolm Brown died October 1 at the age of 89. 

Though a watercolorist by trade, Malcolm Brown’s local legacy is as an educator. For over 30 years he taught two generations of art students in the Shaker Heights school system and at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Cleveland art dealer William Busta said Brown and his wife, Ernestine, became educators of a different sort when they opened the Malcolm Brown Gallery in 1980.

"The gallery, of course, was a showcase for his own work," said Busta. "But, in the process, he and his wife were able to connect with June Kelly Gallery in New York City, and through June Kelly got access to a huge number of African American artists of national and international repute, such as Romare Bearden."

And Elizabeth Catlett, Hughie Lee Smith and others. The couple introduced significant but underseen artists to Cleveland audiences. That effort won the Brown's a special citation for distinguished service to the arts from the Cleveland Arts Prize in 1994.

Malcolm Brown, Romare Bearden and Ernestine Brown [Cleveland Arts Prize]

In a 2011 ideastream interview, Ernestine Brown said the plan was to inject some diversity into a largely white art scene.

"Our focus was to expand awareness, to widen the prism for viewing, appreciating and collecting art by African American artists," she said.

Clevelanders will have the chance to show their respect for Malcolm Brown during a virtual memorial serviceSaturday.

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