Reggie Browne, finance leader, art collector and patron, thinks globally and locally about supporting the arts

Pete Sparber has a sit down with finance 'market maker,' Reggie Browne, and finds that the PAFA Trustee and Board Chair of Creative Capital has opinions on many global issues relating to art and humanity, and suggestions for the art scene. What fuels him is to make an impact. Browne says, "I have no idea where my involvement in the arts will take me. But I know that it'll be a part of what I will continue to do and if I can justify my life by saying that I've done something in a way that directly benefits more than just my family, it feels as though I’ve delivered something that's of value to the greater good.” This is a long-form interview, and well worth spending the time getting to know this amazing person!

A Black man, who is bald, wears a pale blue shirt and a gray- and blue-checked suit jacket. His teeth gleam white in his big, open smile.
Reggie Browne, photo courtesy of Reggie Browne

Author’s Preface

Reggie Browne calls himself a “market maker.” But, for the Board Chair of Creative Capital, Vice Chair of PAFA’s Board of Trustees, art collector, and patron of the arts, making a material contribution to the structure of contemporary global finance is just part of the story. The other part is an all-in, hands-on engagement in the levers and processes of contemporary visual arts. “Market maker’” Is a term and a way of thinking that imparts a profound sense of agency. In late March I had the chance to sit down with Reggie and explore how that agency operates across the ecosystem of contemporary art.

This interview attempts to share that exploration with you, the reader. Our discussion begins with Reggie’s story of growing up in the financial markets and his first experiences buying art, and wraps up with many insights and ideas about cultivating the visual arts in Philadelphia, and his broader vision for the American contemporary art canon. Our discussion has been lightly edited for continuity.


Our conversation started with the story of how Reggie was brought up; the early influences and formative experiences that had shaped his life.


“My family is rooted in Philadelphia. My great grandparents were born in 1899 and 1900. They bought and owned real estate. That was an accomplishment for a working class Black family…at the time that was how we defined success. My grandfather was one of the first African-American firemen in the city with Engine 11 on South Street. My grandmother was an Avon manager. (Those professions) afforded them a middle class life. They were a typical Black family living in certain neighborhoods in Philadelphia in the early thirties…South Philly, West Philly, Mount Airy. Mount Airy meant success.

There was always an ethic pressed on us about hard work, saving money, living below your means. My grandmother was a student of the markets. She would watch Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser. If I was at her house on a random Friday evening, I would sit with her and watch PBS. She’d talk about what stocks to buy…buy what you use, what you know, what you consume. Peter Lynch was a big influence. She talked about how you’ve got to buy Apple…that was when it was trading at $8. At the time we all thought…no one buys Apple, everyone buys PCs. She was right. I was wrong. Based on that interaction I wanted to buy stocks at age 11, but my parents shut me down, and said you can’t do this.

My father was in the military. My mom worked for PSFS (Philadelphia Savings Fund Society) here in the city. I became an Eagle Scout. The Union League had a Boys Life Foundation and invited all of us in for a session. I wrote down on a piece of paper that I wanted to be a stockbroker. When I was 15 I got my first summer job at the Philadelphia Stock Exchange on 1900 Market Street. I never left.


That was my entry point. I worked there every summer until I graduated high school. Then I went to night college full-time at La Salle University while working full-time at the market. I didn’t want to lose the relationships I was building (in the market) and I felt I had the best of both worlds. That really was the base and gave me an understanding of what it meant to be an American. Over time I grew up. I saw the 1987 crash…I was part of that. Growing up in the markets was formative to my understanding of the principles of economic freedom.

I was living on my own in Germantown and I would go to museums, buy posters and frame them. I had Gauguin posters and it was like I was somebody. I had zero money, but that was the beginning of who I wanted to be.”

A Kick-Start on Collecting

Reggie’s background had prepared him to become a collector, but it was a sudden change in the global financial climate that kick-started the process. We dove into that story, and then discussed how his collecting took an equally sudden turn and set him on a course of personal engagement with the visual arts.


“So fast forward. I moved to New York to be with my wife, a doctor and a Temple graduate. She attended medical school on Long Island and I went to live with her. We married in New York. Then lo and behold 2008, nine and ten came, and all of a sudden the world fell apart. No one had money, institutions didn’t have money, and I started to buy art.

So I was buying significant objects that became available at a fraction of the day’s cost. I was buying modern American Masters who happened to be African American artists. (Henry Ossawa) Tanner, Hughie Lee-Smith, Jacob Lawrence, Elizabeth Catlett. You name it, I was buying it.”

I mentioned to Reggie that it was striking that while ‘everything was falling apart’ he had the discipline to know that the crisis was actually a buying opportunity and that he didn’t fall into the cycle of fear that seemed to wash over everyone else.

“I saw it as relative value. The world was falling apart. So here is where my profession kicks in. I’m thinking about an asset class… art. I’m looking at objects that I think are significant and they’re within reach. But even then discipline did come in. I mean I have to tell you the number of objects I should have bought that I didn’t because of the number (price) that was attached to them. Now they’re twenty times what they were in 2010.”

Evolution to Deeper Engagement

As our discussion progressed, Reggie started to stake out what art means to him and how he progressed from simply buying art to a deeper, more personal engagement in the art ecosystem. He began this part of the story by tracing back to his first exposure to art in the black community.

“I think my family always placed an emphasis on identity…who you are. Their homes always had identity art. There was a sculpture of Ira Aldridge, the black Othello. It was passed down to me and I still have it. It was a signifier of who you are in the world. If you look at any black home in the 1960s, there were two photographs on the wall. There was a picture of JFK and a picture of Martin Luther King.

So I started to buy art, but I began to see that they were trophies. And then I met Laura Lee Brown, the owner of 21c Museums. Her message was buy art, but only buy art of living artists; artists that I get to meet. I was like…that’s it! Contemporary art. I wanted to start meeting people and connecting the human side of this equation. So I pivoted… probably 2012.

It was really about understanding who I was and elements of my character; and what I wanted to display to anyone walking into my private spaces. Here I am… a twenty something Wall Streeter, making a little money. I was exposed to really wealthy people and how they were living. And that (art as an expression of self) was what was impressed upon me.

I think anyone who has a deep passion for the arts wants that engagement; wants that expression of who you are as a person. You want to be exposed to storytelling and you want to retell that story through personal objects. And that’s the case for anyone no matter who you are, whether you’re a dog owner, or whether you love plants. You’re creating a space that says who you truly are in your being. Whether you’re having Sunday dinner with your family, or having friends over Friday night, everyone wants to create an environment that welcomes people into their life. So I chose art. But also I love the epicurean outcomes. I love to cook.

And so if you walk into my home, you get art, you get music, you get food. I’ve created this ecosystem where everyone knows that if you come to my house, we’re having a good time. Art, for me, if I look at it now as an older person, is an expression of who I am as an American.”

Merging the roles of American, business leader, Black American, Collector and Patron

“So if I go back to my profession… I was exposed to trading options at the floor of the stock exchange and so understanding free markets. Understanding where buyers and sellers meet; understanding the power of commerce. All those were significant building blocks of not just being identified as a black American, but an American. Then my career progressed and I became a business leader, traveling the world as an American business person.

I was received just like that… as an American business person bringing the best of the United States to them. My business practices took me to Europe, Asia, South America. And there was a power in the reception that I received. I’ve had multiple occurrences where it was profound, impactful, and the reduction on the emphasis of who I am as a Black person. And when I travel with someone now, they know that we’re going to stop in a museum, anywhere around the world.

The museums around the world that are displaying their culture, their story, are hugely impactful. I was in Vilnius, Lithuania during the mid 2000’s and I stopped into a museum. It was a display about victims of the Holocaust (Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights). After the Second World War it had become a KGB prison that closed in 1980, while President Reagan was in office. It was a profound experience… the scholarship on the walls. 200,000 people were killed in this one town. The town was called Paneriai, and I looked at my wrist and was wearing a Panerai (branded) watch. I never wore that watch again. It was because of the scholarship on the walls and the association of what happened in that town. And I think that’s what art does. It connects you. To historical events today and makes you go back in time and think about the history…that’s what art is supposed to do. If you go deeply behind an object and what the artist is trying to present and you understand the artist’s intent, it’s impactful and moving.

And so I think holistically. I’ve become a better person because I now see the world from a larger perspective. I see it through the lens of different art making and my exposure through multiple museums. Whether you’re going through the British Museum, whether you’re going through the various Holocaust museums around the world, they all tell a story. That is impactful to me. That’s how I look at it.”

I commented to Reggie that his perspective was helping me get a richer sense of art on this larger landscape of seeking identity, meaning and expression…and how you use that to enhance the sense of self and the self’s perspective on the world.

Art and 911, symbols that bring people together

“And so I was a participant in 9/11. I was in Tower 1 at the Vista Hotel, working for a local firm. I went to the gym and I had packed a bag the night before saying ‘I’ll take a shower in the office.’ I did that, and then literally, as I was walking down Wall Street to 40 Wall, the plane hit, and I walked in the office and said, ‘What just happened?’ Someone said, we just got hit, we were attacked. Right there, and at that moment the symbol, the symbolism of the (American) flag was a rallying call for all Americans. 23 years ago. So, although the flag is a physical object it is part of who we are as Americans.

That’s what art does. And so whether it’s horses charging up a mountain because we’re about to go to war, there are certain elements in art that bring us together. In times of either joy or crisis, whether we’re celebrating the 4th of July, or whether we’re celebrating the death of someone famous, it’s always a symbol. And so art has the power to bring people together. It has the power to convey a larger message. That’s its uniqueness…what art does, no matter where we are and what the community. That’s how I’ve come to understand it and use it…whether it’s a quote, or whether it’s a body of scholarship, or whether it’s an object.”

Creating Fair Markets

“What I do for a living, and what I’ve been exposed to throughout my entire career, in fact my entire adult life, is a fascination with creating a fair market. That’s where buyer and seller meet; where a company wants to create something, wants to bring a new idea to the market and raise capital to further their business. I run a company that makes markets in various securities markets around the world. We do that by applying capital where buyers and sellers meet.

You know I’m a risk taker. I look at the fundamental relative value of a security. Then I make a bet on future prices; predicting the next price forward. Market making, it really is everything you do in life. When you buy a car or a house, you walk up and say ‘what are you asking’? You make a bid. You negotiate and you set a price, ‘Here’s what I’m willing to pay’. And so every element of my life has been around making the right price, and then thinking about whether I’m getting the best possible deal.

If you look at art, you’re looking at an object. You’re looking at scarcity. You’re looking at the quality, who the artist is, what’s their market and what’s their future market potential. And then you’re looking at demand. You ask ‘Why is that (object) speaking to me?’ If you write a check for any sum greater than a dollar for a piece of art you better be sure why you’re buying it.

Being a patron of the American arts I keep in mind that the creative economy of the United States is 4 percent of the GDP. It’s a big number. You look at the creative economy of Philadelphia and its surrounding areas…I think the number is something like $250 million dollars. The creative economy is bigger than buying objects…it’s everything around it. I’ve met art students or graduates from the various art schools around the city. They’re now furniture restorers, they’re frame makers. It’s amazing how art education has permeated the greater society…but often you don’t understand it or know it. Some guy on Instagram buys a dresser for 50 bucks, refinishes it and sells it for $1,500. That’s economic power. He was trained, he understands aesthetic beauty, and then he flips it. And so for me I think about how the art community fits into the city’s economic engine.”

The Philadelphia Scene – PAFA, PMA and art as an engine driving the economy

This discussion then headed right to the heart of a topic of particular interest to the writer and those of us involved in the visual arts who have made Philadelphia home. With keen interest I listened carefully to the perspective that followed.

“It’s part of the economic engine in the United States, and here in the city of Philadelphia. I want to be closely associated with that. It’s really about helping by being a cog in the wealth building of the city.

Look at the City of Philadelphia now. A lot of the new residents are coming in from New York. People are attracted here by the affordability. Because of that affordability you have a distinct web of creativity, whether it’s through the art scene, the restaurant scene, the music scene, the fashion scene, they’re all connected. I think that (affordability) is one of the bigger engines that has created renewal for the city. And without that art community, what you’re seeing in the life science community couldn’t happen. Philadelphia has a place in the economic cycle between New York and Washington DC. It’s an engine that provides outcomes for certain industries that fuel New York, that fuel DC.

Particularly New York. Go back to the restaurant scene. Culinary artists come in all the time to test new ideas. They do it in Philadelphia, and they go back to New York. Why? Because Philadelphia has very discreet outcomes. You’ll know right away if you’re a winner or a loser. Philadelphia will tell you and will tell you right away. And because of the affordability factor it’s easy to test ideas in this city and then try to scale in other places that are more expensive.

I think that Philadelphia needs to understand that. I know the new Mayor does. She’s trying to reduce some of the burdens around social issues, crime and lifestyle. If she’s successful that will bring more people willing to come in and try out their entrepreneurial ideas. I think understanding the entrepreneurial capability of Philadelphia is pretty important. But, you know, art always is first to cure an area…to bring in the first layer of the economic framework.”

It’s great to have museums, but the art scene is in the neighborhoods

“Being associated with an art school (PAFA), I can see the life cycle of the creative economy. Artists look for the cheapest place possible to do their art. And then they try to bring in patrons. When patrons come in with the money, they also want to patronize the restaurants and the coffee shops. They want to have that cool factor and they want to have that lifestyle, and so it’s self generating.

One of the things that Philadelphia is known for is having a robust art scene, but it’s so disconnected. There’s no concentration in one neighborhood or one district. It’s great to have PMA (Philadelphia Museum of Art), The Barnes, PAFA, the new Calder Museum coming up. But that’s not the art scene. The art scene is in the neighborhoods.”

I wanted Reggie’s perspective on how we grow the grassroots organizations, the collective galleries and the smaller commercial galleries that form a critical layer in Philadelphia’s ecosystem.

Guns or butter

“You know what’s missing is funding to propagate more of that growth. But which one do you choose…guns or butter? Right now we’re choosing guns to solve some of the social pressures. But if you want to really propel it, you’ve got to invest in the butter, which is the art community. Another issue is there’s no one good oracle or body of public information that captures all that happens in the city of Philadelphia on a weekly or routine basis, and describes it so other people can find it. It’s like a patchwork. There’s a business idea. Create something where everyone can describe their artistic output that week so that patrons can find it, and come see it and grow it. (writer’s note..that is actually the mission of the Artblog!).”

I reiterated to Reggie that this fell in line with my own experience living in Philadelphia. There’s a paradox where the city has this very rich art scene, but it’s almost hidden. You have to seek it out or stumble into it. What came next seems like a stream worth following up on at some other time.

Futurism and the Internet increase Philadelphia visibility

“So one of the new terms is futurism. A lot of people point to Philadelphia as being ahead of the curve. Curators tell me, particularly curators in Europe say Philadelphia is the cutting edge. I take that back and ask, ‘Who are they (the artists) and what are the curator’s seeing?’ It’s artists projecting forward. The mission of artists is to document today for the generation of tomorrow. There are artists that are capturing what’s happening today and putting it through a lens that filters what they feel…how they see it. Curators are detecting that and saying that futurism today is being captured by Philadelphia artists. Whether that’s the transformation around energy consumption or the lifecycle of food. I think curators are seeing it and they want to come here to try to unravel it.”

This was an interesting assertion so I pressed on the issue asking how curators get to know about Philadelphia.

“I was with a famous curator out of London, having lunch with him at the Met (in New York). He was talking about Philadelphia and futurism and how it’s cutting edge. He gave me a list of names.

There are a lot of distribution channels; Instagram and on the web. They’re being found. So the power of that (those artists and their work) is being captured by those who are looking for it. Those pathways strengthen the fabric of Philadelphia art and more broadly, the U.S.”

What’s Needed

Without pressing too hard on the subject of ‘futurism’ we moved back to Reggie’s reading of the Philadelphia scene. I described my experience speaking with some of the local grassroots organizations striving to make contributions to their community and the city (see Artblog article ‘Da Vinci Art Alliance at 93, connecting to community, retooling and reaching out’). That led to a discussion of the local donor base.

“I think one of the constraints in Philadelphia is philanthropy. There’s money here, but in New York you have more people willing to donate to the arts. We’re talking about the donor class who support the institutions and the grassroots organizations. It’s somewhat narrow (here)… you don’t have a broad support.

So now we have a gravitation towards Northern Liberties and Fishtown. Whether it’s a Foreman personal museum or the West Collection putting something in, I think you’re seeing a coalescence around this particular area. If that does happen and more grassroots organizations find themselves in those neighborhoods, then perhaps we create a special district. A district where we can redistribute tax money to the grassroots organizations. I mean, that’s what I would do.

Let’s talk about Silver Arts It was founded by the Silversteins who own the World Trade Center Complex. They donated a floor of the World Trade building to create space for art making in New York City. It’s the largest space for that purpose in New York. My role (with Silver Arts) has been to bring in the nonprofit art sensibility. To help them create guardrails about how they apply their gift to the city of New York. Artists struggle to find spaces to create their objects. Right? A growing problem here (in Philadelphia) is finding places that are affordable, where artists have the space to create. What if the city repurposed some of their excess real estate…to give artists access rights? I think that would create a strong foundation. Hand it over to artists for a period of time. That would help pockets of the city stabilize and grow. That’s an interesting idea at the bare minimum.

What if the city created a special tax to underwrite financing to our organizations, especially smaller ones that have budgets less than a million bucks…to provide them a safety net to allow them to continue operations. (writer’s note…this is exactly the idea that emerged in my discussions with Sam Connor at Da Vinci Art Alliance,). That would be forward thinking. But again, with wage tax you have to pick your spots. We have to keep the city competitive. We don’t want to just burden business outcomes.

You’re getting the contrast here, right? I’m a business leader. And so you want to keep the city competitive. You’ve got to find the right balance. But, again, which one do you pick…guns or butter? I think it’s important that you pick guns, invest in the infrastructure and reduce some of the city’s social constraints…violence. Once you find medium ground, invest in the butter to bring up everyone else. You know in my lifetime the poverty rate has never been cracked. Twenty-five percent of the population in Philadelphia is in poverty. We haven’t found a way to reduce that.

When I was on the La Salle (University) Board, I developed a program called Leap. I championed the board to back my idea and led the initial fundraising round.

The program gives high school students access to free college credits. We put it out there, and lo and behold, we have 500 students sign up for the program. They get free college credits and enter La Salle as a sophomore. That addresses affordability and accessibility…it’s free. Study hard and get into the program and then all of a sudden we’ve reduced your time in La Salle because you started in high school. I think that there are interwoven building blocks in all this. How do you create more of my story? How do you empower some 11-year old to have a vision; to empower them; to start when they’re 15. Then create pathways to the next step in life, no matter if you’re going to be a curator, a doctor, a veterinarian or a mechanic.”

Building on the topic of programs and actions the city could take to nurture the arts we dwelt for a few minutes on the new city government.

“You put people in the office, or you sponsor them because you understand their values. Take Speaker of the (Pennsylvania) House, Joanna McClinton…she’s a great friend. She’s also a pastor and a minister so I know exactly who she is. And (you want to support) people who care, who understand balance, and who understand fiscal responsibility. Gilmore (Katherine Gilmore Richardson, Philadelphia Councilmember at Large), she’s become a friend of the business community and she understands the need for practicality. So, when you tie back to the art community you want people who understand the art community, the importance of philanthropy and the importance of fairness in a way that will allow that sector to grow.

I’m really encouraged by the African American Museum of Philadelphia and they’re moving to the old (Family) courthouse on the Parkway. It’d be interesting to see how they evolve. Their challenge is going to be funding, because they’re losing access to a parking lot that generates revenue. It really comes down to revenue. Everyone is scrambling for the same small donor group. You have different tiers, the museums, the galleries, the individual artists, the curators. It’s a system that’s being challenged financially. I think broader support by a growing patrons group will be holistically fruitful for the city, and the city should try to organize that conversation.”

Spheres of Influence – Roles at PAFA and Creative Capital

Our discussion around city government led to Reggie’s engagement as Vice Board Chair at PAFA and then Board Chair at New York City-based Creative Capital. He described how his leadership roles tie together and how that deep engagement has provided depth and meaning.

“I was drawn to PAFA six or seven years ago. I could have aligned myself with any New York museum… I was being cultivated. But PAFA spoke to me because it has a mission around the American (art history) canon. I also wanted to reconnect with Philadelphia. It was important for me to come back and be part of the leadership of an institution in my home city, particularly during a time of change.

It’s tough work, but pretty exciting to see the delivery of art through their lens (at PAFA).
They have a ‘nested’ art making school and a museum. Invariably some changes to the business model are going to occur. With all small colleges there’s a cliff, and that’s been understood. La Salle is also making some (similar) choices.”

Art Education should be affordable

“If you look at PAFA and its 200 plus years of existence, it’s always produced artists. The commitment to educating today’s artists and making today’s art is as true now as it was yesterday. Frankly, the future of art making and what’s about to happen at PAFA is pretty exciting. I think what’s being lost is the perspective of how we educate and support artists today, as well as the artists that will tell our story tomorrow.

Look at Thomas Eakins, look at Barkley Hendricks. You look at all the artists that have come through this institution. It’s pretty powerful to look at the foundation that’s being set.”

We then talked specifically about the cessation of the degree program. Reggie provided his perspective on the economic drivers and student outcomes.

“It (the degree program) was a 13 year experiment. PAFA’s leaders were being pressed by the federal government about costs versus student outcomes… looking through the lens of financial performance. So they made some decisions.

Look at the ecosystem where the market says you must have an MFA in order to be a curator. So you have to strap on $300,000 worth of debt, or some portion of that to have a job that pays $75,000. Just looking at the museum sector, the ecosystem is out of balance. As a responsible parent you can’t burden these children who want to be an artist…it’s not responsible. And so I think that we’re just making a responsible decision around lowering the costs to train. Those who want to get a degree go to an institution that can do so affordably. Then we continue to do what we do best …train artists.

So we’re actually expanding the program so that we can provide greater access.
Now you can come and take a couple courses for $1,500 bucks (each), not $45,000. The teaching continues, but through a certificate program, and you get your degree from Drexel or other places that can deliver it more efficiently. I think this is true for many organizations. For instance, look at the MFA program at the Museum of Fine Arts of Boston. They decoupled and now their education is happening at Tuft’s. It’s about scale. You need scale.

PAFA does very well training artists, particularly in the figurative tradition. Art schools, whether they’re good at sculpture, robust colors, abstraction … students will pick the school they want to be associated with and because of that school’s instructors and the outcomes being delivered.”

Having talked through the issues around PAFA, I wanted to hear more about his leadership at Creative Capital.

“If you look at Silver Arts, Creative Capital, PAFA, there’s an ecosystem that gets woven together. I was interested in, and I’m still interested in being a part of every part of the delivery mechanism. I’m not a part of the commercial activity associated with the system, but I’m highly interested in the art making and the lifecycle of an artist.

Creative Capital has given $50 million of services and real money to 901 artists over the last 24 years. I’m getting to be part of that leadership. We’re just two executive directors away from the founder. My role as Board Chair has been to help pivot the organization to deliver a wider array of services nationally. It’s pretty incredible. I get to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Creative Capital as Board Chair next year. I think that by then we will have had 950 artists. We’ve had a hand (in advancing) some of the most famous artists that are practicing today. And this is essential… Creative Capital provides not only grant money for making art…but professional services. Taxes, legal, any facet that an artist needs help with… Creative Capital provides. I meet artists that have a rich and robust life and they’re fascinated by buying a home, but they don’t know about 529 programs for their children’s college. There’s a gap of financial literacy that needs to be addressed.

So I have the New York entities I’m associated with…that’s Creative Capital and Silver Arts. So I have the art, the tie to the art makers, and the tie to those who instruct the art makers. And then the funding…all tied together. All these different elements, and being in the leadership of all those organizations and creating an ecosystem around that.

It’s good for artists to understand my commitment around it (the whole ecosystem). I’m more of a doer. I wanted to jump in and roll my sleeves up. And then help bring fiscal responsibility and sensibility to the community. I believe I’ve done that, and now get to watch artists being successful, being their friend. It’s made my life richer. It’s provided me opportunities to live in their success, be on their side, and not just write the check. And I think that has made my life purpose and made it more whole…not just the pursuit of money. I like money just like the next guy, and after all I’m a Wall Street guy. But when it comes down to it, art has softened me up and has brought balance because now I see life through a holistic 360 view.”


Reggie thinks in broad terms. He is thinking conceptually about how he fits into the larger American project. The term ‘American exceptionalism’ comes with so much baggage. Certainly we’re a nation of great things and terrible things. But for me (Pete), as someone who’s lived for some years outside the US, and has seen this country both from the inside and outside, it’s fair to say that each country has its form of exceptionalism. Reggie focuses on those strengths that emanate from the particular mix of factors that have created this country.

“I look at my interpretation of an American businessman and the exceptionalism of the United States, and I do not say those words lightly. But I say it because I’ve had so many profound experiences that it takes me to that point… that a lot of the ingenuity, engineering, expertise and the best ideas happen here.

And that takes me into all my engagements, whether it’s Creative Capital or at PAFA. I’m now on the United States Semiquincentennial Commission, where I’m one of the 16 private citizens that are in charge of planning the birthday of the United States, and seeing that event through the lens of what it is to be American. We have so many things in common, yet we have distinct personalities. Right now we’re so far apart in our psychology, but we’re really closer than we think, and art can help weave that back together.

I’ll give you two examples. I gave a speech to four sitting governors of the Bank of Japan. They were hanging on my every word around what I do for a living. They’re the biggest investor in their domestic stock market, and they’re asking questions about the risks they take on and how they can get more households to participate. I said ‘bring in competition like America’. Prices will come down and Japanese households will come in and start to participate in the domestic market. That is an American concept right there..fair markets…free markets and competition that will bring down prices.

And I remember how I was received after that speech. The way the Japanese bow. I shed a tear because here I am, this kid from Philadelphia that is positioned to encourage the Japanese officials to bring in competition, fair pricing and the local investor.

The second (example) was also in Japan. I’m with this older gentleman; he was the Japanese founder of an American insurance affiliate. He’s worth three or four billion (US dollars). He was talking about what America has done for him and how he loves America because America allowed him to become a billionaire. And he said, ‘Because you come from America and I love your personal story…he had read about me before I met him…he said, I will help you because of just who you are’”.

And so I think the average American doesn’t understand the power of what America means, perhaps because they’re too caught up in their daily lives. Too caught up in the news cycles, their curated news, that they don’t really understand the perspective of those who live outside the United States.”

[Writer’s note: Reggie’s statements may not line up with what we read in the media, but as someone who’s spent years living in Asia, it is in fact true that when you speak with people there about this country, while many question what America does, most have a deep, underlying admiration for what America represents.]

Scholarship and the Canon of American Art

Reggie talks about the role of what he calls scholarship. The term refers to how critics, gallerists, curators, museum directors and others write about art objects and how those layers of documentation over time become history.

“We need to bring eyes to the Scholarship associated with art. I want to try to convey the importance of scholarship and the story the object tells. That story and scholarship gets missed if the scholar or the curator doesn’t deliver.

I help provide funding for museums and help them tell those stories. I’ve written checks to Black Founders at the American Revolutionary Museum. I was the first one to write a check when I heard what they were going to do…tell the story of one of the first Black millionaires during the 1800’s, and then talk about the fabric of middle class Black Philadelphia. It’s a pretty powerful story. Having that capability…that capacity to support museums who want to tell the complete, holistic story…it’s important to me. It’s important for my children to see it. And for those who come to my house, there are the objects that say ‘Here’s what I believe in’.

To me, that’s patronage…it’s about championing the American story… the complete story. Championing the untold stories and tying it all together. What it means to be an American and that we’re all in the same boat. The slogan of the United States is ‘e pluribus unum’, out of many, one. We are one.”

Fairness, freedom of speech and expression, and redefining the American canon of art

“You know I have a hand in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts. I advocate with those that are in my circles to do the same. I think it permeates outward. Whether I support a curator to keep up with their scholarship and keep challenging the status quo, or advocating for the curator who’s questioning the role of George Washington. Okay, so he owned slaves…tell the story. Then you tell the complete story in a way that’s accurate and interesting. That helps the greater good and society understand why we’re really here as an American. And that I think is the most powerful element of my influence, it’s championing fairness, championing freedom of speech, freedom of expression. I may disagree, but you’ve got the right to say it.

If we’re able to hear one another speak, I think some of the friction that’s currently in the ecosystem of the United States will be reduced. Civility is being frayed. Let’s have respect for the office, respect for people who’ve donated their lives to the service of this country on both sides of the aisle. I think we’re out of bounds and we need to get back in.

There’s an artist named Titus Kaphar. We’re friends. He looks at objects all the time, and wants to amend the history because of the exclusion of certain communities. What it comes down to is ‘Where art is during that time. Is it the complete story?’ And depending on what moment you’re in, it may not be complete because the artist didn’t allow that to be captured, or the writers and critics didn’t capture it. We’re supposed to ask questions about what’s behind the work. And so, unless we’re asking questions and those questions get answered the reader or their viewer doesn’t understand or won’t capture the entire ecosystem of the story.

So then we look back and we have this incomplete history. We’ve defined our myths and our sense of self in a very incomplete way, sometimes ignoring some of the most interesting and important elements.

I think about my nonprofit governance leadership. I recognize that the art community struggles to define groups of artists that often fall into these micro-labels. I’m pushing back on that. The fabric of the United States is rich and robust and inclusionary. Yet the art community wants to break down artists into tiny little buckets and say ‘You are a Peruvian American making art.’ No. If you’re a naturalized citizen, you’re an American artist. And because we come from many lands, and that’s how the United States was formed, we have to just call it the broad base of the American canon…broad and distinct.

I think that it’s gotten to the place where we need to redefine the American canon of art. And that definition needs to be inclusionary and robust because we all come from different places. The only folks that aren’t from another place are indigenous peoples that were here on the lands when God made the world.”


Spending time with Reggie, we try to get a sense of what this man is about. We must take into account that this is a man who has been formative in how our current capital markets function. Who, in his travels, has an audience with the people that shape the economies of nations and has influenced the arc of policy. And, what’s relevant here…he is someone who now, with the same sense of agency, is helping shape the canon of American art; ensuring that the voices of Black Americans and other ethnic and minorities are not going to be ignored, but rather fully and richly represented. In all this there are so many lessons. Among them, lessons in what it means to live, in what it means to be Black and what it means to be an American.

I will conclude with Reggie’s words.

“The 250th birthday of The United States is coming up. Hopefully everyone will see themselves and their own unique story. But in the end we’re all pledging allegiance to one flag, to what we believe in as an American. We’re pledging allegiance to the documents that form us and keep us together. The rule of law that keeps us within boundaries is being challenged.

I may not agree with your story, but I will champion you to tell your story. I do that so that I get better, I learn, I understand your perspective, and we can have a conversation, a debate. But at the end we’ll have a beer.

I think that national discourse needs to soften, so that we come together and listen and know what will make each other better. That’s my work, and I hope I can run until I’m on empty. It feels as though I have another 40 years to go. And I have no idea where my involvement in the arts will take me. But I know that it’ll be a part of what I will continue to do and if I can justify my life by saying that I’ve done something in a way that directly benefits more than just my family, it feels as though I’ve delivered something that’s of value to the greater good.”

More about Reggie Browne at his LinkedIn page, PAFA, Creative Capital.
Read more by Pete Sparber.