It is with both sadness and gratitude that we pay tribute to Claudine Brown, who passed away on March 17 after a lengthy battle with cancer. Claudine was a true pioneer in the arts and social justice field, and will be missed by all those whom she inspired.
Claudine was the long standing Director of the Nathan Cummings Foundation’s Arts and Culture Program from 1995 to 2010. During her 15-year tenure, she was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the arts and social justice field, not just at NCF, but also nationally with organizations such as Grantmakers in the Arts. For more than a decade, she supported the achievements of community-based arts practitioners, brokered relationships between artists and activists, and encouraged the growth and transformation of this field. She worked with her colleagues within the Foundation and outside its walls to break down silos, and build coalitions amongst even the most unlikely of allies. The result was and is a more robust and informed community.
Both prior to joining NCF and subsequent to her tenure, Claudine worked closely with the Smithsonian Institution. She served as Director of the National African American Museum Project from 1990 to 1995 then returned to the Smithsonian in 2010, where she served as the Assistant Secretary for Education and Access. In this role, she played an integral part defining the Institution’s overall education program.
“Claudine took a big step for arts and social justice when she came on board with the Foundation. The arts were a legacy that Nathan Cummings and his children appreciated and supported, and Claudine helped shape NCF’s path forward in arts grantmaking,” said Ruth Cummings, Incoming NCF Board Chair.
“Once the Foundation identified its mission to work towards fairness, diversity and community, it was Claudine who repositioned the arts in an activist role that met our goals. She was not only intellectually passionate in doing this work and taking on leadership, but she loved the full range of popular culture and what we could learn from design thinking. A fond memory is seeing her set up an array of art materials for us to work with during one of our retreats. Claudine’s craft was in having a much larger vision for the arts as well as its practice. Her sons inherited her love of arts and culture, and we know how proud she always was of them.
“Claudine’s work lives on with great promise. We were so fortunate to have her among NCF's great staff in arts and culture!”
We have lost an amazing person, a wonderful colleague, and a visionary leader in the arts world. Our thoughts and prayers are with Claudine’s large extended family and her many beloved friends.