Richard Duarte Brown, artist, mentor and pillar of the arts community

Standing in the middle of famed entertainer Aminah Robinson’s kitchen, Richard Duarte Brown finds himself unable to argue when it’s suggested he hang out.

“It’s a moment. It’s really a moment”, says the mixed media artist.

Never mind that the 64-year-old Whitehall resident is filling out paperwork for Medicare and talking to his wife, Pat, about retirement plans.

While Brown has been a mainstay in the central Ohio arts community for decades, particularly in his work with underserved youth, he has received accolades in recent months that he never expected.

Not only is Brown the current artist-in-residence of Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson and painting new works in the newly remodeled space that now sits in the late artist’s Near East Side home, but last month Brown received a Governor’s Award for the Arts.

Brown recently won a Governor's Award for the Arts.

Although he’s an accomplished artist known for his brightly colored portraits and unconventional use of everyday objects (hubcaps and toilet seats as canvases, for example), Brown said it meant a little more to be recognized in the Arts Education category than simply for his own. artwork.

Artist in residence:Artist and educator Richard Duarte Brown named to 2022 Aminah Robinson Fellowship Program

And to have all that success, no matter when, in Columbus — where he’s been at home since he was 13 — is all the more enjoyable.

In elementary school, he told his family members that he wanted to be an artist. They pushed his dreams away saying he couldn’t support a family doing this. Or he wasn’t creative enough. Or he would have to move somewhere like New York to make it big.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “I feel like I’m in New York and having my New York moment, but I don’t have to go anywhere.”

Decades later, he has made art his life’s work with his wife of 28 years, two adult children and two grandchildren nearby.

Brown works inside the studio of the late Aminah Robinson's home.

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“He put a lot of work and time into it and he didn’t give up,” Pat Brown said. “It’s exciting that all of these things are happening at the same time. He’s been rejected many times, so it’s good to see him honored.

Of course, winning awards and selling gallery exhibits has never been what art is for Brown.

He explains art as something he has to do – a passion for which he was born.

He didn’t allow a less than ideal upbringing, rejection letters, busy family life, or hours spent helping others perfect their craft to get in the way of his own artistic journey.

“I always make time for art,” Brown said. “It’s like paying a bill. You do it or you get fired. You make art or you waste time doing it.

Many artists have influenced Brown

Arriving on the African-American art scene in Columbus, Brown had some of the best mentors a young, black artist in inner-city Columbus could ask for.

Not only did he hang out with his older brother’s friends at Columbus College of Art & Design, but he also worked at art supply stores frequented by Smoky Brown and others. He met Elijah Pierce at the woodcarver’s barber shop, worked with his residence namesake Robinson, and sold pieces from the King Arts Complex and Kojo Kamau’s non-profit ACE (Art for Community Expression) gallery.

Even today, he remembers the advice given to him by these artists.

Brown says the late Aminah Robinson once told him:

Although Robinson died in 2015 at the age of 75, Brown still conjures up images of her intense eyes telling her to “do your art – speak through arguments, questions, survival, uncertainty… just make your art”.

Smoky Brown had similar words for him.

“Use your gifts, Ricky,” Brown said. “Ricky – that’s what Smoky called me.”

And it’s fortunate that Brown surrounded himself with these talents, because he could have easily let the noise around him and the shadow of his past thwart his goals.

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Brown had a difficult upbringing in Atlantic City, New Jersey, not knowing her father until later in life and moving from one family member to another, and even sometimes staying in foster homes.

However, he was introduced to Picasso when he was 6 years old and created art out of anything he could find – chicken bones, plaster, glue, rice.

As a young teenager, he moved to Columbus to live with an older brother, but soon after dropped out of high school and began drinking alcohol.

He said that although the addiction began to set in, his desire to create art proved too strong. He started painting more and drinking less. He has participated in competitions at galleries, the Ohio State Fair and elsewhere. (He earned a GED in 1977.)

“I’m an artist and nobody had to tell me that,” Brown said. “I didn’t wait for them to tell me to paint.”

His need to create drove him, but it may have been his desire to ensure that future generations have what they need – brushes, a meal, a shoulder to cry on – that shaped Brown into as an artist.

“I turned to where the kids come in,” he said. “I want to give them what I never had. Mentoring – we do this naturally if we love what we do.

Paintings by Richard Duarte Brown

Mentoring comes naturally

Jackie Calderone said Brown is as comfortable teaching young people around a canvas as he is around a table.

As the founding director of Transit Arts, a nonprofit that offers free art classes, and someone who worked alongside Brown in the community for three decades, she said few compare to the artist in his ability to establish relationships with others.

“He creates art and comes from nothing – from the streets of New Jersey,” Calderone said. “It is deeply connected to some of the situations that our teenagers face. It relates to everyone we engage with, whether downtown or in the suburbs. No one is labeled and that means a lot to him.

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Calderone said she doesn’t know how some of the city’s youth arts programs would have grown or survived without Brown’s contribution.

He has a knack for assessing a student’s needs, she continued. As an educator, he practiced “trauma-informed care” long before it was a buzzword.

And often it comes in the form of a meal.

Calderone said she has fond memories of weekend youth retreats in Hocking Hills and that Brown always made pancakes and sausages for the group.

“Duarte was a bonus dad — making breakfast for them, hiking with them, really digging into the stories and helping them work on healing,” Calderone said. “It’s constant feeding in all of those ways… It’s the big feeder.”

Students in Christina Clumm’s class at Berne Union High School in Fairfield County often ask when Brown will be teaching there next. Some students who aren’t even in his art class will stop on the days he paints.

As the school’s artist-in-residence—sponsored by the Ohio Arts Council—Brown visits the school once a week. He also works with pupils from schools in the city of Whitehall on the same scheme, which he has been part of for over five years.

Clumm, who met Brown when they were both older adult students at Dominican University in Ohio (Brown graduated at age 50), knew that teenagers would resonate with his exceptional works but also with the how he talks to children.

“I knew he would be authentic with his story,” Clumm said. “He gives a different perception of an artist in general.”

He’s always generous with his time, Clumm continued, and finds a way to connect with students who are having the most difficulty.

“He’ll stay later and say ‘I have some paint left on my palette, let me stay until he’s gone,'” Clumm said. “He’s ready to show his flaws – ‘Oh, hey, I screwed up on that.'”

Brown said he just wanted to “pass the brush” – one of his favorite sayings.

Instill your love of art in others

One day in 2015, Donte Woods-Spikes walked into the Central Community House on the Near East Side to an excited Brown pushing brushes into his hands and asking him to pose for a portrait.

This would become known as “Pass the brush”.

“His life – everything he’s done – he’s handing over to the next generation,” said Woods-Spikes, a Driving Park photographer. “The fact that he used my face for that, I didn’t take lightly.”

Woods-Spikes, 31, said anyone painted by Brown is positively impacted, especially young people.

“From my perspective, the paintings were ‘Mona Lisa’ or things from so long ago or things that I didn’t have access to or weren’t interested in,” Woods-Spikes said. “He paints children. It paints someone who has just opened a new business. He paints the homeless – everyone in whom he has seen something.

For this reason, Woods-Spikes nominated Brown for the Governor’s Award. Winning the award speaks to the larger mission of her painting, Brown said.

“Somewhere in this work is the deepest cry and desire to give black leadership a voice and to get to a point where we don’t have to say black is just leadership,” said Brown. “Where is the black leadership? I try to paint this.

A colorful array of paintbrushes sits inside the studio where Richard Duarte Brown works.

enjoy the moment

Back at Aminah’s, Brown works on a portrait of a family member.

He said he cherished this moment in his career and had an inspiring space to work in for the next few months. His residency ends in April.

However, he said he doesn’t need residency or recognition to continue making art: “The studio is a state of mind.”

Still, it doesn’t hurt to have the reminders of all the wonderful, generous black artists who came before him, surrounding him in a place like Aminah’s house at least for a little while.

“People still want the formula and there isn’t,” Brown said. “It’s exactly like Aminah said, ‘Make art’ and what Smoky said, ‘Use your gifts’.”

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