Passions Project: Penny Brown

Art collector and philanthropist

Photographed at her Gold Coast home, Chicago

Walking into art collector and philanthropist Penny Brown’s home is like walking into an art gallery. Her collection is eclectic and vast, and Brown is an engaging tour guide, pointing out her personal connections to each piece or to each artist.

For Brown, art is personal. “Collecting art is something I do for me,” she says. Every piece of art has a story that reveals a bit about Brown, whether it’s a story about people she has met or adventures she has had on her way to falling in love with an artist or artwork.

She also has a passion for helping others. “My main passion is helping kids who wouldn’t otherwise be able to go to school, go to school,” Brown says. She supports scholarships at several schools, sits on university boards and is an adviser for a camp for intercity kids. In this coronavirus era, she says supporting students and charitable organizations is more important than ever.

Brown recognizes the creativity and possibility of others. “I collect art because when I see a white wall, I see a white wall,” she says. “When an artist sees a white wall, they see possibility. I respect that creative impulse.”

She adds, “Art to me encompasses everything: history, literature, story, color, narrative, non-narrative. You can stand in front of a painting for hours and talk about it. You can take away a story that you didn’t even know was there.”

Photos and Words by Heidi Wagner

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