In Conversation with Jason Brown, Founder of the Inglewood Centre for Contemporary Art, Nashville, TN

Published July 3rd 2024
Interview By Aaron Smith

The Inglewood Centre For Contemporary Art - Photo Courtesy of Jason Brown

Some people fantasize about living in a museum. Former restaurant manager and London cabbie Jason Brown has realized this dream by creating a museum inside his own East Nashville home. Brown’s Inglewood Center for Contemporary Art (ICCA) is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. Open by appointment, with Brown its always enthusiastic, sanguine docent, the ICCA is a gem of paintings, prints, sculpture, murals, and letters from the past 40 years of British art as well as amazing miscellanea from the last 250 years of Europe more generally. Artists represented include Tracey Emin, Guerrilla Girls, Gavin Turk, Peter Liversidge, and Gilbert & George, as well as artists of the American South such as Jim Sherraden. Miscellanies include a letter from an accountant to a friend worrying about the tense state of things in Paris on July 14, 1789.

Here Brown and I discuss his inspiration for the ICCA, how he collects and curates, and what it’s like to live in a house filled with art. 

Tell us about the Inglewood Centre for Contemporary Art? What is it and how did it start? 
This year commemorates 10 years of the Inglewood Centre For Contemporary Art, which I know sounds very grand but it’s actually the words painted on the wall outside our home in East Nashville by muralist, Andee Rudloff. It started as a joke between me and my wife, Lori, as a nod to British artist Bob and Roberta Smith who had turned his garden shed into the Leytonstone Centre for Contemporary Art. Lori felt my collection was making her house feel more like a museum (or maybe a house of horrors) as I exhibited Sean Scully’s old shoes, Gavin Turk’s cans of artists piss, and several other contemporary and unusual art pieces.  

I was determined to live with the artwork all around us and to use as much space as my wife would allow and have everything on show. We obviously live in Inglewood, hence the name. I always kept collecting and just built on it.

Were you involved in the arts before the Inglewood Centre? 
I started my career in London managing restaurants and very soon started showing original art and as time went by the artwork became more important to me than the restaurants. I then decided I needed a complete change of direction and after 4 long and painful years of ‘Knowledge’ became a London Taxi Driver. This was the opportunity to incorporate art into the cab with my first major project called Cab Gallery ( in 1999 and after 3 years of showing the ever-changing artwork to passengers and parking outside Private Views at galleries I held a Retrospective and parked the Cab inside a gallery just around the corner of Tate Modern. Then that progressed into Chelsea Cab which I ran with the Director of Exhibitions, Donald Smith at Chelsea Space at the Chelsea College of Arts. 

London Cab Driver 59128 - Photo Courtesy of Jason Brown

I’ve always been involved with art but never for profit. I felt it would spoil the fun. For me the love of collecting other people’s artistic expressions and having personal letters and manuscripts gives me the complete freedom to enjoy it. I’ve never sold anything apart from the big move here so I don’t need a website but just have Instagram @brehman.collection to keep people updated. Art has always been part of my life and my interest, and the collection has grown to be rather eclectic with the displays in a constant state of change. The possibility of a new discovery excites me. I often take the time to just sit and stare at the walls or look through the books of letters and manuscripts.

I’m very proud to be a member of the Chelsea Arts Club in London and that grounds you. Spending time with some of the greatest artists makes you know your place and not cross the line. If I meet a famous actor or musician, I take it in my stride, but when I meet an established well known visual artist I can get starstruck. 

You’ve mentioned the Inglewood Centre for Contemporary Art. But what is the Brehman Collection?

Well, I’ve always been a collector of arts, letters and manuscripts but had to sell about 80% of the framed artworks of the Brehman Collection due to its sheer size when I moved here. The name “Brehman” was in honour of my great-grandfather’s name, which became Brown as he went through passport control when he arrived in London from Lithuania. I was quite young when I started the collection and felt I needed a name under which I could hide behind and be taken seriously by London Galleries. The name just worked for me and stuck.

Coming from London, were you aware of artists based in the South? 

One of the first introductions to Nashville art was through Hatch Show Print. I have a love of printmaking and was mesmerized by the work of Hatch. They have an amazing history and are original prints and affordable – anyone can own a Hatch. They have a ridiculously small hardworking team and when I was introduced to them it was run by Jim Sherraden.

When I arrived in Nashville my first major project was to take Hatch Show Print over to London for an exhibition back at Chelsea Space. It was also a first for Hatch. We flew Jim Sherraden over to give interviews and workshops. That was a lot of fun! It was fascinating how many printmakers had a start at Hatch and then went on to run their own businesses. That gave me the idea for ‘Hatch-ed’ at the Belcourt Theatre. Then, of course, I had my first Mail Art Show (Reinvention) which led to many introductions to local Artists and Galleries.

Living Room - Photo Courtesy of Jason Brown

Talk about curating versus collecting. 

Let’s start with the artist versus collector. Most of the art world or art media is from either the artist or gallery perspective – rarely from that of the collector and when they are mentioned it is always to do with the collectors dealing with blue-chip artworks and hardly ever bread and butter collectors like myself.

Curating is for a purpose. My projects have been curated. I loved being surrounded by art and felt that I wanted to share that with others. Being a control freak, the best way to do that is to put on a show. I didn’t study art – I don’t draw, paint or sculpt – but I have been able to find ways to showcase the art of others in a meaningful way that hopefully brought new eyes to their works. A fine example was my first ever show in 2013 in Nashville, ‘Letters from the Brehman Collection’ which was an experimental reading by some fascinating people of some chosen letters from the collection. My only personal indulgence is creating the ‘Hanging Garden’ which fills the basketball goal in the back garden of the Inglewood Centre with a change of artwork every year. The current one is called ‘The Watcher’. He’s a model of an old British Gentleman with a grey moustache wearing a bowler hat looking through binoculars spying out across the Atlantic. I put that up for last year’s coronation of King Charles III.

Why do you collect letters and manuscripts – what’s their connection to art? 

As I started to collect (I think with Pre-Raphaelite etchings) I noticed some artist letters for sale and thought, wait a minute, you could buy letters from the same artists discussing their work? So that led me down that rabbit hole. The letters are endlessly fascinating. Most of them are not themes or ideas you would even think about. They just turn up and when they do you have to decide quickly if you are going to buy it. Every letter has its own unique story. It’s about finding pieces of history like Gertrude Stein inviting artists round to her Parisian Salon, or Picasso on holiday with his group of fascinating friends in the South of France, or General Winfield Scott granting permission to Albert Bierstadt to cross enemy lines to create his sweeping landscapes or postcards by Rene Magritte sending a sketch to a friend of an idea for a painting. I found the original contract written in 1864 to create a Mezzotint from the painting ‘Ophelia’ by Sir John Everett Millais (now in Tate Britain) in a well-known second-hand bookstore in New York…it was hidden amongst a pile of old manuscripts! Sorry I get a little carried away with talking about them.

Jason Brown and René Magritte - Scan the QR code for an interactive video describing the details of the postcard

Cab Gallery was your first large scale curated project. What did you learn from that experience and how did it influence future projects? 

That was back in 1999. Gallery owners view projects differently than most artists and collectors – they are trying to find ways to make money from the art. I was adamant about Cab Gallery being a free experience. So, I wrote letters (this was pre-text and as email was just beginning), directly to the artists, not an agent or a lawyer. When I could pique the interest of an artist, I could usually get them to respond. Not always a yes, but many wrote me back and those letters are now in the collection. Artists are always looking for ways to be creative and love to be challenged. Cab Gallery was something new and different and took an everyday experience (riding in a cab) and turned it into something unexpected for whoever was riding.  

It was never announced to the unsuspecting passenger they were in Cab Gallery. It was just up to them whether they would take it or leave it. But at the end of their journey everybody would get a Cab Gallery receipt with all the details. When it started I had no idea it would last so long and receive the attention it did. After 3 years, I was offered a gallery to hold a retrospective and I took it. It taught me to trust my instincts and just go with it.

I’ve contributed works to several of your Mail Art projects. How did you get involved in Mail Art and why? 

I was fairly new to Nashville and I had known about Mail Art for quite a while in London. In fact, one of my key artists in Cab Gallery, Peter Liversidge, was a prolific Mail Artist. So, this seemed the natural place to start. The project was called ‘Reinvention’ (which was fairly apt) and it appealed to artists and non-artists alike. I was frankly amazed that it ended up with 460 artworks from 350 artists in 31 countries. I decided that everything would be on display which meant I had to use 6 venues. Then the complete project was donated to the Special Collections at Vanderbilt University Library. I had some fascinating artists involved with projects at the private view including one from Mr. Aaron Smith!

I went on to do four more Mail Art projects.

Dining Room - Photo Courtesy of Jason Brown

Talk about the idea of “Art for All.” 

That’s my favourite mantra from British artists Gilbert & Geoge. I feel art enriches and betters our lives and should be accessible and available and a tangible thing that everyone, regardless of economic status, can surround themselves with. So almost every year I offer a free giveaway to friends and artists. There have been badges, T-Shirts, stickers which led to the Sticker Book (a collection of the photographs where people were showing me where they ‘stuck’ it) and so on.

The ‘Love Letters’ were interesting. I had a series of letters between Claude and Margaret based in the rust belt in the mid 1920’s that I offered out on Instagram to anybody who was interested and would send back their interpretation of the letter. This was during Covid, and everybody was looking for something to do from home. That led to the Luggage Tags in two forms. The first was Black on White saying ‘Adventure is out there’ using artists Jeremy Deller’s Wrapping paper as inserts saying ‘Fuck 2020’ in various languages and the second being ‘Adventure is still out there’ in White on Black in 2022 with the insert being pieces from a vintage travel puzzle.

How are you celebrating 10 years of the Inglewood Centre of Contemporary Art? 

You hear of artists’ books but never collectors’ books. This is my way of celebrating everything that’s happened through the Inglewood Centre over the last 10 years and EVERY artist is listed. Every book is unique from a series of 100 and will include things like badges, ballons, polaroids, QR codes, and photos of other items to make the book an art experience. Each book is unique…and of course, collectable!

The Watcher - Photo Courtesy of Jason Brown

Aaron Smith is the author of five books of poetry, most recently _Stop Lying_ (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2023). He lives in Massachusetts and is an associate professor of creative writing at Lesley University.