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Member Profile: Ann and David Brownlee

Eastern State is pleased to welcome two very special people to The Danielle Rice Legacy Circle — Ann and David Brownlee. Supporters and advocates since the museum’s founding, it would be hard to find people with deeper and more diverse connections to the site.

In fact, David was part of the group that convinced Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode to preserve the then-crumbling ruin in 1988: “I was in the room when all of us combined our voices in a very quiet, constructive way to speak about this building, which was of such extraordinary importance.” Those discreet but powerful voices prevailed, and Eastern State was saved from becoming a shopping center or condominiums.

Ann remembers volunteering when the site was first opened to the public and “the enormous curiosity” of early visitors, who sometimes waited 45 minutes in summer heat to enter. It wasn’t just a long wait; visitors had to sign a waiver and don a hard hat: “My most vivid memory,” Ann recounts, “is of the large boxes of borrowed hard hats outside the entrance and having to make sure people did not go in without one on.”

Decades later, Ann and David are now longtime Eastern State members and donors who recently decided to make a gift in their will and become members of The Danielle Rice Legacy Circle. Ann says, “We both agreed strongly that Eastern State’s current mission of interpreting the legacy of American criminal justice reform was something we wanted to help ensure continues.”

Photo of Ann and David Brownlee

David and Ann know well Eastern State’s importance as an architectural milestone. David, recently retired after four decades as a professor of art history at the University of Pennsylvania, says “It’s an extraordinarily influential and powerful design. Both in the physical sense, but also a building that embodied an extraordinary idea about humanity and human society – that it could be made better, that human beings had the ability to repair.” Ann, an archaeologist who will soon retire from a long career as a curator at the Penn Museum, was fascinated by Eastern State as well: “I like ruins,” she says, smiling. “I understand ruins.”

Soon after the site was saved, the Brownlees joined a small group of volunteers managing grants and wrangling others to help. Ann still has handmade pins she bought from the original gift shop. David says: “The demand was large, the volunteers few, the resources non-existent.”

In recent years, the Brownlees have employed Eastern State as a classroom, jointly teaching an “Introduction to Museums” course that includes a site visit. Ann says: “We talk a lot about audience and programming, and Eastern State is just such a wonderful example of that and also of the diversity of voices we now hear.”

There is one more special factor in their decision to join The Danielle Rice Legacy Circle: “We knew and loved Danielle,” David says, citing her transformative role as head of education at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “We are glad to be associated with a project that has her name.”

Eastern State is proud to be associated with David and Ann, and deeply grateful for their decision to include the site in their estate planning, a decision they say is sparked by a desire to ensure Eastern State has needed future funding. “What we established at Eastern State in those early days is what we still see working here,” David sums up. “A community of intelligent and engaged people. We have confidence in them to continue to innovate.”

If you, like Ann and David, have decided to include Eastern State in your will and would like to become a member of The Danielle Rice Legacy Circle, or have other questions about giving to Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, please contact Joel Kelly, Senior Director of Advancement at [email protected] or (215) 236-5111 x218.

2017 American Aliance of Museums Excellence in Exhibitions Overall Winner