The Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement, Learning, and Research
Who was Elma Lewis?
"When I leave here, the body of my work will be all these wonderful people out there in the world, doing great things."
Elma Ina Lewis
(1921 - 2004, Emerson ’43)
Born in Boston to parents who had emigrated from the West Indies, Elma Ina Lewis financed her education by acting in local theater productions, graduating from Emerson in 1943, and earning a Masters in Education from Boston University the following year. Ms. Lewis went on to teach drama, dance, and speech therapy.
- In 1950, Lewis opened the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts in Roxbury to promote arts and communication education for Boston’s African American youth.
- In 1966, Lewis founded Playhouse in the Park in Boston’s Franklin Park, offering free summer performances that were revived in recent years continuing her work and her legacy.
- In 1968, Lewis founded the National Center of Afro-American Artists (NCAAA), which brought students from the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts to tour in stage productions on a national level.
- Lewis was one of the first women to receive a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” in 1981
After a lifetime of service, Elma Lewis passed away on New Year’s Day, 2004. She was the recipient of over 400 awards and 28 honorary degrees. Her former students continue in her footsteps all over the United States, many of them working in the performing arts in Boston.
Ms. Lewis was committed to providing artistic opportunity for young Black children in Roxbury and Greater Boston, and to improving the world around her, one person at a time.
The Elma Lewis Center coordinates the Elma Lewis Legacy Circle, family and friends of Elma Lewis who provide guidance and support for the continued growth and development of the Elma Lewis Center. The Legacy Circle supports the leadership of the Center in preserving Elma Lewis’ enduring legacy as part of the Center’s core mission and purpose.
View a portrait of Elma Lewis at the NCAAA.