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 at Emerson by acting in local theater productions, graduating in 1943, followed a year later with a Masters in Education from Boston University. After completing her education, Elma Lewis taught speech therapy at Boston-area hospitals and health centers.
- In 1950, Elma 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, she 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, Elma Lewis founded the National Center of Afro-American Artists, which brought students from the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts to tour in stage productions on a national level.
- She 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 Years 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 the city of Boston.
Ms. Lewis was committed to the deliverance of 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 will advance the values that were paramount to Elma Lewis – access to the arts for young people, teaching and learning, community engagement, diversity and inclusion, and social justice.