Elma Lewis Center director named

By Andy Tiedemann
July 19, 2013

Kelly Bates

Kelly Bates, Esq., has been named founding executive director of the Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement, Learning and Research.

Emerson College announced today that Kelly Bates, Esq. has been appointed as the founding executive director of the Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement, Learning, and Research, effective in September 2013.

“Our nation looks to its colleges and universities to help solve society’s most pressing problems,” said Emerson President Lee Pelton. “The Elma Lewis Center, under Kelly’s direction, will provide the strategic guidance, intellectual compass, and financial resources needed to support the civic engagement activities of Emerson’s students, faculty, and staff,” he said.

Since 2007, Bates has been the executive director of Access Strategies Fund, the nonprofit/nonpartisan charitable foundation that seeks to empower underserved communities to access democracy in Massachusetts through grant funding.

During her tenure, the Access Strategies Fund raised more than $1 million to support the participation of women, people of color, and low-income and immigrant communities in the 2010 United States Census and the 2011 Massachusetts redistricting process. This resulted in a more accurate census count, millions of additional dollars for public services, fairer and equitable electoral districts, and an engaged nonprofit civic sector.

For more than two decades, Bates has managed community-based organizations in Boston that were focused on empowering communities, especially those that included youth, young adults, low-income families, women, and people of color. She has extensive relationships with community-based nonprofits, local foundations, city and state officials in Boston, national philanthropic partners and civic engagement circles.

She has served as a diversity and inclusion consultant, trainer, and legal expert for universities, colleges, foundations, nonprofits, government agencies, and corporations.

“Kelly brings twenty years of experience in professional roles where she has worked to uplift individuals and communities who are often underserved or marginalized,” said Sylvia Spears, vice president for diversity and inclusion, who will oversee the Elma Lewis Center.  “Her commitment to civic action and Boston’s richly diverse communities is apparent in all of her work. We are very fortunate to have someone of Kelly's caliber leading the Elma Lewis Center and the College's civic engagement initiative,” she said.

At Emerson, Bates will work with faculty, students, and staff and with partners beyond our campus to help shape the College’s civic engagement initiatives that will be housed within the Elma Lewis Center, whose purpose is to:

  • Develop a culture of civic mindedness and civic action at Emerson;
  • Bring our distinct expertise in the arts and communication to bear in serving the public good through school and community partnerships;
  • Measure the effectiveness of Emerson’s civic action activities and contribute to the dissemination of knowledge regarding the ways in which creative expression might serve the common good through civic engagement;
  • Provide a platform for civil discourse about issues of social consequence; and
  • Develop the necessary infrastructure to support the growth of civic engagement at Emerson.

The Center is named for Elma Lewis '43, a nationally recognized arts educator who was among the first people to be awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. Ms. Lewis, who passed away in 2004, was a mentor to generations of Boston’s young dance, opera, and theater students at the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts, which she founded in 1950 in a Roxbury apartment.

“In my first year, I will be asking the Emerson community, how can we create a major and unforgettable civic imprint on our campus and in Boston? What do we want our moral and civic legacy to be?” said Bates.“ I hope that the Center will attract students, faculty, staff, and even alumni leaders who will work together to help answer these questions and generate exciting action plans,” she said.

Bates’ career spans politics, public policy, nonprofit leadership, philanthropy, business development, and human services. She has been deeply involved in grassroots lobbying, community action, coalition building, and political education.

Bates has served as a legislative advocate for the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, lobbying at the state level on behalf of human services, health care, and housing policy issues. She also served as the executive director of the Women’s State-Wide Legislative Network, leading the coalition that passed the law requiring employers to establish policies and training programs to prevent sexual harassment.

A regular political commentator on WGBH/89.7FM, Boston’s public radio station, Bates delivers expert analyses of federal, state, and local elections, as well as opinion pieces on a variety of social and political topics.

Bates graduated magna cum laude from the State University of New York (SUNY Albany) and Boston University Law School in 1994.  She has served as an adjunct professor at Northeastern Law School and Tufts University.

Bates is a resident of Boston. She lives in Roslindale.

In a joint email message to the Emerson community, President Pelton and Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Sylvia Spears thanked the following individuals for their hard work and tireless dedication during the search: Donna Heiland, Suzanne Hinton, Tamera Marko, David Dower, Angela Cooke-Jackson, Phillip Glenn, CT Milot, and Alayne Fiore.

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