MacArthur Fellows Program

Elma Lewis

Arts Educator | Class of June 1981

Arts Educator
Roxbury, Massachusetts
60 at time of award
January 1, 2004
Published June 1, 1981

Elma Lewis was an educator and the founder and artistic director of the Boston-based, National Center for Afro-American Artists.

Lewis promoted and integrated black culture into American life through the National Center for Afro-American Artists and its teaching division, the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts, which she founded in 1950.  She produced works of dance, music, and drama, and influenced other institutions to expand their perspectives and interests to include African-American culture.  She also operated the Elma Lewis Playhouse in the Park, a summer theater where musicians played to capacity audiences, and designed a curriculum on black culture for use in public schools.

Lewis was the artistic director of the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts and was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  Prior to founding the school, she worked as a director and choreographer for the Robert Gould Shaw House Chorus, as a fine arts worker at the Harriet Tubman House, and as a speech therapy instructor at the Habit Clinic of Boston.  In 1983, she was awarded the Presidential Medal for the Arts. 

Lewis received a B.L.I. (1943) from Emerson College and a M.Ed. (1944) from Boston University.

Last updated January 1, 2005.

Select News Coverage of Elma Lewis
October 18, 2013
"Elma Lewis' Long Legacy of High Standards"
The Berkeley Beacon
Elma Lewis, 1981 MacArthur Fellow
August 23, 1988
"Elma Lewis on Roxbury Improvement"
Elma Lewis , 1981 MacArthur Fellow
January 24, 1980
"Elma Lewis"
Elma Lewis , 1981 MacArthur Fellow
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