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Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts records

 Collection
Identifier: M043

Scope and Content Note

The collection documents the founding, staffing, and management activities of the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts; the school's long history of financial difficulties; and other national and local organizations related to African American culture in theater, music, dance, and the visual arts.

A highlight of the collection is the material relating to the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts' teaching and promotion of African American arts and artistic expression through its educational programs in art, dance, drama, music, and costuming, and a number of other programs the school organized such as Playhouse in the Park and MCI Norfolk Prison Theatre program.

The collection spans 1954-1992.  A series of unexplained arson fires at the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts occurred in the 1970s and 1980s.  Most of the records from the 1970s have survived; however, some records from the 1980s did not.

Visual materials and materials documenting the school's fund-raising activities, financial operations, and public relations are found in the National Center of Afro-American Artists records (M42).

Dates

  • 1954-1992

Creator

Conditions Governing Access:

Student and personnel records (box 2, folders 4, 34 and boxes 3-11) are closed for 75 years from the date of their creation.

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use:

Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be discussed with the University Archivist.

Historical Note

Founded by Elma Ina Lewis in 1950, the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts was established to meet the social, cultural, and artistic needs of Boston's African American community.  Lewis believed in the importance of fostering the arts not only in the local Roxbury-Dorchester community but also in the African American community at large, and her philosophy was to instill racial pride while teaching.  The Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts became a model and an inspiration for other schools across the country.  Several alumni founded arts schools, or became teachers at the school or other educational institutions, continuing the tradition.

The Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts offered education in art, dance, drama, music, and costuming to pre-school children, school-aged children, and adults. On opening day in 1950, 25 students enrolled.  Elma Lewis purchased the Capezio Ballet Shop in Dorchester to provide revenue for student scholarships.  In 1966 the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts received its first federal grant and was incorporated as a non-profit organization.  That same year Lewis established the Playhouse in the Park program, a summer theater in Franklin Park that featured Duke Ellington and other celebrities.  In 1968 the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts moved to Temple Mishkan Tefila and its school in Roxbury, which had been donated by the Jewish community.  The Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts established the Massachusetts Correctional Institute Norfolk Prison Theatre program in 1970, training inmates in all aspects of theater production including stage direction, stage design, sound, lighting, music, and acting.  Three years later the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts became a subsidiary of the National Center of Afro-American Artists.  In the 1970s and 1980s a series of arson fires caused $2 million in damages.  The school had a long history of financial difficulties and was placed under legal receivership from 1975 to 1977.  It closed in 1990.

Extent

14.35 cubic feet (15 containers, 1 flat file folder)

Overview

Founded by Elma Lewis in 1950, the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts was established to meet the social, cultural, and artistic needs of Boston's African American community. Lewis's goal was to foster the arts, not only in the local Roxbury-Dorchester community, but also in the African American community at large. The Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts offered education in art, dance, drama, music, and costuming to pre-school children, school-aged children and adults.

Overview

The collection documents the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts' founding, administration, and programming. Administrative responsibilities were assumed by the National Center of Afro-American Artists after its founding in 1968. Also included are materials documenting other national and local organizations related to African American culture in theater, music, dance, and the visual arts.

System of Arrangement:

Organized into 4 series: 1. Administration; 2. Teaching Files; 3. Programs and Events, and 4. Correspondence.

Physical Location

69/3-4, FF4/D5

Bibliography

  • Background: Historical Summaries, Box 12 
  • Elma Ina Lewis papers (M38), 75th Anniversary, Box 11
Title
Finding aid for the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts Records
Author
Finding aid prepared by Michelle Maing
Date
August 1999
Language of description
Description is in English.
Sponsor
This collection was processed with partial funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

Repository Details

Part of the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections Repository

Contact:
92 Snell Library
Northeastern University
360 Huntington Avenue
Boston MA 02115 US