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Elma Lewis, diversity groups honored

The founding executive director of Emerson’s recently opened Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement, Learning and Research was on hand for an unveiling of two new display cases in the Little Building, including one honoring the work of Elma Lewis ’43.

“I’m tremendously excited to be a part of honoring the legacy of Elma Lewis,” said Kelly Bates, who began working as the founding executive director this month. “She helped so many children in Boston gain access to the arts, and was a champion of creating community change. We will build off her legacy and promote civic engagement that will continue her life’s work.”


Elma Lewis display

At the unveiling of the Elma Lewis display case in the Little Building on September 11, 2013, are Kelly Bates, founding executive director of the Elma Lewis Center, Emerson President Lee Pelton and Sylvia Spears, vice president of diversity and inclusion. (Photo by Dan O'Brien)

Lewis was a nationally recognized arts educator and among the first people awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. Before her death in 2004, Lewis 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.


Elma Lewis

Elma Lewis '43 (Archive Photo)

On Wednesday, September 11, Emerson dedicated a display case on the first floor of the Little Building to the history of Lewis, created with artifacts, photos and documents compiled by College Archivist Christina Zamon and SImmons College student intern Maggie Phelan, who worked in Emerson's Archives office.


Elma Lewis display

Spears, Bates and Pelton unveiling the Elma Lewis display case. (Photo by Dan O'Brien)

“While Elma may not be physically present here with us, she has metaphorically handed the baton to Kelly to continue her good work,” said Sylvia Spears, vice president of diversity and inclusion. 

The other display case honored Emerson’s student organizations dedicated to diversity and inclusion. Student members of Asian Students for Intercultural Awareness (ASIA), Amigos and Emerson’s Black Organization with Natural Interests (EBONI) were among those in attendance.


Elma Lewis display

Student organization members at the display case dedicated to diversity- and inclusion-minded groups. From left, Daniel LeMar '15 of ASIA, Ashley Bailey '14 of EBONI, Laura Wu '15 of ASIA, Andrea Garza '15 of Amigos, and Armando Vazquez '14 of Amigos. (Photo by Dan O'Brien)

“Diversity, inclusion and excellence are critical to the well being of a democratic function,” Emerson President Lee Pelton told the crowd at the event. “They are also critical to any notion that we might have to academic excellence.”

The Elma Lewis Center recently opened on the 10th floor of the Walker Building. Its purpose is to develop a culture of civic mindedness and civic action at Emerson; bring the College’s distinct expertise in arts and communication to bear in serving the public good through school and community partnerships; provide a platform for civil discourse on issues of social consequence; and develop infrastructure to support growth of civic engagement at Emerson, among other goals.


Diversity display

A close-up shot of the new display case honoring diversity and inclusion at Emerson. (Photo by Dan O'Brien)


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