Elma lewis school of fine arts
A Retrospective (1950 - 1985)

Brief History


Elma Lewis was a Roxbury native and prominent arts educator in America that sought to teach dance as form of artistic expression that provided a method for building character and foster respect. In 1950, Ms. Lewis founded and opened the doors to The Elma Lewis School and began teaching classes in the original school building- a six-bedroom apartment on Waumbeck Street in Roxbury. The Waumbeck Street school eventually grew to include other courses like drama, music, costuming, and a pre-school class. In the 60’s, the school’s attendance outgrew the Waumbeck location and moved to Blue Hill, resulting in an enrollment of a total of 250 students, ten times the original class size.

Following the first move, the school proceeded to change locations within Roxbury and Dorchester an additional three times. While the different school building’s may have come and gone- Ms. Lewis remained persistent in her endeavours to nurture and showcase the talents of Roxbury’s african american community. Her dedication to the social service and the arts was recognised and admired by students and their parents, garnering tons of support and resulted in most of the school’s finances coming from the Roxbury’s black community. In fact, until July 1966, when the school recieved a $3,500 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the school was entirely funded by black community members. The school eventually closed in 1985 at it’s location on Blue Hill Avenue following an arson fire.

Despite having closed its doors for good, the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts, along with it’s students and staff, should be remembered for its whole-hearted devotion to the artistic expression and development of black youth.