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The National Center of Afro-American Artists (NCAAA) is a private, not-for-profit institution committed to preserving and fostering the cultural arts heritage of black peoples worldwide through arts teaching, and the presentation of professional works in all fine arts disciplines.

Located in Boston, it was founded in 1968 by Dr. Elma Lewis who remained its Artistic Director until her passing. Edmund Barry Gaither serves as NCAAA’s Director and Curator of its Museum division.

Responding to needs identified at a conference of black creative intellectuals convened at Columbia College in Chicago, Illinois, in 1967, Lewis conceived the NCAAA. It subsumed the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts (ELSFA) which she had launched in 1950, thereby creating a teaching, performing and visual arts institution which would emphasize artistic excellence and the contribution of the arts to wholesome human development. Lewis intended the organization to be locally, nationally and internationally active in bringing black heritage in the arts to the world. More NCAAA History…

In the late 1970s, the ELSFA underwent a period of great financial stress resulting in staff and service reductions, and a transfer of facilities ownership from the ELSFA to the NCAAA. Compounding the problems was a fire which interrupted operations—except for the Museum which was housed elsewhere–at the turn of the 1980s. Use of the school building ended altogether after a second fire in 1984. Nevertheless, the Museum and Black Musical Productions remain vital divisions of the NCAAA.

Under present plans, the NCAAA hopes to return to the scale and scope of its earlier operations, since its original mission remains compelling.

The NCAAA remains the largest independent black cultural arts institution in New England. It has forged an unbroken record of public service in the celebration of the world heritage of black people since 1968. Commitment to excellence in the arts and wholesome cultural development remain its hallmark.

By the early 1970’s, the NCAAA/ELSFA offered professional and teaching programs in dance, music, theater, visual arts, sewing and costuming, and technical theater, as well as continuing the operation of the Elma Lewis Playhouse-in-the-Park that had begun in 1967. By the mid-1970s, in addition to serving more than 400 6-12 year- old students, and 100 teen and adult students annually, the NCAAA/ELSFA taught an additional 100 students from community schools and nearly as many prisoners in Norfolk Correctional Institution. Serving these students was a staff of over 125 full and part-time teachers, including such distinguished artists as noted Nigerian drummer Michael Olatunji, Talley Beatty, Billy Wilson and A.B. Spellman.

Reclaiming the site of an abandoned firehouse in Franklin Park, Boston’s largest park, the NCAAA/ELSFA produced free (1967-1978) nightly performances from July 4th through Labor Day. Traditionally, Michael Olatunji opened the season. Each season, Duke Ellington was featured. Other greats presented over the years include: Max Roach, Billy Taylor, Odetta and the Boston Pops Orchestra. The model of the Elma Lewis Playhouse-in-the-Park inspired the city of Boston to begin its popular outdoor performance series dubbed “Summerthing”.

Beginning in 1971, the NCAAA presented an annual spring extravaganza titled “Celebrate!” Consisting of an art exhibition in City Hall, an original show of music, dance and theater at the Music Hall (now Wang Center), and a cabaret in its own facilities, “Celebrate!” events focused on aspects of black cultural and social history combining teaching, entertainment and fund raising ambitions into one dynamic program series. Celebrate brought many great cultural and artistic figures to Boston, including Mary Lou Williams, Eubie Blake, Muhammad Ali, Thomas Dorsey, Vinette Carroll and Bea Richards.

The Museum of the NCAAA, founded in 1969, developed in close cooperation with the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston, and in addition to presentations in its own space, has co-presented nine exhibitions with the MFA. Prominent among these were “Afro-American Artists: New York and Boston” (1970); “Reflective Moments: Lois Mailou Jones” (1973); “Afro-American Artists on Afro-America” (1975); “Contemporary Art of Senegal (1980)”; “Dialogue: John Wilson/ Joseph Norman” (1994) and “View from the Upper Room: The Art of John Biggers” (1997).

The Museum of the NCAAA, relocated to its own building in 1980, has organized and presented a rich schedule of exhibitions since 1969, including several which have toured nationally, such as “Our Commonwealth: Our Collections: Works from Historically Black Colleges and Universities”. Other shows, such as “Invisible Man: Blacks in Post Colonial Europe”, travelled internationally.

In 1995, the Museum opened “Aspelta: A Nubian King’s Burial Chamber”, featuring the world’s only scale recreation of a Nubian tomb interior supported by more than 50 2,600 year-old objects. Exceeding 4,000 works, the Museum’s collection includes a 17th-century illuminated Ethiopian manuscript of the Miracles of Mary, as well as art by Charles White, Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence, and others. Since its beginning in 1969, the Museum has been directed by Edmund Barry Gaither.

In the late 1970s, the ELSFA underwent a period of great financial stress resulting in staff and service reductions, and a transfer of facilities ownership from the ELSFA to the NCAAA. Compounding the problems was a fire which interrupted operations—except for the Museum which was housed elsewhere–at the turn of the 1980s. Use of the school building ended altogether after a second fire in 1984. Nevertheless, the Museum and Black Musical Productions remain vital divisions of the NCAAA.

Under present plans, the NCAAA hopes to return to the scale and scope of its earlier operations, since its original mission remains compelling.

The NCAAA remains the largest independent black cultural arts institution in New England. It has forged an unbroken record of public service in the celebration of the world heritage of black people since 1968. Commitment to excellence in the arts and wholesome cultural development remain its hallmark.