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Boston Arts Academy gets $1m in donations

Reggie (left) and Donna Lewis on May 10, 1993. The Celtics star’s widow donated $500,000 to the Boston Arts Academy to establish the school’s first fitness center, which will be named in honor of Lewis.
Reggie (left) and Donna Lewis on May 10, 1993. The Celtics star’s widow donated $500,000 to the Boston Arts Academy to establish the school’s first fitness center, which will be named in honor of Lewis.(Frank O'Brien/Globe Staff)

The foundation that supports the Boston Arts Academy, the city’s public high school for visual and performing arts, announced Thursday that it had received two donations totalling $1 million.

The gifts, $500,000 each, are part of new five-year campaign to raise $30 million to support the school.

One comes from Donna Harris-Lewis, the widow of Celtics star Reggie Lewis, and the Lewis family to establish the school’s first fitness center. It will be named in honor of Lewis, who died in 1993.

The other gift, from an anonymous donor, will help expand the school’s health and wellness program.

“There are many rewards of giving, but none as great as impacting the life of a young person,” said Denella Clark, the foundation’s president.

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Donna Harris-Lewis (foreground center) donated $500,000 to the Boston Arts Academy.
Donna Harris-Lewis (foreground center) donated $500,000 to the Boston Arts Academy. (David L Ryan/Globe Staff)

The academy, established in 1998, is one of the city’s most diverse high schools. It draws students from nearly every neighborhood and graduates many who become the first in their families to attend college.

That student profile resonates with Harris-Lewis, who recalled her and her late husband’s backgrounds.

“Either one of us could’ve been a young student attending this type of school, coming from inner cities,” said Harris-Lewis, who serves as a foundation board member.

“It’s so wonderful. Reggie came to Boston when he was seventeen, both of us actually. Boston is our adopted hometown,” she said. Both attended Northeastern University.

Harris-Lewis said she felt a fitness center would be a positive addition in the lives of students dedicating themselves to the arts.

Mayor Marty Walsh shook hands with Donna Harris-Lewis (left) and Reggie Lewis Jr.
Mayor Marty Walsh shook hands with Donna Harris-Lewis (left) and Reggie Lewis Jr.(David L Ryan/Globe Staff)

“Most trained artists have the best athletic body in the world. It’s all intertwined, the body and mind, arts, athletics, and academics,” she said.

Clark said the other $500,000 will be used to add a clinician and expand wellness services.

“When they come from middle school, they come with purple hair, many are transitioning, a large amount of students are LGBT,” Clark said. “They were bullied for who they were.”

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The donations come at a critical time for the school, which last year broke ground on a $125 million building in the Fenway.

For years, the school, located in a former warehouse in the Fenway on Ipswich Street, struggled to provide adequate rehearsal space, dance studios, and other facilities necessary for an arts curriculum. The school has temporarily moved to Dorchester during the construction.

“We’re extremely grateful,” Clark said. “Boston Arts Academy and the foundation have never launched a campaign, and so to have angels, if you will, make this kind of commitment and investment in our students, it’s just gratifying.”

Harris-Lewis said she knew that Reggie Lewis would support her decision if he was still around. (He died of heart failure at age 27.)

“To be able to help other young children to be able to get a quality public school education and also be able to pursue their dreams in the arts — I think [Reggie] would be ecstatic . . . ”


Annika Hom can be reached at annika.hom@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.