Arthur Lewis’ love and appreciation for art has blurred the line between his vocation and his passions. As Director of Fine Arts at United Talent Agency – UTA is one of Hollywood’s largest talent agencies – Lewis has become an integral part of the Los Angeles art community thanks to bringing in some of the most sought-after up-and-coming artists in beverly hills. And as an avid art collector, Lewis has turned his home into his personal gallery with works by artists such as Elizabeth Catlett and Amoako Boafo.
It was no surprise to find Lewis serving on the boards of several major cultural institutions. in Miami for Art Basel and Miami Art Week, but this year he went above and beyond by partnering with Delta to showcase six up-and-coming Miami-born artists—Olivia Pedigo, Derek Abella, Emmett Moore, Gillian Mayer, and Elliott and Eric Jimen – at 30,000 feet in a one-of-a-kind immersive exhibition/experience and in a beautiful outdoor gallery during one of the biggest local art weekends of the year.
When Delta approached him about putting a gallery in the friendly skies, Louis was thrilled. “I got the idea for the concept and I was like, ‘This is brilliant!'” he told the Observer. “I liked that they focused on Miami artists. It’s so special. It’s so nice.” With UTA’s help, he gave Delta a substantial list of Miami artists who might be a good fit for the project. “I think they knew what they wanted to do and how they wanted to bring these gallery shows to life.”
At Miami Art Week, the aerial experience was first. Delta organized an invitation-only art-themed charter flight from JFK to Miami featuring the artists for members of the press, influencers and other notables (Yvonne Orge and Tasha Smith among them). The works of the selected artists were projected onto the bins above the seats during the flight, and instead of the traditional in-flight entertainment, Lewis took passengers on a guided tour of each artist’s biography. When the plane landed in Miami, Delta moved the celebration to the outdoor gallery where the featured sculptural works created from decommissioned aircraft parts were installed.
Louis’ partnership with Delta was born out of his well-known and long-standing passion for the arts and mentoring emerging artists. He was born in New Orleans, which he calls culturally rich and says nurtured his future patronage of the arts. “Museums, art festivals, music, all of it – it’s just a culturally rich city,” he thought. “My Saturdays were spent in museums, exhibitions and festivals. It’s just in your blood once you’re there.”
The imprint of the city’s culture was part of what inspired Louis to start his collection, which focuses primarily on black and female artists. It maintains an open-mindedness when it comes to genre, collecting works that range in genre and scope from minimalist marks and experimental video to sculptures and figurative paintings by artists including Genevieve Gainard, Kerry James Marshall and Toyin Ojih Odutola.
As a collector, Lewis seeks out works by artists who are proud to tell their stories. “I want to love the work and I want to be excited about it, but I also want to understand the artist’s process and how they got there and why they create what they create,” he explained. “If all these things come together, it’s something I definitely want in my collection.”
When asked what advice he would give to budding collectors, Lewis advises buying what you love: “You can do all the homework in the world, but I want people to love living with things they’ve bought – then the art becomes part of their narrative. I remember the first piece of art I ever bought was from a PBS auction and it stuck with me for a very long time. This is part of my history as a collector.
At the same time, Lewis recognizes that the art world is constantly changing, and he wants his collection to reflect that. The fact that there is always something new to explore and get excited about is a big part of what he loves about collecting art. In that spirit, he recently installed a room of quilts in his home because they are his latest obsession. His collection includes works by Qualeasha Woods, Christopher Myers and Phyllis Stevens – some of which will be shown in an upcoming exhibition at Spelman College in Atlanta.
Given his love of art and collecting and his role at UTA, it should come as no surprise that Lewis is also a mentor to young artists. “Sometimes it’s hard to tell your own story and do it in a way that doesn’t come across as arrogant or self-indulgent,” he said. “But it’s really about making people feel comfortable with who you are. I always advise artists to have private conversations first. Talk to people about why you create and that opens the door to the rest of the conversation.”
Lewis also tries to help the artists he mentors keep an open mind: “Change is good. The most important thing is to have perspective on who you are and who you want to be in the art world. What do you mean? What do you want to leave people with? What’s the one thing you want them to think about when they leave your job?’
He has a tendency to smile whenever he talks about shining a light on emerging artists. He believes that as the world continues to flatten and open up, metaphorically speaking, the art world will become increasingly democratized.
“All these platforms are giving attention to artists who wouldn’t normally get it,” he concluded. “I think it’s a special time to be an artist.”