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Who We Are


At Memphis Black Arts Alliance, “we tell the story” of the past, present and future of Memphis’ Black Arts community in an effort to build a unified voice between artists and arts organizations to share that story to future generations.

Together, we believe that MBAA, along with its affiliates will build a cultural future that will bear witness to the artistic, economic, and educational contributions that black artists make to Memphis, the American South, and the world.



Our Mission


The Memphis Black Arts Alliance, Inc. is dedicated to improving the quality of life and economic wellbeing of Greater Memphis through the preservation, celebration and advancement of African American arts, literature, and culture. At Memphis Black Arts Alliance, we envision imaginations ignited through African American arts and culture radiating from Historic Beale Street, moving through Soulsville and across Memphis, the Mid-South, and beyond inspiring justice, equity, and sustainable community development. We inspire, educate, and engage artists, arts organizations, and audiences towards the creation of just and equitable communities through creative forward-thinking and shared cultural experiences.

In addition to our work to engage audiences, intergenerational artists and students of the arts, MBAA has a grand vision is to provide online and in-person support for developing and established artists and arts organizations including:

  • Memphis Black Arts Directory & Resource Guide
  • Leadership & Artistic development for arts administrators & emerging artists
  • Small grants for working artists & incubating arts organizations
  • Scholarships for youth arts training
  • Community engagement events
  • Professional development and technical assistance for artists and arts organization


At Memphis Black Arts Alliance, we envision imaginations ignited through African American arts and culture radiating from Soulsville across Memphis and the Mid-South, inspiring justice, equity, and sustainable community development.

We acknowledge that African American art and culture are living, breathing, and ever-evolving, not only to be preserved and remembered but to be created every day. As such, by valuing the present lived experiences of African Americans, we value and vision forward.

  • African America Cultural Heritage and Afro-Futurism
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Economic and Cultural Sustainability
  • Intergenerational Exchanges
  • Justice and Equity
  • Youth Leadership and Voices
  • Inspiration, Dedication and Drive

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Our History

Bennie Nelson West

MBAA Founder

Supporting Black Art

In the late 70’s, Bennie Nelson West saw a great need in the Memphis Black Arts Community after the demise of Beale Street and STAX Records. The artists were displaced and had nowhere to go that supported the creative process.

So, in 1982, Bennie formed the Memphis Black Arts Alliance, a consortium of 19 arts groups and approximately 35 Individual artists including Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, George Hunt, Naomi Moody and more. They purchased an old one-truck Fire House that sits on .52 acres of land directly in the Gateway to South Memphis (Soulsville USA). The opening ceremony was spectacular including guest appearances and charges from the Legendary Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee!


Since 1982

Memphis Black Arts Alliance has...

Notable Highlights

  • First professionally staffed, year-round, non-profit cultural center in Tennessee
  • First cultural arts agency to showcase Grammy-winning Sweet Honey in the Rock in Memphis
  • More than 300 artists, singers, actors, dancers, musicians, and writers employed since 1982
  • Educational classes, camps, and workshops for individuals of all age 6 to 80+ years
  • Exhibits of established and emerging local, regional and national visual artists

  • In August 1998 MBAA acquired title to the historic FireHouse #12 after expiration of a 13-year lease and completed its third renovation in 2004.
  • More than 300,000 as visitors, students, audience, supporters and volunteers from throughout the Greater Memphis region to performances offered by MBAA Artists residencies
  • Nearly 3,000 students, ages 2 to 82, of diverse ethnic backgrounds and abilities have discovered and refined their talents in music, dance, theater, visual and literary arts thanks to enrollment in MBAA FireHouse Community Arts Academy (since 1996)