About MBAA

Brief History

Founded in 1982, Memphis Black Arts Alliance, Inc. (MBAA) is headquartered in the FireHouse Community Arts Center, a historic 1910 city fire station located at 985 South Bellevue Boulevard. Through the creative leadership and energies of its founder, Bennie Nelson West, executive director emeritus, MBAA brings to the community performing, literary and visual artists, arts groups.

Since its inception the founding purpose has been to: preserve and promote African-American arts and heritage; sharing information and resources; increasing artistic and economic self-sufficiency; and advocating increased community support for the arts.

Through partnership with the City of Memphis, Shelby County Government, federal and private support, the FireHouse Community Arts Center has been renovated to provide a dance studio, art gallery, piano lab, and private music instruction studio and business office. The historic fire station has been converted into an inviting and nurturing multi-disciplinary arts center and grounds.


The Memphis Black Arts Alliance is dedicated to improving the quality of life and economic wellbeing of Greater Memphis through the preservation, celebration and advancement of African American arts, culture, and literature. We inspire, educate and engage artists and audiences towards the creation of just and equitable communities through forward-thinking experiences.


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


  • 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)