James Lewis and his team had to deal with financial constraints in the museum’s formative years but were aided by the fact that there weren’t very many galleries and art museums in which artists of color could have their pieces displayed. These circumstances allowed the James E. Lewis Museum of Art to become the first institution to promote African-American artists in Maryland. The museum’s reputation grew and as the years wore on, works by prominent artists including Mel Edwards, Sam Gilliam and Lamidi Fakeye were displayed at the museum. Lewis’ efforts culminated in a comprehensive collection from contributors such as The Smithsonian Institute and The Romare Bearden Foundation as well as a number of pieces from West African nations like Guinea and Nigeria.
Lewis advocated on behalf of the college to amass a collection of significance, one that would both preserve African-American works of the past and broaden the horizons of the students at the historically black college. The museum also has art outreach programs for grade school students in the city. Programs that it hopes introduces young minds to the world of art and perhaps in the process, unearths a precocious talent that will positively impact the African-American art community in the way James E. Lewis did.