Collector Spotlight: Arthur Lewis On His Inspirations and Taking Artists to New Heights

The United Talent Agency director recently partnered with Delta to offer a Miami Art Week experience at 30,000 feet.

Arthur Lewis’ love and appreciation for art have blurred the line between his vocation and his avocations. As director of United Talent Agency’s Fine Arts division—UTA being one of the largest talent agencies in Hollywood—Lewis has become a fixture in the Los Angeles art community thanks to having brought some of the most in-demand rising artists to Beverly Hills. And as a passionate art collector, Lewis has transformed his home into his own personal gallery, with works by artists such as Elizabeth Catlett and Amoako Boafo.

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A man in a long black satin coat gestures to the ceiling while holding a microphone
Arthur Lewis at the Delta open-air gallery party in Miami. Sansho Scott/BFA.com

It was no surprise to find Lewis, who serves 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, partnering with Delta to showcase six rising Miami-born artists—Olivia Pedigo, Derek Abella, Emmett Moore, Jillian Mayer and Elliot and Erick Jiméne—at 30,000 feet in a one-of-a-kind immersive exhibition/experience and in a beautiful open-air gallery during one of the biggest domestic art weekends of the year.

When Delta approached him to pitch a gallery in the friendly skies, Lewis was thrilled. “I got the concept idea and I’m like, ‘This is brilliant!’,” he told Observer. “I loved that they focused on artists from Miami. It’s so special. It’s so good.” With help from UTA, 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.”

A woman in a bright blue coat stands in front of a sculpture constructed of long metal pieces
Jillian Mayer. Sansho Scott/BFA.com

At Miami Art Week, the in-the-air experience was first. Delta organized an invitation-only art-themed charter flight from JFK to Miami with the artists for members of the press, influencers and other notable people (Yvonne Orj and Tasha Smith among them). The selected artists’ works were projected onto the overhead bins during the flight and, in lieu of traditional in-flight entertainment, Lewis took passengers on a guided tour through each artist’s biography. When the plane touched down in Miami, Delta moved the celebration to the open-air gallery where the featured sculptural works created from decommissioned plane parts were installed.

A man sits next to a sculpture made of what looks to be an airplane door
Emmett Moore. Sansho Scott/BFA.com

Lewis’ partnership with Delta was born out of his well-known and longstanding passion for the arts and for mentoring emerging artists. He was born in New Orleans, which he refers to as culturally rich and says fueled his future art patronage. “Museums, art festivals, music, all of it—it’s just a culturally rich city,” he reflected. “My Saturdays were spent going to museums, going to art shows, and going to festivals. It’s just in your blood when you’re from there.”

The imprint of the city’s culture was part of what inspired Lewis to start his collection, which is primarily centered on Black and women artists. He keeps an open mind when it comes to genre, collecting pieces that range in genre and scope from minimalist markings and experimental video to sculpture and figurative paintings by artists including Genevieve Gaignard, Kerry James Marshall and Toyin Ojih Odutola.

A woman in a see-through shirt stands next to a sculpture made of what look to be plane propellers
Olivia Pedigo. Sansho Scott/BFA.com

As a collector, Lewis looks for pieces 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 those things all come together, it’s something that I want in my collection for sure.”

When asked what advice he’d give fledgling 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 purchased—then the art becomes part of their narrative. I remember the first artwork I ever purchased was from a PBS auction, and it hung with me for a very long time. That’s part of my story as a collector.”

At the same time, Lewis acknowledges that the art world is ever-changing, and he wants his collection to reflect that. The fact that there’s always something new to explore and to get excited about is a big part of what he loves about collecting art. In that vein, he recently installed a quilt room in his home because they’re his latest obsession. His collection includes works by Qualeasha Woods, Christopher Myers and Phyllis Stevens—some of which will be shown at 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 also mentors 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 really, it’s about getting people comfortable with who you are. I always advise artists to have one-on-one conversations first. Talk to people about why you create, and that opens up a door to the rest of the conversation.”

Lewis also tries to help the artists he mentors keep an open mind: “Shift is okay. The most important thing is having perspective about who you are and who you want to be in the art world. What do you want to say? What do you want to leave people with? What’s the thing you want them to think about when they walk away from your work?”

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 of these platforms are giving attention to artists who normally wouldn’t receive it,” he concluded. “I think it’s kind of a special time to be an artist.”

Collector Spotlight: Arthur Lewis On His Inspirations and Taking Artists to New Heights