Heights artist hopes to open Artful new studios and gallery
If Shannon Morris gets her way, Cleveland Heights could become home to a new art gallery, studio and retail store. “The idea has always been in the back of my mind,” said Morris, who is 42 and lives on Kingston Road in Cleveland Heights. “The bottom line is that I want to provide affordable studio space on the East Side of Cleveland.”
According to a recent study, nearly 20 percent of all of the artists in Cuyahoga County live in Cleveland Heights. “I want to create a space where people feel comfortable, an environment where people can create and collaborate,” Morris said. To accomplish her goal, Morris has formed a new organization called Artful.
Morris grew up in Cleveland Heights. After graduating from high school, she moved to New York City, where she studied photography at New York University. After getting her degree in 1995, she remained in New York until 2002, when she returned to Cleveland Heights. She opened a shop on Lee Road called There’s No Such Thing as a Non-Artist. Located in the space currently occupied by Simply Charming, Morris’ shop included a studio, as well as places where she could hold art classes. “My goal was to make people feel creative,” Morris said. “It was definitely a precursor to Artful.”
Her Lee Road store closed in 2007, and Morris continued to focus on art. In addition to being a photographer, she also creates furniture, lamps and jewelry, generally made from recycled materials. “Between the time the store closed and now, I have been making custom pieces for people. I basically do whatever comes to me,” she said.
This past February, Morris decided to focus on her idea of opening a larger gallery and studio space in Cleveland Heights, and she posted her idea on Facebook. More than 200 people liked her idea in the first week, and one of her friends, Brady Dindia, came on board as Artful’s development director. “Our mission is to provide a space that is unique, vibrant and attractive to area residents and businesses,” Morris said. “When you lease a space, we’ll have a database full of resources to help you with your art. We also want to teach younger people how to do what they want to do.”
In addition to the gallery, studios and store, Artful will focus on educational programs, where students, interns and artists can learn aspects of art as a business. Morris also hopes to present other programs, such as yoga classes, community art lessons and a series called Heights Nights, which would be a coordinated evening of open studios and galleries with a shuttle that would rotate between Artful, the Cedar Lee Business District and Coventry Village.
Morris would love to have Artful open its space in the Medusa Building, located at the intersection of Lee Road and Monticello Boulevard. Built in 1959, The Medusa Building was originally home to the Medusa Portland Cement Company. “I have been in love with the building since I was a little girl,” Morris said. The building has been vacant for a few years, and was recently purchased by Motorcars, the Cleveland Heights-based car dealership. Morris has not yet struck a deal with Motorcars to lease the building, but Trevor Gile, general sales manager of Motorcars Honda, said, “I think it would be a great thing for the community, and we’d love to see it happen.”
Before leasing any space, Morris is seeking a fiscal agent that can extend its nonprofit status to Artful so that Morris’ organization can start raising funds for the project. Morris is currently talking to FutureHeights, the organization that publishes the Heights Observer, and Heights Arts about the possibility.
"FutureHeights is working to facilitate the process and connect Artful to the right people,” said Deanna Bremer Fisher, the executive director of FutureHeights. “Cleveland Heights is home to the arts, and I would love to see an Artful space in our city. We are doing what we can to help Artful find the right place."
Rachel Bernstein, executive director of Heights Arts, said her organization does not yet have any official relationship with Artful, but is “very interested and supportive of their efforts." Bernstein added, "Providing opportunities for artists to work in the Heights is an exciting development. Our entire community could benefit from this idea, and it would complement Heights Arts's current programming nicely."
Once Morris has a fiscal agent, she can start negotiating Artful’s lease and then move forward with the project.
Morris, who is married and has two children, has always loved Cleveland Heights. “When I moved back to Cleveland from New York, I refused to move anywhere but Cleveland Heights,” she said. “I was adamant. I love the energy here, and I love the diversity. It’s also very walkable, and the people are unique.”
James Henke, a Cleveland Heights resident, was a writer and editor at Rolling Stone magazine for 15 years. He is also the author of several books, including biographies of Jim Morrison, John Lennon and Bob Marley.