Under the artful eye: Meet AVA's new executive director

Ricardo C. Morris is the new director of the Association for Visual Arts. (Photograph by Angela Lewis Foster)
Ricardo C. Morris is the new director of the Association for Visual Arts. (Photograph by Angela Lewis Foster)

Meet Ricardo Morris

In addition to AVA’s “FRESH 2016 Emerging Artist” exhibit, this year’s Gallery Hop offers a chance to meet Morris. So on Saturday, Sept. 10, be sure to make AVA one of your Hop stops. The citywide annual event invites locals to check out galleries and artist studios — 24 this year — through open house events from 2-8 p.m. Visit avarts.org/gallery-hop for a map and more.

Name: Ricardo Morris

Age: 55 on Dec. 14

Hometown: Chattanooga

Occupation: AVA's new executive director

Ricardo, or Ric as he introduces himself, Morris sees art as an opportunity. Growing up in Chattanooga's Alton Park area, it was an opportunity to channel his energy into something positive. Upon graduating from The Howard School, it offered the opportunity to go to college, his music even paying his way to Tennessee State University through a scholarship, something that likely wouldn't have been possible without the guiding hand of his band director.

As a teacher at Hixson High School, art comprised the bulk of Morris' own lesson plans as he sought to help students explore the world that had been shown to him. And while pursuing a masters at Yale, he used play-writing as an opportunity to mentor disadvantaged youth by founding the Dwight/Edgewood Project.

Now, with an already established background in fine arts administration, he hopes to use his new position with Chattanooga's Association for Visual Arts to open up a world of opportunities here at home, and to help change the way the community interacts with art - and with each other.

* I'm the first person to graduate college in my family and the only one at this point who's ever gone to college.

* I don't fit any mold. I am genuinely from the hood, but I'm also genuinely from the Ivy League. It's an odd place to be where I am, but I feel genuine in all those settings because I've had so many life experiences. My biggest fear is that people won't get that.

* I hope they'll look at my qualifications and experience, and not my color.

* I think art transforms, transcends, and a lot of times, translates beyond language.

* I tell people the arts saved my life. If I hadn't been in band practice with Howard's famous marching band till the wee hours of the morning, who knows what I would've gotten into? Being able to participate in the arts was a way I was able to get through my not-so-great home life.

* Art being taken out of schools is a great opportunity for us. [AVA's mission is] to bring arts to the community. To me, the community is neighborhoods, so it's not just having people come to the gallery. I see going to school, rec centers to spread art to all the community, not just a few communities.

* I still run into people who don't know what AVA is. I want to eradicate that.

* As I try to move [AVA's] mission forward, that could mean lots of things.

* I want to make it so that "nonprofit" doesn't mean "no profit." In terms of giving, you've got to find multiple ways of making income so that you're sustainable. AVA's been around for 20-plus years, so that's definitely a testament to being sustainable. Could we do some things differently? Probably; I haven't gotten too far into it yet. "Can we improve" will be at the top of my list.

* It takes organization, it takes structure, it takes ingenuity to know how to move forward. It takes working with people to get the best out of them. It takes knowing your audience and building and developing your audience. It's not limiting what people take away from it.

* You know what they say: If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life. And I absolutely love this.

* This is the Arc de Triomphe for me. To be able to do what I do in my hometown, it's the culmination of every job and every experience I've had. The opportunity to put it all into play where it counts for me - to be able to do what I love in the city I love - I couldn't ask for a better opportunity in my life and my career.

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