Ricardo Morris taught English in public schools, he refused to let his
students simply read “Beowolf.” The class would feast, dance and listen to
10th century music – all before opening the epic narrative.
unconventional teaching methods, however, weren’t appreciated beyond the
sent to the principal’s office far more than any of my students,” he says,
smiling. “I was always looking for new ways to teach literature, and
although the students loved it, the principal didn’t always like my
Nowadays, his avant-garde lessons are encouraged and respected. As director
of the Green Street Arts Center, Morris constantly invents ways to bring
creativity into the classroom.
Green Street’s After School Program, Morris immerses youngsters in the
visual, media, dramatic and literary arts and music. During the evening, he
ensures adults and families express themselves through acting to the latest
hip hop moves.
are essential to life,” he explains. “We’re not trying to turn our students
into artists, but expose them to the arts, and hopefully that will improve
the quality of their life. You don’t know what you like until you try it.”
– a musician, dancer, director, teacher and arts administrator – was
brought on to direct the art center just 12 months before its grand opening
in January 2005. The center’s location in the heart of the Middletown’s
North End was a familiar environment for the Chattanooga, Tennessee native.
up in a very similar community,” Morris explains. “It was predominately
black, underprivileged, distressed and poor. So working here in a similar
neighborhood was appealing. I was excited to start something from scratch
while helping to revitalize the neighborhood.”
was responsible for the overall look and feel of the center, sponsored by
Wesleyan, the City of Middletown and the North End Action Team. He used his
knowledge of feng shui along with Centerbrook architects, feng shui
consultant Pat McGrath, and Jerry Zinser to develop the center’s practical
layout and powerful color scheme. The Arts Café, for example, is painted in
cornflower blue to calm children prior to their art lessons. The visual arts
studios are neutral-colored and lit with natural sunlight.
“Initially, they were going to have the administration offices up front, but
I didn’t want students coming in and seeing offices,” he says from his
rear-corner office. “They should see dance and music activity happening. So
I suggested we flip the plan, and put the offices back here, hidden away.”
the oldest of five children, is the first and only member of his family to
go to college. After earning his bachelor’s degree in speech and theater
from Tennessee State University in 1985, he returned to Chattanooga and
taught school for eight years.
his summers off, Morris attended summer institutes studying theater and
writing. And in 1994, he applied at Yale, graduating three years later with
a master’s of fine arts in art administration.
in New Haven as a graduate student, Morris founded the Dwight/Edgewood
Project, collaboration between Yale School of Drama students and children in
the Dwight/Edgewood neighborhood. Before accepting his new position at
Wesleyan, Morris was the executive director of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame
and the Carver Theatre for the Performing Arts in Birmingham, Alabama. He
also served as director of arts in education for Allied Arts of Chattanooga
where he was responsible for the inclusion and promotion of the arts in
schools in southeastern Tennessee.
Tatge, director of the Center for the Arts, says it took the Green Street
Arts Center search committee eight months to find a Green Street director.
“Ricardo is a triple threat: artist, educator and administrator,” Tatge
says. “He was the only candidate who had this kind of a varied resume
alongside a history of living and working in neighborhoods like the one we
have in the North Ends. “He hit the ground running last year and pulled
everything together so we could open GSAC this past January. His work at
integrating the center into the life of the neighborhood, into Middletown's
arts scene, and into the life of our campus has been exceptional."
Green Street, Morris hired an assistant director, Manny Rivera; an
administrative assistant, Rachel Roccaberton, several community volunteers,
40 teaching artists and over 50 Wesleyan-students, which work as teaching
assistants and tutors.
End parents wanted their students to have contact with Wesleyan students,”
Morris says. “They believed that the Wesleyan students’ ‘I can accomplish
anything’ attitude would rub off on their kids. That they’ll learn that
there are no rules to what you can do in life if you work hard.”
often works a 12-hour day. The center opens at 9 a.m. and the community is
welcome anytime. This summer at 11:30 a.m., Morris hosts a free lunch
program for community children that also introduces them to a variety of
arts disciplines . During the regular school year between 3 and 6 p.m., he
helps oversee the center’s after-school program, which hosts 7-18-year-olds
for visual and applied art, dance, theater, music and film classes. And
between 1 and 10 p.m., Morris supervises the adult and family classes and
workshops, taught by visiting and Wesleyan artists.
range from line dancing, sound design and digital photography to
playwriting, bomba drumming and Vejigante mask making, and much more.
fact, he has personally helped out by assisting instructors in ballet,
modern dance and recorder classes.
the facility’s first semester, the GSAC had 52 after-school students and 120
adults. Morris’ goal for the upcoming year is to continue spreading the word
about Green Street and enroll 90 students in the after-school program and
250 in the adult evening classes.
through Saturday, we want these classes filled to capacity,” he says.
in tune with the North End and surrounding community, Morris is a member of
the North End Action Team, and discusses public safety, housing, police
protection and other issues with the community. He has a plot in the
community garden, and helps train working artists to become teaching
important to be visible in the community,” he says. “I want the community to
know Green Street has their best interest at heart and they can trust that
we’re not going anywhere.”