Dr. Quinton Morris is a classically trained violinist and a tenured music professor at Seattle University (one of only two full music professors of African descent in the U.S.). He's also a radio host, an arts advocate, and a teacher and mentor who founded a non-profit organization whose goal is to train and inspire underserved youth through world-class musical instruction, called Key to Change.
"I've always felt that if I'm going to teach, I want to make sure everyone has access to the best. That has always been my brand."
Morris didn't set out to become one of the West Coast's busiest artists and activists. He didn't even plan on a music career. Quinton shared with co-hosts Vivian and Marcie about the people who helped shift his focus from law to music, and how his path has led him to blend his love for music with his calling to "help others become their best."
ABOUT THIS EPISODE'S GUEST
Dr. Quinton Morris is a concert violinist, educator, entrepreneur, radio host, and filmmaker. A Renton native, he founded Key to Change to provide South King County’s underserved youth and students of color with opportunities to study violin and viola.
As the Professor of Violin at Seattle University, Dr. Morris has been teaching violin since 2007, becoming not only the university’s first tenured music professor in over 40 years but also the second living Black violinist in the United States ever to receive university tenure. As Artist-Scholar in Residence at Classical King FM 98.1, he hosts Unmute The Voices, a radio and video show that celebrates classical music composed and performed by artists of color.
Over the course of his 25-year career, Dr. Morris has performed and presented masterclasses, lectures and films at some of the world’s most respected venues, including the Seattle Symphony, Cincinnati Symphony, Carnegie Hall (New York), TEDxSeattle, Seattle Art Museum, Roberts Project Art Museum (Los Angeles), the Sydney Opera House (Australia), the Louvre Museum (Paris), National Normal Taiwan University (Taiwan), Dong-eui University (Korea), the American String Teachers Association National Conference, the University of Paris, Monash University (Australia) and Tumaini University (Tanzania), among many others.
For his work, he has received numerous artistic and community service awards, such as the Outstanding Collegiate Studio Teaching Award from the Washington Chapter of the American String Teachers Association, the Pathfinder Award from the Puget Sound Association of Phi Beta Kappa, a Distinguished Alumni Award from the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, the Ibla International Competition’s Distinguished and Audience Favorite Awards, the Washington State Governor’s Arts Award, the Seattle Mayor’s Arts Award, Puget Sound Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 award and a Hall of Fame Alumni Award from Renton High School. As a filmmaker, he received the top prize at the European Independent Film Awards in Paris as well as the Bronze Award at the Global Music Awards in Los Angeles and high honors at the New York Film Awards.
With a distinguished teaching track record, Dr. Morris’ students have received scholarships to attend the Boston Conservatory, Boston University, Cleveland Institute of Music, the Peabody Conservatory of Music, Johns Hopkins University, the University of North Texas, and the University of Washington. Additionally, his students have performed with the Seattle, Tacoma, Virginia, and Yakima Symphonies.
Dr. Morris graduated from Renton High School in 1996. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts; a Master of Music degree from the Boston Conservatory; a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the Butler School of Music at the University of Texas at Austin; and a Graduate Diploma in Business Management from the Harvard Extension School. In his spare time, he enjoys watching football, spending time with his family, traveling, wine tasting, and collecting red toy cars.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (00:00):
Hey, I'm Vivian Phillips.
MARCIE SILLMAN (00:01):
And I'm Marcie Sillman. And this is Double Is DoubleXposure Exposure. <laugh>
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (00:15):
DoubleXposure is a podcast where we plumb the deepest depths and the tiniest cracks of our world to understand how culture and creativity shape our lives.
MARCIE SILLMAN (00:27):
On this episode, violinist Quinton Morris. Serving the underserved is his brand.
Vivian, lovely to see you. We've inched into fall and it's, you know, 3:30 in the afternoon. It's like dark at my house, dark out.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (00:53):
It's dark here too. And I don't know about inching into fall. It feels like last weekend, <laugh> it. Last weekend it was like 80 degrees, and then by Monday morning somebody flicked the switch off and said, we're done. It's time to be cold and turn the heat on.
MARCIE SILLMAN (01:09):
I have my big winter turtleneck sweater on. I felt kind of embarrassed to put it on. But yeah, I haven't been doing a lot of moving because I'm slowly, I hope rehabilitating from my knee surgery, which gives me a lot of time to contemplate all the art I have not been able to see in the month of October in Seattle, which is I think our richest month of the year.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (01:32):
There's a lot out there, a lot going on. I'm excited. Um, and we talked to Nia-Amina Minor and you know, the work that she's been doing, she and David Rue have been doing with On the Boards. Danni Tirrell has a new piece coming up. Velocity is in full swing right now. Uh, the PNB season is about to begin with a Donald Byrd piece. And then, you know, there's a lot of new stuff on Netflix <laugh>.
MARCIE SILLMAN (02:00):
It's not all good, I must say. It's not all good as somebody who's house bound. I was thinking about this week's guest, who is Dr. Quinton Morris. Dr. Quinton Morris. Like so many of the people we've talked to this year, although you can call him violinist, Dr. Quinton Morris, you can call him Professor Dr. Quinton Morris. He's a full tenured professor of music at Seattle University. You can call him performing artist, although he doesn't really perform so much anymore. You can call him teacher, you can call him Advocate. Let's see, a filmmaker,
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (02:37):
<laugh>. Yeah. Yeah.
MARCIE SILLMAN (02:38):
What else is there?
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (02:39):
He's got a lot of titles and I, you know, I've long since given up trying to keep up with all of the things that Quinton is doing. But, you know, I will say that Dr. Quinton Morris is the first and only person that I have ever known or interacted with who has exhausted their education and has a PhD in violin performance. I didn't know you could get a PhD in violin performance, but I, I was just like, huh, you have a, a PhD in violin performance and back in, what was it? May something like that? April? Quinton paid me the greatest honor by having his organization recognize me as, uh, for the, you know, community service. You know, I was picking up trash out on the streets.
Yeah, that's you picking up trash <laugh>.
But he's just an incredible individual who has accomplished so much and continues to have a drive and dedication for young people and their experiences. And I think that listening to his experience, we understand better why.
Well, hello, Dr. Quinton Morris, we are so happy to have you on doubleXposure today.
QUINTON MORRIS (04:02):
I am so glad to be here.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (04:04):
You know, folks in Seattle know you for a number of reasons. You are a tenured professor at Seattle University and one of only two tenured music professors of African descent in the country. We'll get back to that a little bit more later on too. But you also host a monthly radio show. Unmute the Voices on KING FM. You're the founder of a music education program called Key to Change. We're already tired, <laugh> just talking about all of all of the things that you're doing, but we thought we wanted to start this conversation a few years back so that you could tell us a little bit about how you came into classical music.
QUINTON MORRIS (04:49):
I kind of stumbled a little bit into music. You know, I've played the violin pretty much all of my life. I started in the third grade. We grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago, and we moved to Seattle in the early nineties where I went to high school at Renton High and continued to play the violin there, but never wanted to make a career out of it. Surprisingly, I wanted to become an attorney. I was fascinated with the show LA Law and loved Blair Underwood's character and wanted to be just like him. And when I got to college, I went to Xavier University in New Orleans, uh, Historically Black College. And when I went there, I met a woman who I had taken violent lessons with who really encouraged me and inspired me to rethink my path of becoming a professional musician. And she warned me that it was going to be very difficult, that it would feel lonely at times, um, that I would have to work really, really hard, but that she felt that I had a chance to have a career.
QUINTON MORRIS (06:19):
She, she felt like I had the drive, the motivation, and the basically the stomach to deal with all of the stuff that would come my way. And so we kind of made a, an agreement that this was during my sophomore year, that I would go to this music camp in North Carolina. It was called the Brevard Music Center. And she said, if you go to this camp, it was seven or eight weeks long, and you leave the camp feeling like you can't live without music, you need to drop your pre-law studies and pursue music and never, ever look back. She came from, uh, family of musicians. Uh, she was Black. Um, she was the only Black in the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra at that time. And really that next year kicked my butt to get me ready to transfer, and I left at the end of my junior year. What most people don't know about that time, this was 1998, ‘99, I had a full scholarship plus a stipend at Xavier University, and I left it. I gave it up and started completely over, moved to North Carolina and went to University of North Carolina School of the Arts. I got a job working at a credit union. I worked at a Legacy Federal Credit Union, and I worked 37.5 hours a week. And at the age of 21 started this path forward of pursuing a career in music and worked my ass off really during that time.
MARCIE SILLMAN (08:27):
Quinton, two things strike me. The one that really hit me in the head is that I think of serious classical musicians who want careers, performing careers, which you had as thinking about that when they're 12 or 13 or 14, not 19, which I think is about when you were. So that's one thing that strikes me. The other is, I'm wondering here, you had this full scholarship plus a stipend. What was the reaction from your folks when you said, mom, dad, I'm leaving that all behind because I'm going to pursue this quixotic dream?
QUINTON MORRIS (09:02):
They thought I was nuts. Everyone thought I was nuts. My mom was a bit more understanding and said, you know, son, go for it. Let's see what happens. My dad was much more reluctant, thought that I was crazy, you know, all of my friends in New Orleans, I had a great time there. I loved my Historically Black College experience, and I left all of that behind. I had never been in an environment like that where I was surrounded literally by Black excellence, by people who looked like me, who aspired to be judges and doctors and lawyers. And, and I mean, like for instance, the Chris Stewart who represented Trayvon Martin, represented Michael Brown. We were classmates at Xavier. Um, and he's one of the most sought-after attorneys in the country. You know, we were in classes together at Xavier, but that lesson in New Orleans and man, was it a lesson to learn at the age of 21 of what it really means to learn how to bet on yourself.
QUINTON MORRIS (10:20):
I had just been in remission for about three and a half years during that time because, you know, during my senior year of high school, I was diagnosed with, uh, stage four Hodgkin's lymphoma. And so, you know, after beating that, and I mean, I had to fight for my life literally with that of beating cancer. I just was like, whatever I want I can have. I've just got a plan. I've gotta be prepared, I've gotta be smart and I can't look back. And that's how I have always been with anything that I've approached in life ,is I've just gotta keep moving forward. And I cannot by any means, look back.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (11:13):
Well, I know for sure as a personal friend that your courage and your determination always lead. And it just takes my breath a little bit right now to recall that process that you went through. But being around the kinds of budding professionals that you were around at Xavier and probably throughout your career seems to have laid the foundation for one of the first steps that you took, which was to form the young eight. And at the time, this was an octet and America's only string octet that was all African American. Tell us a little bit about that experience and, and how you came to decide to do that and what it was like.
QUINTON MORRIS (12:06):
That's a great question. Being at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, I hated that school. I hated the experience. There was nothing pleasant about being there, but I'm so thankful I went, oh my God, because being there, I mean, my violin teacher and the orchestra conductor hated me. And, and they reminded me quite frequently that I had made a mistake and that I needed to go back to New Orleans. And during that time, you know, this was late nineties, early two thousands, being at that conservatory was toxic. There was a person at the school who committed suicide while I was there, and the environment was extremely competitive. You had to be invited back every year as a student. So you could have a 4.0., but like, if your violin teacher didn't like you or your conductor, or you were unprepared for class too many times, you were out and, and they would give you a pink slip and put it <laugh>.
QUINTON MORRIS (13:40):
They would give you a pink slip and put it in your student mailbox. And so, you know, the school at that time was producing so many artists and so many professionals that, like Camille Jones, the, the dancer, I was in school with her at North Carolina School of the Arts. We were classmates. I mean, in dance, they had it tough, you gained too much weight, you were out of there. So all that to say that, that environment coupled with I was the only Black man in all of my classes, and I was generally older because Marcie, kind of to your point earlier that I didn't grow up wanting to become this concert violinist. And so, I was in classes with students who were like in middle school and high school because they had a middle school, high school, college and graduate program. So I wasn't even in courses with my peers because they were so much further ahead than I was.
QUINTON MORRIS (14:48):
So, I was catching up. So, I was extremely lonely. And each summer I would go to these music camps or programs and I would meet other Black string players who had kind of the same desires or ambitions that I had. And so I thought, wow, wouldn't this be cool if I could bring all of these people who I had met together and we would play a concert? And so that is really how it started, was from a place of loneliness at the school. And, and it was a senior project that I, I did, it was kind of, I guess my capstone project was the Young Eight, and we all got together, and I'll never forget that first rehearsal of us all being together, and it was so electric, and they were like, Q, we've gotta do this again. Like, the concert hasn't even started and we gotta do this again. And that was the beginning. And that concert probably is one of the more memorable performances of my career because it was a free performance and it felt like the whole city of Winston-Salem came, and so many people from the Black community came. And it was just epic. It was epic.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (16:20):
I can attest to the fact that I'd never seen anything like that before when I first saw the Young Eight perform. And it sounds to me like this was an instance of you saying, oh hell yes to you, as opposed to being discouraged by the, the previous experience that you, or the experience you were having. One of the things I do want to ask you though, about the Young Eight, and I'm just recalling watching you perform at the Sky Church at the Experience Music Project, which it was then, and you all played beautiful classical music, beautiful but y'all threw some Beyonce in there. I was like, wait a minute, huh? What, what are they doing? <laugh>? So was that, that that was, was, I'm imagining an intention of incorporating your own culture into this classical art form?
QUINTON MORRIS (17:14):
Absolutely, absolutely. And we did it often, and it wasn't just hip hop music or, or you know, R&B, but I mean, we were doing reggae and um, I remember we played at this, it was a, I think a reggae music festival or something in New York City, and, and we played there and they had all these reggae artists that came up and collaborated with us. And I mean, we were always doing something, but more importantly, I was very passionate about amplifying the Black voice and amplifying the Black voice through strings, because at that time, there just was not very many of us who played string instruments at a high level. And I wanted everybody to know about it.
MARCIE SILLMAN (18:08):
The nineties might seem like ancient history to you, but it's not actually pretty recently that you were having this performing career. I know that you have a, a doctorate in performance in in violin performance mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So you were performing somewhere in there. You were maybe not in North Carolina pursuing a high, I hope not in North Carolina pursuing another degree. But even that, you know, you wanted to amplify the presence of Blacks with strings. So you had those seeds of your teaching life even then. Am I, is that correct? Like all of this is woven together?
QUINTON MORRIS (18:45):
It is. Um, because in addition to performing with the Young Eight, we would host our own summer camp and we would host it in different cities, and we would recruit students of color to come and study and work with us. And so, I was learning back in my early twenties, the whole administrative chops of how to market and how to fundraise and personnel <laugh> managing seven other people with huge egos who all went to Julliard and Manhattan and Boston. And, you know, <laugh>, I, I learned some amazing skills during that time. But yeah, it, it was all, I think a path that I was on that helped me evolve as both an artist and teacher.
MARCIE SILLMAN (19:42):
So it's interesting, the roots of Key to Change, which we'll talk about in a second. Were there your full-time gig, although I think both Key to Change and your Seattle University professorship are full-time gigs, so you've got two of them. What I was wondering was, were you thinking of teaching aspiring professional musicians? Were you thinking of just exposing more people to the beauty of the music that you love? I mean, or was it not that clear cut in terms of, of disseminating your passion to other people?
QUINTON MORRIS (20:15):
After I left North Carolina, I went to Boston to do a master's degree. I went to the Boston Conservatory and then University of Texas, Austin for my doctorate. And one thing that I don't think our sector does, and I'm talking specifically about music education and classical music, is there's this false perception that if you play at a really high level, you are going to go and teach at a really high level institution, and you're discouraged from doing community service, serving the underserved, the pedagogy is centered around, you are the best and you only teach the best. So, I've always had an internal conflict with that because I have always felt like I can be the best and help others become their best. And the reason why people may not even understand what their potential is to be their best is because they don't have the resources, they don't have the access.
QUINTON MORRIS (21:41):
And my field was not pushing that agenda. And so I think subconsciously the work that I'm doing with Key To Change has always been in there because I was one of those students. And I understand the various loopholes that one has to jump through, and the rings of fire and the backstabbing and the conniving, awful personalities that you have to deal with in classical music, in academia, and in music education. I get all of that. And so, I have always just felt like if I'm gonna teach, I wanna make sure everyone has access to the best. That has always been my brand.
MARCIE SILLMAN (22:48):
Our conversation with Quinton Morris continues in a minute.
Our music is courtesy of Big World Breaks, many thanks.
And this year we welcome our sponsor, LANGSTON, cultivating Black Brilliance from their home at Seattle's Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in the Historic Central District.
We've mentioned this organization's Key to Change a couple of times already. Can you expand on what the mission is of Key to Change?
QUINTON MORRIS (23:33):
Key to Change's mission is to inspire underserved youth through world class music instruction, and to support their development as self-aware leaders. That is a mission we talk about almost daily between the teaching staff as well as the administrative staff. Our program, the way that we are going to inspire these students has to be from a place of world class. Now, our balance sheet may not demonstrate that we are world class because we don't have millions of dollars, but we have a million-dollar mentality and how we execute our mission. And so from a programmatic standpoint, we are always prepared for class. We are always, as teachers, we are prepared, and we bring our absolute best in that classroom. And the teaching that we do for our students has to be reflective of the mission, and it has to be reflective of how we are doing as educators. And so, we've got really robust assessment plan that informs us as teachers how to be better and how to serve those students. Because what we know is that when students are learning, they're happy. When students are learning, they feel empowered, they become naturally better citizens in the classroom, in their respective homes and in their respective schools. And so we have a real social responsibility to make sure that we are delivering at the highest level we can as educators so that we can have happy, intelligent students.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (25:44):
So while you were using and teaching classical music, uh, to students, and you know, beautifully enough, three of your students just were placed with Seattle Symphony and got that star opportunity, which is, you know, that's a big deal for a young person. But what I'm hearing, and I think what Marcie and I both understand and want you to expand on a little bit more is how music is a path to excellence outside of music. And I think that's what's embedded in your mission. I think what we're hearing is not that you expect that every student becomes a professional classical music performer, but that they have some level of foundation that really does serve them throughout their development.
QUINTON MORRIS (26:38):
That's right. And that they have, they, they know there are people who really care about them. So about 70% of our student body are girls. And we talk about it because all of the teaching staff are men. And we talk about what does it mean to be a good male role model for girls, right? What does it look like for us as men, as men who teach this instrument, especially to girls, how they should be treated as people. So we speak to them, we always look professional in the classroom. We are nurturing in our behavior, in our words, and we demonstrate that we care and that we care about their learning. We care about their happiness, and that we care about how they are engaged with other students in the program. And I think because we, we try so hard to, to exercise a pedigree of good teaching, not just through the violin, but also through our actions, is why so many students have continued to stay with us year after year after year, because they really see and believe us that we care.
QUINTON MORRIS (28:24):
And it's not enough to just show up, because in their respective schools, their teachers are showing up. But we have to show up and we have to be prepared. We have to be prepared at a high level because these students are gonna grow up and they're gonna eventually get jobs and they're gonna go to college and they're going, you know, get married and they're gonna have kids and they're going to have their own respective families. And we don't know what's gonna happen to these kids. But the one thing I want them to take with them when they leave our organization is a real sense of self, a real sense of understanding what responsibility and accountability is, and how they should engage, and how others should engage with them, who are their authority figures, as well as those who are men, especially of color.
MARCIE SILLMAN (29:33):
It's so fascinating to hear the passion in your voice and to trace that back to really to your own youth and, and your decision to choose you and pursue what you wanted to do, as if what sounds like 150% effort at, uh, Key to Change is not enough. And the other job teaching college age kids is not enough. A few years ago, you and I had a conversation because you were gonna have this artistic residency at KING FM, Seattle's Classical Music Station. You were gonna start. So this was probably three years ago, this monthly show called Unmute the Voices, which you're still doing. I don't know how long that original agreement was for, but you're still there. And I, I wanted you to talk a little bit about the show, but I'm also curious how really focusing on artists of color in a, what has traditionally been a pretty white artistic sphere has changed that organization?
QUINTON MORRIS (30:37):
Well, I think first, Brenda Barnes, who's the CEO there at Classical KING, is such a champion and warhorse of getting people, especially white people, to understand the importance of diversity and, and not just being a talking head, but, but really putting her words to action. And she has held the radio station responsible and accountable to that. So I have so much respect for her. Originally, Unmute the Voices was a two year kind of stint. I loved the show and I had agreed to come on and do it. I didn't at that time envision myself as an announcer on the radio station, but people like it, and it, and it's fun. You know, I enjoy learning how to tell stories and I get to put my own artistic spin on it, which is a lot of fun. And I love the music. I love classical music. I love the stories behind classical music. And I think the reason why the show has just done so well, which is why they extended my contract, is because I really bring my authentic self to the show. I'm not trying to be something that I'm not. And I think that listeners have been able to identify and, uh, relate to the content that we're sharing on that show.
MARCIE SILLMAN (32:19):
The energy that you put into each of these endeavors adds up to I think 500% of one human being. So you do have this tenured full professorship at Seattle University. I don't wanna discount that, but you talked a little bit earlier at the beginning of our conversation about this mentor that your violin teacher at Xavier, I think that's where she was, but at least in New Orleans, and talked about what you would need to persevere in all of these arenas. But I'm thinking maybe most particularly in academia because that's as cutthroat and, um, gnarly as the, uh, performance world. I, I would imagine.
QUINTON MORRIS (33:05):
It's too bad the, uh, your listeners can't see my face right now because I'm shaking it. Um, you know, here's what I will say. I have been at Seattle University for 17 years. I will tell you a fun fact. The only reason I pursued a doctorate was because I wanted to become either a college president or a dean. That is the only reason why I went. And I knew that I wanted to teach violin at the college level. And when I was a master's student in Boston, I remember talking to my violin teacher about it, and Lynn Chang gave me some of the best advice ever. And he said, well, if you want to teach at a university, this is in 2004. He said, if you, or 2003, if you want to teach at a university, you need a doctorate. And he said, because I have a feeling in the next 10 years, you're gonna see a ton of musicians getting doctorates.
QUINTON MORRIS (34:18):
So you need to go ahead and get your doctorate now because, and then you can go back and play and perform and those sorts of things. But I just have this feeling that master's degrees are not gonna be enough if you want to teach at a university. So why don't you apply to some doctoral schools? And I said, well, I really want to go to New York City. I really want to go to Julliard. I really want to be there. 'cause all my friends were in New York. And so he said, well, you can go to New York. He's like, but if I were you, I would go to a university because they have a large library, and if you're gonna be doing a doctorate, you need access to a really good library that has articles and where you can do lots of research. And he said, so he said, well, why don't you look at like a big state school like Michigan or Texas?
QUINTON MORRIS (35:10):
And he had taught my mentor who I did my doctorate with, his wife, and he, they had just moved to Austin and started teaching at UT Austin. So he said, well, why don't you go down there, check out the school and see what you think. So I went down there, fell in love with the school, and that's where I went. So fast forward to now, <laugh>, 17 years later, here I am still at the university and I have fulfilled my dream of being a college professor. I have fulfilled that, I have checked that box. Getting into academia is very similar to city politics or government. The stakes are always really high for a really low payoff. So you're, you're fighting and you're arguing over a measly $1,000. It's kind of like a cold war in a way where people are holding grudges for 10 and 15 and 20 and 30 years.
QUINTON MORRIS (36:22):
And so, you know, trying to shift through all the politics is not for the faint of heart. But with that being said, there's also, and I don't want to just completely paint academia as this terrible landscape, but there's also really beautiful benefits to working with students and having an academic and artistic freedom to be able to explore and to try different things. And, and having intelligent conversations with colleagues who, who are so committed to, you know, their, their areas of expertise. And I think finally is being able to see how students are able to make the studies that you are teaching them their own. And I think that is the most beautiful thing of being a, a professor, is watching the transformation of students who are just fresh outta high school and evolving into young adults who are now ready to go out in the world. And I'm very, very blessed to be able to do that work, and I'm really thankful for it.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (37:32):
Quinton, uh, you know, you've spent 17 years at Seattle University and it's not like you've just, you know, were hired in as a adjunct professor or something like that. You, if I remember correctly, developed the chamber music program,
QUINTON MORRIS (37:47):
The music program.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (37:48):
Okay. <laugh>, the music program at Seattle University, so mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you were there at the very beginning of that program, and so it's been a long time, but you've done an incredible amount of work and probably have hundreds of students out there in the world making a difference. And speaking of making a difference, um, and you mentioned, you know, the, the contrast between politics and academia, you have not just spent your whole time, you know, getting an MPA or studying music or teaching music. You are also known as a pretty active advocate and arts community leader, someone who led the Seattle Arts Commission through some very interesting times. I'll just leave interesting as the word <laugh>. Um, and yeah. Yes. So, you are not just drawn to student empowerment, you're drawn to arts, advocacy, and empowerment as well.
QUINTON MORRIS (38:55):
I'll say this because I've never, I guess publicly outside of my resignation from the Arts Commission really addressed it. But I'll say this, that I am extremely loyal when I believe in something. And I do not care if I have to be a party of one, a completely isolated island. When I believe in something, and I know without a shadow of a doubt, when my gut tells me I'm right, I don't care who you are, I am not changing my mind. And when I resigned from the Seattle Arts Commission in September of 2021, I was right. I was right then. And here we are in October, and I'm still right.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (40:01):
Period. <laugh> no
QUINTON MORRIS (40:03):
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (40:04):
No ellipses <laugh>. Oh
QUINTON MORRIS (40:09):
No, I'm, I'm saying that, I'm saying that because our industry was devastated by greed and ego that could not, and would not accept the excellence that was coming out of the arts office and being supported by the Seattle Arts Commission. And that excellence was dismantled by ego and by by greed. And now we are at a crossroads where we have to put back together a lot of pieces that were broken that could have been prevented if only I had some help.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (41:06):
You are articulating, I think, something that, you know, you're, you're saying the quiet parts out loud and yeah, we know that, we know that about you. And I think that what you have, uh, articulated also says that you don't lose sleep at night. But I do wanna ask you, with all of the work that you do, all the things that you're involved in, all of the activities and the commitments and the loyalties that you are, are present for, how do you experience downtime? Do you experience downtime?
QUINTON MORRIS (41:44):
<laugh>? You know what, it's funny because I mean, I've, I feel like I work hard and, but I guess I don't see it the way everybody else sees it. A lot of times, if I'm being really honest, I'm like, I'm so lazy. Ugh, I could get X, Y, and Z done. Ugh, why are you doing this? Why are you doing, you need to be reading this or studying up on that. Or like, like I, a lot of times I am dealing with internally the fact that I feel lazy.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (42:19):
There's one other thing that I do think is really, uh, present with you as well, Quinton. Mm-hmm. And I think you are incredibly aware of your own mortality and that drive that you have. You know, it's like, why waste a minute? You leave every day like it's your last and I mm-hmm.
QUINTON MORRIS (42:39):
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (42:39):
I appreciate that.
QUINTON MORRIS (42:40):
Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And I feel like this has been the best year of my life. I feel like this has been hands down the best year of my life. And, you know, there's challenges and, but I'm like, man, what a blessing that I'm trying to figure out X, Y, and Z. Like, wow. I feel like that's just that evidence of a lot of patience and perseverance because I mean, the work, the work is hard, right? There's the work, which is at times difficult, but it, the mental work is harder than the actual physical work, I feel. And so I'm like, okay, if I can just get myself together mentally and be patient and understand that I didn't get this thing right now, but whatever is coming at three months or six months, or a year or two years or five years, I just need to be patient because it's gonna be bigger and it's gonna be better than what I currently have.
QUINTON MORRIS (43:53):
So that for me is like, where I'm like, Ugh, I need to get over this and I need to move on because it's coming and it's gonna be better and it's gonna blow my mind, but I gotta be loyal and I gotta stay committed. And so that's for me, where I'm at in my life. And, and I think to answer your question about downtime, I do take downtime. You know, I go on trips and, and I love going out to restaurants and like, that's my downtime. And I love to read, God. I love, love, love to read books. And so, I'm pretty, I think low maintenance when it comes to what downtime looks like. A good book, hot weather, a good drink. That's good enough for me.
MARCIE SILLMAN (44:40):
The example that you set, I'm sure for all of your students, but definitely for me listening in on this conversation is never give up. Never give up. But I'm thinking about, you know, the banquet of things that you're involved in, because it's like a table full of things. And I wanted to ask you, but I don't know that you can answer this if any of them is closer to your heart than anything else? 'cause it sounds as if they're all equally part of, of who you are and what you do.
QUINTON MORRIS (45:10):
I am 150% invested in South King County. That's where my heart lies. That's where my loyalty really lies. And I think with the work that I do with Classical KING and also at the university, they are both in alignment with supporting that work. Serving the underserved is my thing. And that's not changing. It's not changing because I see myself in every student and God knows I have been told no. And you can't, you won't, don't ever - more times than probably the average person. So I get what that feels like for a young person, to be told you can’t, you won’t, don’t ever.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (46:08):
We did not mention that among other things. You are also a filmmaker. It's something that you've dabbled in as well. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And I just wanna say to you, Quinton Morris, you are a person of many, many talents and multiple pursuits. Marcie and I too, are very grateful to you because you were so gracious in inviting us into your exploration with Unmute the Voices and helped us to launch DoubleXposure. And we're just so grateful for you taking time with us today. Thank you.
QUINTON MORRIS (46:43):
Thank you so much for having me on.
MARCIE SILLMAN (46:48):
So, Vivian, one thing that Quinton said that has really just stuck with me is serving the underserved is my thing. Is my thing. And we asked him, when does he sleep? Because I don't know, what does he have two full-time jobs? He runs an organization and then he is got this radio show that he does, you know, on the side. But we talked a little bit around the advocacy, the arts advocacy that he somehow squeezes into his agenda. I just wanna clarify for people who do not live in our area, Dr. Quinton Morris was the chair of the Seattle Arts Commission, I think it was in 2021. Well, the end of 2020, then Mayor Jenny Durkin made a decision to replace the acting head of the, the Arts Commission because the former director had decided to move on. And they were gonna wait until another mayor was elected 'cause it was election season, and then have a community-wide search for a replacement. And that isn't exactly what happened. And Quinton took a stand, he took a public stand and, and he quit his position.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (48:11):
And the way that it, you know, if you were to just look at kind of the facts on, on a chronological scale, it looks like, okay, well that happened. That happened, that happened, right? But I think what was most disturbing was the breach of trust between the volunteer appointed advisory group, the Seattle Arts Commission, and the Seattle Mayor. And when things just went sideways and that breach happened, it was kind of like, oops, I, nevermind. We're not gonna do that anymore. I mean, that happens in government, we get it. But there's a modicum of respect that everyone in these volunteer positions deserve. And I feel, oh, I think that, um, Quinton felt highly disrespected and uh, he resigned and he cracks me up. 'cause he's like, I was right and I'm still right. And I'm like, okay, you are right <laugh> about these things, you know?
MARCIE SILLMAN (49:16):
But I think it takes a lot of courage to do that, even if you think you're right.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (49:21):
Yes, it does. And to be public in that way, you know, to take the risk.
MARCIE SILLMAN (49:27):
He also had a lot of support from the arts community. I think of all the city government. We had just come out of a year of pandemic things were chaotic in the city. But I think that the, uh, office of Arts and Culture was a department that was running very smoothly through a lot of the prior year under Randy Engstrom’s leadership. And then the person who was his deputy Calandra Childers, who picked up the range, she wasn't trying to make a power grab. She was tending all that had been built.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (50:01):
You know, Marcie, I think we, um, owe it to our listeners to make sure that they know that we are partial <laugh>. I mean, like, you couldn't tell, but, um, I just think it's really important, you know, in full disclosure that I sat on the Seattle Arts Commission for six years, Chaired it for three years, Quinton, you know, followed in that, in that position, we had established a relationship that was built on integrity and trust. And that's both with the Office of Arts and Culture and with the policymakers, city council and the Mayor. So we thought, right. And so when things like that, you know, when there's this quick turn and you're kind of left to wonder, you're left to your own devices to wonder what happened? And when nobody takes the time to explain to you, first of all, that your commitment is honored, but secondarily that they made a change of heart because of X, Y, and Z. I mean, that's just a modicum of respect.
MARCIE SILLMAN (51:10):
In the meantime, while all of that was going on, Quinton was still teaching his students at Seattle University. He was getting an MBA. And just a little side note, um, Jill Biden came to town this fall campaigning for her husband, who's currently the president, in case you didn't know. And but what's so wonderful, two of Quinton's Key to Change students perform for her. And that's quite a high honor.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (51:38):
He’s a go-getter! In addition to the fact that keto change is getting noticed by the first, wait. Yeah, she's the first lady. She was the Second Lady. <laugh>. It's worth noting that King County council member, Dave Upthegrove, recently recognized Key to Change. And the, he represents South King County, which is perfect because, you know, as Quinton said earlier, that's where his heart is. And so, I'm excited that he is receiving recognition for the work that he's doing with young people in South King County. I mean, if there, if there was, uh, an image in the dictionary that would articulate what it means to not quit and to always bet on yourself, that image would be Dr. Quinton Morris.
MARCIE SILLMAN (52:34):
Dr. Quinton Morris, to all of us, and gosh, we're so grateful that he joined us and we're so happy that we got to introduce you to him.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (52:42):
What a story.
MARCIE SILLMAN (52:47):
DoubleXposure's Executive Producers are me, Marcie Sillman,
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (52:51):
And me, Vivian Phillips, Associate Producer Hilary Northcraft.
MARCIE SILLMAN (52:57):
If you like what you're hearing on this episode of DoubleXposure, be sure to follow us on your favorite podcast app and check out our website, doubleXposurepod.com.
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