Tony Morton and Stacey Miller are looking forward to having more time flexibility once they close Kasum Contemporary Fine Arts, their Plaza District gallery opened three years ago.
They intend to stay in Oklahoma City and find new avenues of supporting the arts as they dial back their work load “to 40 hours per week,” as Morton put it.
Both talked with Free Press about the time demands of owning a private, commercial gallery where they felt a strong obligation to work as hard as they could for the artists whose works are in Kasum.
Being a successful gallerist and dealer involves developing authentic relationships with artists and patrons Morton said.
And it takes time and availability to do that.
“My phone hasn’t been turned off in seven years,” Morton said.
“For me it’s more to do with time. We’ve both been going 90 to nothin’ since we’ve opened this,” Miller said.
“I’m looking forward to seeing her get back in the studio and creating more again,” said Morton. “I’ve missed that.”
He is not a visual artist, but has always been on the business side of the arts. His parents were publishers of several art publications as Morton was growing up.
Miller is an artist who has had to park some of her ideas simply because she didn’t have enough time or energy to create as she was representing other creatives.
Her motivation is the promise of spending more “R&R time with Tony” and acting on more of her art ideas.
Paseo to Plaza
Until 2014, he was the director of Paseo Originals Art Gallery in Oklahoma City where he fine-tuned his ability to put artist and collector together in a long-term artistic relationship that was productive for both.
Morton still praises the owners of Paseo Originals, Roy and Karen Orr, as “great people.”
But he was eager to move to the Plaza District where he lived and start his own gallery.
That was the beginning of Kasum Contemporary Fine Art, Inc., a hub of visual art activity in Oklahoma City at 1706 NW 16th Street.
Morton and Miller have an active email list that they have continued to leverage as they keep interested community members informed of coming shows.
The holiday shows especially have been favorites of locals who often wait to buy all sizes of art as gifts for the holidays as they enjoy meeting artists and other collectors face-to-face.
“We both have a passion for the arts,” said Morton. “We’ve gotten to work together on that.”
He said representing creatives and watching them grow has been the best thing about being a gallerist.
“I have personal relationships with a lot of these people. We’ve had opportunities to see them grow big and small. We’ve seen them develop as they are as artists.”
Morton and Miller both cited one local artist, Brett McDanel, as a good example among many of someone with deep artistic talent and passion who has been able to get his work out there in front of a bigger audience over time.
“I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t met Tony,” McDanel told Free Press in a phone call.
McDanel easily could have continued to work at a regular job while creating art in his garage for his own self-expression and understanding.
But these days, he is a full-time artist making a good living from his work.
How did he get to an enviable position most visual artists only dream about?
He and Tony Morton met back when Tony was the director for Paseo Originals Art Gallery.
Over the years, Morton has helped artists and collectors come together by creating a communication and interpretation bridge between artist and patron.
Morton has given McDanel a way to move forward with his art production and sales.
“He has given me the confidence boost I needed to tell me this is what I need to do. This is what I need to be,” said McDanel.
And Morton shows his pride in what McDanel has done.
“To see the confidence that he has and the message that he has and know that I’ve been a part of that – it’s great,” said Morton.
Pulling back the veil
During our interview, Miller tried to apply the term coach to what Morton has done for so many artists, but he wasn’t buying it.
“I just pull back the veil,” he said.
People have strong opinions about art when they see it, but they talk to everyone else about it but the artist.
“The artists wants to hear that, but people sense that art is deeply personal, so they aren’t honest with the artist,” said Morton.
“The main difference is that I’m willing to be honest with the artist as I convey what collectors are saying when they talk to me about the art.”
And that seems to be the key to what Morton does.
He engages in long-term collector/dealer relationships with patrons and listens closely to what their view is of different artists.
Then, with the help of Miller, an artist herself, he interprets that input to the artist in a way that they will grow in their appeal to collectors.
“Tony has a beautiful way of seeing exactly what my heart needs to say and being able to kind of help me highlight that on my own,” said McDanel.
“I love Tony to death. I’m sad the direction he’s going to head, but completely understand it.”
Three more shows
Three more shows with popular artists will close out the final days of Kasum through November.
Stillwater artist Morgan Robinson’s show “Dichotomy” is still underway at Kasum and will end Sept. 23.
Then, Norman artist Brett McDanel will have his show, “Reclaiming my humanity,” Sept. 30 through Nov. 10.
Closing out November, Morton and Miller will once again host a holiday show of unique, artistic toys of Allin KHG, a local artists in OKC.