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Tracy Frank, Published October 12 2013

Woman of influence: Dawn Morgan's work shapes art, spiritual communities (video)

FARGO – Outside 111 Broadway in downtown Fargo, traffic streams by, people hurry past and cars vie for parking spaces.

Inside the Spirit Room, a quiet peace transcends the hustle and bustle of city life.

But it wasn’t always that way.

Dawn Morgan created an artistic and spiritual oasis in a building that sat vacant for 30 years.

And in following her vision and believing in the possibility of what could be, she influenced the local arts community through the opportunities she provided at the Spirit Room.

“Part of it is just having faith in the process, that there’s always this opportunity that arises and to have the courage to step forward and say, ‘Let’s try it,’ ” Morgan said.

The Spirit Room, where she works as executive director, is a place where artists can create and exhibit their work, patrons can find inner peace through yoga and meditation and students can learn about Indian dance or religious differences.

“It’s not just giving people arts, but it’s actually enabling them to begin to develop those things with-in themselves and giving them the tools to do it,” Morgan said.

Cameron Peterson, a Fargo printmaking artist who runs Funhouse Press in the Spirit Room studios with his partner and fiancé, Annette DuBord, said the space helps artists stay motivated.

Her encouragement of and influence on new artists is phenomenal, Peter-son said.

“Dawn is a very wise and wonderful person with a passion of not only preserving the culture of who we are but she also ex-presses the ideal that we should enjoy and celebrate who we are,” Peterson said. “She’s not focused on the things in our culture that are negative. She’s focused on the things of our culture that make it wonderful.”

Maureen Kelly Jonason, executive director of the Historical & Cultural Society of Clay County, describes Morgan, a good friend, as “an interesting mix of wisdom and whimsy.”

Morgan’s conspicuous shock of white hair and unyielding ambition seem to contrast with her calm demeanor.

Books like “The Joy of Living,” and “Tibet, Tibet” occupy space on her book shelf alongside books like “Secrets of Effective Leadership.”

Morgan seems like a woman without pretense. Kelly Jonason says she is “refreshingly direct and frank.”

“So many women feel like they have to be hesitant and hedge around issues. Dawn just says what she thinks,” Kelly Jonason said. “You will always know where she stands.”

The 66-year-old, who was born in and grew up in Fargo, sees adversity as opportunity.

“You have to be willing to acknowledge difficulty because every day there is going to be difficulty in some realm or another,” Morgan said. “Sometimes difficulty actually becomes a catalyst for something else to happen.”

Morgan, a mother and grandmother, graduated from Fargo Central High School and attended North Dakota State University for a year before transferring to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff where her younger brother attended.

“I just decided that I wanted to go somewhere, and I had a free (car) ride to Arizona,” Morgan said. “I’m a pretty optimistic person. I think that in every moment there are opportunities that present themselves.”

Morgan majored in English and said that in the “pre-hippie days” poets held the societal rank musicians have now.

It was during college that Morgan, who teaches yoga and meditation, started practicing the tradition and studying Eastern thought, she said.

After college, she lived in Minneapolis with her brother for a while before moving to Bainbridge Island, Wash.

Morgan eventually went to graduate school at what is now Minnesota State University Moorhead to study learning disabilities and behavioral problems. She was certified to teach high school English.

Though Morgan has al-ways been interested in arts, culture, humanities and history, she didn’t set out to run an art gallery.

After graduate school she taught at an alternative school in Audubon, Minn., for a year but she soon realized she’d been in school in one form or another for nearly two decades and she needed a change, she said.

So she started a painting and decorating company.

Morgan’s interest in historic buildings and architecture led her to restore historic properties. She has worked on commercial and residential buildings, and honed the skills that helped her transform the Spirit Room into what it is today.

“She continues to have the vision to see what is possible in this community and to play an active part in making sure the arts flourish,” Kelly Jonason said. “Her vision for the possible is her greatest contribution.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526