New arts academy opens in Port Dover

 TAYLOR BURT/Simcoe Reformer

Byron Morton and Marlene McNiven-Morton have opened a new arts academy in Port Dover. TAYLOR BURT/Simcoe Reformer

Byron Morton and Marlene McNiven-Morton have opened a new arts academy in Port Dover. TAYLOR BURT/Simcoe Reformer


The Lake Erie Arts Academy promotes itself as a place where 'arts and community come together.'

And that's certainly the goal of the academy's founders, Byron Morton and Marlene McNiven-Morton.

The husband and wife team opened the non-profit organization earlier this summer on Harbour Street in Port Dover.

“We wanted to get involved in the arts community and jumped in with both feet,” said Byron Morton.

The couple have had this plan in the works for a year, though they have always had a strong connection with the arts.

In 1989, Morton was given the opportunity to work with a professional puppet troupe, however, being away from his family took a toll, so he opted to start his own company.

The couple started Images Creative Puppetry in 1990 with five puppets. This quickly grew to 350 puppet personalities and gave Morton the chance to travel around the world and share his talent. He has done multiple stage productions as well, including shows at the Lighthouse Festival Theatre.

He performed for the next 24 years, but always had a goal in mind.

“It's been a dream of mine to run a school like this since I was 19,” he said.

The Port Dover school has one long room with floor-to-ceiling windows giving students a beautiful view of the waterfront.

“When we saw it, we knew we had to have it,” said Marlene McNiven-Morton. “It'll definitely give inspiration.”

School terms will run January to April, May to August and September to December.

Fine arts courses have started and the academy hopes to expand to other arts based programs – music, theatre and literature – in the fall. Classes, which include stained glass, photography, pottery and painting, will be taught by individuals who are experts in their fields.

The first class, held on July 12, was an acrylic painting class. Instructor, Michelle Snively-Jefferies, was excited to kick off the school's programs.

The class will run for eight weeks starting with the basics – how to hold a brush to make different strokes – and move up from there.

The classes offered this summer run eight to 10 weeks. There are also options for condensed one or two-day classes.

“We are trying to make it as affordable as we can for folks,” Morton said. “You'll really learn a lot in those two days.”

The demographic for the school is mainly retired individuals, however high school students may register with a note from their teacher. Classes are required to have a minimum of five students and a maximum of 12.

Morton hopes more people will sign up for classes so they can start growing their student base.

“We just want to help people get to the point in life where they want to be,” he said. “We want to build a community.”

Their hope is to eventually develop another campus in Port Dover and have more classes available.

“There's a great creative community here in Norfolk County,” said Morton. “It's important that all of us in the community support each other. I don't want there to be competition.”