Shelley Morhaim: Filmmaker, Harpist, Art Promoter

Morhaim, by Edwin Remsberg Photographs
Morhaim, by Edwin Remsberg Photographs

Shelley Morhaim, 70, of Pikesville has had quite a few accomplishments recently.

She was appointed to two new positions where she can showcase her expertise in promoting arts. Gov. Larry Hogan selected Morhaim to serve on the state’s Arts Recovery Task Force a few weeks ago, one of several task forces working to get Maryland back on its feet. Around the same time, she was appointed as the new chair of 1000 Friends of Pikesville.

The state position fits Morhaim well, given some of her previous work. In 2013, former Gov. Martin O’Malley appointed her to the Maryland State Arts Council, which helps fund more than 300 cultural groups in the state, including The Peggy and Yale Gordon Center for Performing Arts. Hogan reappointed her for the next term as chair. Then, Speaker Adrienne
Jones appointed her as the speaker’s representative.

“[Hogan] wants certain things to be looked at as the state reopens, and one of those is the arts recovery,” said Morhaim about the Arts Recovery Task Force. “This has been just devastating. A lot of [arts] just can’t be replicated virtually.”

The arts task force has about 60 members broken into six subgroups. Morhaim’s role is to market the arts.

With a phone in one hand while the other hand typed an email for 1000 Friends of Pikesville, Morhaim explained her work with this other organization, too. “1000 Friends is more work than I thought I’d be doing right away,” she let out a laughing sigh.

She took on this new position after Mel Mintz, co-founder and chair emeritus, decided to step down sometime in 2020. He had worked with 1000 Friends for eight years and felt it was “time for some new blood,” he said. While Mintz usually spends a large part of his year in Florida, the pandemic had him stuck in the sunshine state longer than usual, so it was a good time to make the switch.

Mintz conferred with co-founder Howard Needle, and together they decided Morhaim would make a great chair.

“Shelley always expressed a vision,” said Mintz. She had been on the board for a year, particularly working on repurposing the Pikesville Armory.

“I’ve known her about 40 years, and so I knew her and followed her exploits and dynamic leadership, so we recognized that she was highly capable and qualified,” Mintz said. “We got her on board and as I said she was the obvious choice to chair.”

But her journey to get into these two roles was perhaps not always so obvious. She used to work as a lawyer. She stopped practicing to focus on raising her kids, but eventually found a new way to continue her pursuit of justice and create her own type of art: filmmaking.

Morhaim’s award-winning documentary, “The Next Industrial Revolution,” examines
human morale and the rules of nature.

“I was active in environmental things before that,” said Morhaim. “The film is still selling, but unfortunately it’s because we haven’t moved far enough or fast enough” for these issues to be irrelevant.

Her second-favorite film, quite relevant to her current jobs, is “Hard Fun: Transforming American Education Through the Arts.” The film explores the use of art to teach other subjects.

She calls the study of art “hard fun” because, while it’s difficult, you can’t help but enjoy it.

Another one of her skills is the folk harp. Before hospitals closed to outsiders, Morhaim
would play the harp as a therapeutic tool for patients at Mercy Medical Center. To prepare, she would study which types of music best alleviate which conditions.

“It’s wonderful, people are so appreciative. I’m not a great musician but people so appreciate people being there for them. Being in the hospital is difficult at best already,” she said. “The power of music is just amazing, and the harp has such a beautiful resonance.”

Morhaim’s short- and long-term goals are complementary.

“Pikesville is beautiful, it deserves more culture,” she said of her goals with 1000 Friends.

According to the Maryland State Arts Council, Maryland ranks third in per capita arts funding in the nation.

“Maryland has just such a wonderful record in support for the arts. It’s third in the nation for most public support of the arts,” Morhaim said on the task force and the broader community. “I’m dedicated to whatever I can to protect that, given the challenges
we’re facing.”

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