Passion for art meets a love for community

Morro Bay’s Suite 1 merged two local business entrepreneurs with a passion for art, community — and each other.

By 2006, Bill Shewchuk had settled in Morro Bay via Canada and Silicon Valley, where his photographic skills ultimately earned him international acclaim. He opened Focus on Nature in Marina Square. Tracy Neil had returned home from Colorado and co-opened Seven Sisters Gallery, also in Marina Square. Their common interests in art led them to discussions of a new business plan and a lifelong partnership. In 2010, they married and opened Suite 1.

“Opening the gallery has been the platform for everything else,” Tracy Shewchuk said. Noting that the couple created an environment that offered community artists room to work, she explained, “Buyers want a personal experience. They want to meet the artist — see the artist in action.’’

The couple is also pursuing a second goal to offer workshops to teach various art disciplines. For example, when the organizers of the Morro Bay Photo Expo asked them to oversee the event’s operations, the Shewchuks created a nonprofit, Friends of Estero Arts. Now, they are developing the format.

“The former Morro Bay Expo committee built a strong foundation we intend to build on, but instead of one annual event, we will offer three seasonal educational opportunities a year for photographers — in the spring, fall and winter. Plus we will offer photographic adventure tours,” Bill Shewchuk said.

For example, Shewchuk will guide photographers to St. Ignacio Lagoon in Mexico for whale watching during their birthing cycle March 19-23. Then April 11-14, the first edition of the new Morro Bay Photo Expo will be at the Inn at Morro Bay.

“We are currently scheduling the workshops,” Shewchuk said. “We will have fewer but expanded offerings. Teaching time will be more intensive — two, four, eight hours.”

The couple is also producing an 18-month calendar at the request of Garry and Nancy Johnson. The calendar will feature each member of Nancy’s Newcomers Club; profits will benefit SLO Womenade (womenade.blogspot.com).

“It sounded fun, and we liked the concept of the all-volunteer nonprofit,” Bill Shewchuk said.

Visit Suite 1 at 601 Embarcadero or on Facebook. The owners love to talk about art, their artists and the Morro Bay Photo Expo — and they have “Estero Babes” calendars for sale.