Matt Ross wants to change visual art education in the U.S.
He’s already influenced how kids learn another art form. From 2005 to 2010, Ross was the founding CEO of School of Rock and helped expand the music education program from just five schools to 55 nationwide, according to the New York Times.
Now Ross is working on expanding a school he started from the ground up. In 2012, he opened the One River School of Art and Design in Englewood, New Jersey, as a way to offer an authentic and fun place for kids to learn art.
He’s hoping to bring the school to Boston. To introduce his idea to the Bay State, Ross is exhibiting some students’ work at a Pop-Up Teen Art Exhibit from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Oct. 8 at the Dorchester Art Project.
“When I left [School of Rock], I had been enamored with visual art for years and I decided to immerse myself in it” Ross said. “I was thinking about how amazing it is to do creative things, to make art, and how we don’t celebrate art in the same way we celebrate music and musicians."
The One River School focuses on three things that Ross said make it stand out from other art education programs. First, the core of the curriculum is about what’s happened in the art world in the last 50 years.
“Think about music and imagine never learning about rock and roll,” Ross said about how art education often focuses on movements like Impressionism from the 19th century but ignore contemporary art.
Secondly, the school does more than just teach kids—and adults—about art. Ross aims to mimic the professional art world for his students. So the school curates exhibitions from emerging artists to allow them to show their work. The school also hires working artists who are connected to what’s relevant in the art world now.
Finally, One River School doesn’t restrict its classes to a full semester of one medium, but instead offers an ever-rotating schedule. Ross called it “art shuffle,” meaning that students take a weekly class and focus on a new medium, from painting to sculpture, every month.
“It’s not this linear trap of just charcoal sketching for 12 weeks," Ross said. "We keep it fresh so you’re learning how to use different mediums, learning about art history through the lens of current artists, and it’s very interactive. It’s built to be fun first—not super serious—and as a result, people want to do it more.”
The pop-up exhibit at Dorchester Art Project features works by 11 young artists from sixth grade to eleventh grade who participated in a six-month art residency. The kids have described the residency as the "best experience in their life," Ross said.
“People will feel inspired by what we do, what kids are able to do," he said of the exhibit, "and maybe they’ll go ‘Hey, we need this here in Boston.’”
Learn more about the pop-up here. The exhibit, Art Effect, will be open to the public Oct. 8 from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Dorchester Art Project, 1486 Dorchester Ave.