In 2010, Matt Ross decided to embark on a research project that attempted to “understand why art education was broken in America.”
Living in the New Jersey suburbs, there wasn’t a place nearby for his children to learn visual art making in a compelling way. Instead, the abundance of art schools were located in large metropolitan areas, specifically New York City.
“Not only was there no place to learn art in a cool, compelling way [nearby], but virtually no one in America could even [identify] who the up and coming important, living artists of today [were],” Ross says. “I realized there was an opportunity to create a differentiated experience by teaching through the lens of what is current and what is relevant.”
Two years later, Ross created his solution – One River School of Art + Design in Englewood.
“The way we [teach creativity] is not by asking [students] to copy something literally. We give them reference materials and a concept, but we are mining for the individual outcomes,” Ross says.
This open-minded encouragement to be unique and different is a new approach compared to traditional art schools that often aim for children to come home with work that is predictable, easy to understand and looking the same.
“We challenge children to think differently and apply their own creative spirit as an overlay to the reference material and the concept,” he says.
Forty percent of One River School’s students are adults who partake in one of the plethora of unique classes and programs that the school offers, including “art shuffle,” “digital art shuffle” and “art focus.” The school uses a member-based model, with weekly classes and a monthly tuition.
“Art making for adults fills an important need today, much like mindfulness and yoga,” Ross says. “It allows people to calm down and deal with the crazy pace of today’s world.”
Aiming to be the voice of contemporary art within its communities, One River School currently has three locations, including spots in Allendale and Frisco, Texas.
“We believe we are going to be the national leader in the space,” Ross says. “We’ve spent years developing tools to support every function of our business, including education, operations, marketing and facility design. Right now, we are focused on growth. By 2018, we hope to have about 15 schools across the country.”
Not only does One River School provide people with an outlet to express themselves artistically, but it also provides them with an opportunity to learn about ways to make art a career.
“There is a demand for design work, both 2D and 3D, and online web design and graphic design; [it is also] the ability to create content that has a commercial sensibility. There’s a burgeoning opportunity for people [adept] at digital art and content development,” Ross says. “We have never before had more opportunities for people with visual art and design skills.”