Music and Art seem to run together for a lot of people and this is clearly the case for One River Founder Matt Ross. After 20 years as an executive in the radio industry, Matt became an investor and the Founding CEO for the School of Rock. At that time in 2005, School of Rock was a fledgling startup with a handful of schools and five years later when Ross left, the School of Rock was the largest network of music schools in the world.
After leaving School of Rock, Ross compared the state of art education to the state of music education prior to the expansion of School of Rock. It appeared that the two were virtually the same: there were very few innovative art schools near his home in New Jersey and throughout suburbs across America. Thus began the start of a personal mission that Matt has been on since the fall of 2011. Matt says: “It seems to me that the most relevant and important thing I can do is to help people grow creatively. I love the challenge of inspiring people through compelling art education while making it fun at the same time. This is my calling…it is my mission and it is the purpose of One River.”
Ross also plays an active role in the community and as a patron to young artists across the world. Matt is on the Board of Trustees at the Bergen Performing Arts Center. The “Bergen PAC” is northern New Jersey’s most important non-profit performing arts center and provides dance and theatrical education programs for thousands of students every year.
In addition, Matt has embarked on a personal creative project…developing an important collection of contemporary art that currently features over 200 objects. “When I was getting started with One River, It dawned on me that if I was going to teach people contemporary art I needed to jump in and self educate beyond the classroom. Committing to building an art collection turned out to be the best way for me to develop a personal point of view around what art I thought was well done and potentially important. Almost all of the artwork that I own are from young artists…most often I support them during their first or second solo exhibitions. This project has required me to obsessively visit studios, galleries, museums and art fairs around the world in search of art that challenged my senses. Along the way, I have been blessed to help change some artist’s lives by providing measurable support and I consider this to be one of the most important things I have done in my life.”
When it comes to enjoying art, Ross has a unique perspective. “I believe that we see art through our eyes but we feel it physically in a different way. It is hard to describe, but when I am engaged with something that moves me, it creates a physical response that is much more than purely visual. It’s like the feeling in your heart from a solid drum beat or guitar…those enter through your ears but the feeling you get is much deeper and more complex.”
Matt is married for over twenty years to his wife Susan and is the father of two boys. His oldest son Alex has severe Autism and Matt has played an important role as an advocate for people with Autism, helping to raise millions of dollars through a variety of non-profits. “My son Alex has taught me more about life than anyone or anything. When you raise a child who cannot speak, it taps into a different skill…a different sensibility that teaches you things that you never knew you had. It probably also gave me a strong appreciation for childhood development and the blessing of helping others learn to grow via music and art.” Matt’s youngest son Jason is an accomplished musician who has benefited first hand from Matt’s passion for music education.