CRESSKILL, N.J. — Cresskill father Matt Ross stood in the crowd at CBGB's in 2005, watching a bunch of "School of Rock" students cover Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven."
He observed how prideful the kids looked, being able to showcase what they had been practicing in class.
Then he turned to look at the crowd, most of which was comprised of the students' parents, and saw that same look of pride.
He had an epiphany — the concert was a game.
"There was this shared experience between the performers and the spectators that was very sticky to me," Ross remembered. "It was exciting because it brought music education into the realm of sports."
Soon after that concert, Ross accepted a position as CEO of the music school franchise. He used the idea that music education could be like a sport to help grow the company to over 80 locations in five years.
Now he is trying to do the same thing for art education with "One River School," an Englewood arts school he started in 2011 that is preparing to open a second franchise in Allendale this summer.
Like, "School of Rock," One River School focuses on practice and performance through group work, art exhibits, and by focusing on contemporary art.
"Art making is a solitude experience," Ross said. "We want to make this a fun, compelling experience by applying it to what is relevant in the art world today."
Ross first felt the need to "fix" arts education when he began taking his youngest son to art museums in Manhattan in 2009.
"I was thinking how there is all this great art and arts education in Manhattan and we only live one river away and there is absolutely no culture here," Ross said.
In five years, Ross hopes to have 100 "One River" franchises spread throughout the suburbs surrounding major American cities.
If and when that day comes, Ross said the culture gap between the cities and the suburbs will be a lot smaller.
"Kids who grow up in the suburbs tend to be pushed toward exploring themselves through sport," Ross said. "Perhaps if they grew up where there was a One River School, they would be better able to better explore their inclination to create."
"Hopefully we can help create the next generation of great artists," he added.
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