And students have shown a willingness to invest in artmaking, driving increasing demand for One River’s classes. After finding his footing in Englewood—where the student pool is primarily mothers and children—Ross opened a second, corporate-owned location in Allendale, New Jersey, in January 2017. Though One River doesn’t share student admissions figures, it reports that, to date, its enrollees number is in the thousands.
In April 2017, the first One River franchise opened in Frisco, Texas. Partners looking to open franchises are given what Ross calls a “toolkit.” It includes everything ranging from curriculum to facility design, marketing materials to e-commerce. The organization also plays an instrumental role in identifying advantageous locations and communities for future franchises.
With esteemed gallerists James and Jane Cohan now joining One River as partners for its first Chicago space (with plans for more schools to come), Ross has earned a strong vote of confidence from the art world. The Cohans were already investors in One River, and had met Ross while he was purchasing art from their New York gallery
“His vision for arts education, using contemporary art practices to engage Pre-K through seniors in artmaking, is powerful,” James Cohan said over email. “Arts education is too often left out of school curricula due to budgetary constraints. One River is serving a real need.”
Ross has high hopes of building as many as 100 schools over the next five years, though he’s choosing his partners wisely. Ideal franchise owners must have a passion for bringing art education to their community, but also the means, and the business chops.
At the time of writing, new schools are slated to open in January 2018 in Westchester and Millburn, New Jersey, and One River will soon announce franchises in Houston, Dallas, and Portland, Oregon.
While Ross has already discovered that he can keep American students engaged with One River over a course of years, there’s still a way to go. For one, the prices of classes and the locations of schools, in affluent neighborhoods, pose limits in terms of the audience that One River can reach. And for those who can afford these classes, artmaking is still nowhere near as ubiquitous as it could be.
“People spend so much time on nutrition and exercise, but what are they doing to broaden their horizons in their creative sensibility?” Ross asks. “It’s not just about making cool objects, it’s also about stretching yourself and and investing in your creative potential—which I think everyone needs today. I mean, we live in crazy times.”