Susan Rodgerson has mastered the art of giving back. As the founder and executive/artistic director of Artists for Humanity—a nonprofit organization focused on creating opportunities for young people through paid employment in the arts—Rodgerson has been using her studio art background for good since 1986. It was then that she became involved with a group selling art to raise money for the Four Corners Native American reservation.
That experience sparked a fire in Rodgerson, who in 1991 facilitated a project bringing together teenagers from the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Roxbury to create collaborative paintings to sell to the community. It wasn’t until after the project was completed, however, that the initial seed for AFH was planted when a handful of students asked Rodgerson if they could stay on for the summer to continue creating art in her studio.
“And so our little revolution started at that point,” Rodgerson says. “As a lifelong artist and entrepreneur, it’s really been thrilling for me to be able to witness the thousands of young people that have come through Artists for Humanity and been empowered through this process of making something out of nothing.”
In the more than 25 years since it started, AFH has employed more than 3,000 under-resourced teens—and two of the six kids who spent that summer in Rodgerson’s studio nearly three decades ago are still working at AFH today. In 2004, under Rodgerson’s guidance, the organization opened the EpiCenter, a rentable arts facility to help support employment for more than 250 kids. Currently expanding, the Platinum LEED-certified building is set to open this fall and will double the number of teens it employs to about 500 a year and build an expanded event space that will enable more collaborations through a membership plan.
“It’s a great way to shape and mold people with this opportunity,” Rodgerson says. “It’s really thrilling because everything I’ve done my whole life is all being mirrored by these cute, beautiful kids.”
“Raising money has been my greatest challenge. It’s basically a sales job, but you are selling ideas. When you have a social mission and you are looking for people to invest in the betterment of society—that’s a really big challenge. I have learned that it will resonate with people instantly or not. You’re not going to convince everyone that this is the path to solving that problem, so you have to be super-resilient about letting go and just trying to stay really focused and true to your goals and know that not everyone is gonna buy into it. I have learned that that’s OK, and that there are so many great people out there in this crazy world.”
INFLUENCERS: GEORGE FOREMAN III | TARA FOLEY | ELLIOT COHEN | JC TETREAULT | JOANNE CHANG | PEDRO ALONZO | AMAN ADVANI | KATHY ABBOTT | BRIDGETTE WALLACE | SUSAN RODGERSON