Spotlight: Susan Rodgerson, Executive/Artistic Director – Artists for Humanity

While on the hunt for green inspired artists, a building in Boston called the EpiCenter continued to show up in searches. Upon reading various articles related to this building one thing became clear, the crew that helped construct this eco-friendly structure was certainly inspired to be hands on. The EpiCenter is the headquarters of Artists for Humanity, a group of at risk youth who are offered a chance to succeed through training and job placement in various areas of art. The students took an active role in every aspect of the completion of the structure, working with AIArchitects, from design to the opening of the doors. Susan Rodgerson, the founder of Artists for Humanity and an artist herself, was excited to share additional information related to the EpiCenter and its unique design concepts as well as how much she enjoys working with the youth in Boston who create inspiring art every day. All pictures are of art created by students.

Describe a day in your personal or professional life.

I’ve been working with folks at AFH for so long that my personal and professional life are one in the same in many ways. I have the great good fortune to work with folks I love and care for and want to be with. However working in the city in a very people filled and intensely creative environment, leaves me very little time to be alone in nature where I am in touch with my personal creativity and spirit. I live with a great guy in Hull, MA which is a beach town. When I am not at AFH I am probably on the beach or in the woods.

Who or what influences your work and why?

I am influenced by the spirit that has created and continues to direct the mission of AFH – because it is my fate.

Is it your personal belief that creativity, and the ability to create art, is innate?


Who or what inspired the construction of the EpiCenter building?

For 8 years AFH had the luxury of working in a 35,000 sq. ft warehouse loft in the Fort Point District and were spoiled by the open and light filled spaces that were constructed in the last century. The space was flooded with natural light and ventilation. We tried to replicate the space that helped to create us. And, since we were embarking on a capital campaign and going to the bother to renovate or create such a space, why wouldn’t we also think of how we could reduce our energy costs on into the future and incorporate renewable technology. I was somewhat involved in a solar project in the 80’s and was aware of the effectiveness, so seized the opportunity to make it happen.

What do you consider the most unusual aspect of the building’s construction?

When you build green – everything is important and considered. Probably the aspect folks want to hear about most is the natural ventilation system. Our cooling system is essentially designed to work like a simple attic fan. At night we open our operable windows and from 1 – 4 pm fans on the roof draw cool night air across the concrete floors, through the spaces and up an empty shaft to the roof. In the morning we close the windows and draw the shades. The night air has chilled the mass of concrete and helps to keep the building cool through the day. The system works reasonably well except when the night time temperature does not drop 10 degrees or so for a week at a time. In that case we take a sun day like we take a snow day in winter. It’s all good and we feel we have a partnership with the weather.

(Editors note: Please see this article for additional green aspects of the EpiCenter building)

Why was it so important to go green?

It is time for each and every person to take personal responsibility for living on this planet and most importantly take action and make change happen. I feel it is important that we the people do what needs to be done and not allow government to ruin our children’s future because we choose to be lazy and irresponsible.

How did you find neighboring residents and business owners responded to the construction of this structure?

Everyone that visits the Artists for Humanity EpiCenter leaves with a smile… honestly it is difficult to separate the building from the program and the program gives you such a sense of hope and inspiration. I guess the building leaves you with the feeling that a sustainable world is possible. If a grassroots organization such as Artists for Humanity, dedicated to the voice, vision and virtuosity of urban kids and the arts can build a platinum LEED building than others can too. It is just a matter of time and time is the matter indeed.

What type of artistic industries employ the youth in your organization?

At AFH we do business with all kind of industries – from designing and printing T shirts for Jasper Whites Summer Shack (a restaurant chain) and green centered designs for KEDS brand sneakers to designing a fountain made from antique plumbing parts for a local plumbing museum. We do lots of design work for other non-profits including arts organizations such as the Mass Cultural Council and the National Grant Makers in the Arts as well as local grassroots groups and young entrepreneurs. We have probably worked with nearly every type of business at one time or another.

Can you tell me about your creative process?

My creative process is one of intuition and response.

Where did your first inspiration come from?
I have always been a creative person – don’t think I have ever had a bored moment, but the highlight of my life as an artist was meeting the young people who co-founded Artists for Humanity. Something undeniable happened [in] art that time to set off the intuitive response that created AFH and the EpiCenter.

Were you influenced by the Green Movement?

I was greatly influenced by the green movement of the 70’s which unquestionably informed our plan to build the EpiCenter. When we began our building process in 2001 we were at the very beginning of the current movement and I guess you could say we were in the right place at the right time.

What have you incorporated into your lifestyle to facilitate going green and conserving energy?

I practice all the basics – replaced my incandescent lights, conserve water and energy, am very conscientious about buying products with little packaging, reuse and recycle everything possible and embarrass everyone I meet to do the same.

What is important to you about conservation and preserving our environment?
Without it nothing else matters.

What challenges have you had in your work?

On the job training is exciting and creative but has its challenges. There have been many times when I have had to think on my feet and make lots of intuitive decisions. I like making decisions so has been great fun but a bit scary at times. The hardest part of all we have done is fundraising for a start up organization.

Do you feel that the Internet has a positive or negative influence on art? How does the Internet affect your work?

That’s a tough question. Most things are both good and bad. I’m really not sure what I think about the question beyond acknowledging that it makes designing much easier and faster and is really good for business.

What is your greatest ambition as an artist?

To someday make a living selling my paintings.

What are you currently working on? Can you tell us about it?

I am currently working on dozens of things and the one I am most excited about is a feasibility study to examine the viability of an Artists for Humanity in Portland, Maine.

What are your long term career goals?

To expand the EpiCenter and employ more kids. To live a life inspired and useful until the end.

Are there any historical or contemporary artists that you specifically admire?

My taste and admiration is very fickle and I love, love, love certain artists when I am attracted to specific things.What advice would you give a young artist just getting started?
Practice, practice, practice and you will get results and the results will inspire you to practice more.

What “Green” Product would you recommend to our readers?

I believe in simplifying- such as using natural products like baking soda and vinegar for cleaning.

What is your best “going green tip”- for example turning off lights, or eating one meatless meal a week?

I believe we need to reprogram the way we live – giving daily thought to how we live with and are dependent on nature. However, probably for most people driving our vehicles as little as possible is the best way to reduce our carbon footprint.

How would your friends describe you?

Please visit the Artists for Humanity website for more information on this group.

Photos © Artists for Humanity

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