HARRISONBURG — When John Ros moved down to Harrisonburg from New York City two summers ago, his goal was to make James Madison University’s Duke Hall Gallery more accessible to the community.
Ros was hired as an assistant art professor in addition to director and chief curator of Duke Hall Gallery, located in Duke Hall at 820 S. Main St., replacing his predecessor, Gary Freeburg, who served in the position from 2008 to 2017.
Right away, Ros made changes to the gallery’s operations.
“When I got here, I implemented Saturday hours. I implemented participating in First Fridays. I feel like I brought a variety of shows and maybe not common household artist names, but some really sophisticated professional artists,” he said. “I’d like to say that I think we’ve bridged some gaps and we’ve made it more accessible.”
But after two years in the position, Ros has stepped down from his post and is moving back to New York City to pursue new opportunities and reunite with his husband after having to live apart most of the time.
“I’m a New Yorker and New York is my home. I feel like it just makes the most sense to be doing that there, especially when my husband is that far away and is there,” Ros said. “This position has been amazing and I’ve really been able to flex certain muscles. I loved being the director and chief curator of this space, but I want to be in the studio.”
Karen Gerard, the assistant to the director of JMU’s School of Art, Design and Art History, said Ros will be missed at the university.
“He’s a hard worker and he’s generous with his time,” Gerard said. “He made a big impact on the school. He did a lot of innovative things with the gallery.”
Ros also served as a board member of Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance and a member of the Arts Council of the Valley.
Ros said he’s made great connections with people at JMU and in the Harrisonburg community whom he will miss interacting with on a regular basis once he leaves.
One of those connections includes Lauren Alleyne, the assistant director of JMU’s Furious Flower Poetry Center and an associate English professor. Ros and Alleyne collaborated through several projects, such as having poetry reading events held in Duke Hall Gallery.
“We’ve been cross-pollinating the arts,” Alleyne said. “We’ve participated in each other’s programming as supporters and collaborators.”
Alleyne said Ros has left his mark on the gallery.
“I think as a young artist a lot of what he’s brought is the idea of the contemporary landscape. It’s been a lot of contemporary, non-traditional artwork,” she said. “He’s curated some really wonderful shows.”
Some of those exhibitions at Duke Hall Gallery include “The 613” by renowned Jewish artist Archie Rand, “Greetings From Nashville,” which brought a group of Music City artists together to examine what it means to be an artist in a growing city, and “Record Keepers,” a group exhibition that looked at how artists document current and past events through the use of multiples.
Ros brought his alternative art education organization, studioELL, which he founded in 2015, with him to Harrisonburg through a program he developed last year called VA-AIM, or Virginia Artists in the Marketplace. A group of young artists were selected to participate in a residency at the Arts Council for five days.
Ros planned to bring the program back this year but it was canceled after not enough applicants signed up.
“It was a little bit shocking because I think the program went really well and I think there was a lot of positive reaction to it,” he said.
But Ros will remain connected to the Valley through the continuation of the program.
“We are going to bring VA-AIM back in 2020 to see if people are interested again,” he said.
Born and raised in New York, the 40-year-old received his bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Brooklyn College in 2000 and his master’s from the State University of New York at Binghamton in 2013.
Ros began his career as a freelance artist and art handler. He ran a gallery in New York City called Pocket from 2001 to 2004 and another space called galleryELL from 2008 to 2016. He’s taught as an adjunct professor at the City Literary Institute in London and the National Academy of Art, in addition to his alma maters. He’s also taught as a visiting artist at New York University Steinhardt, London Metropolitan University and George Mason University.
Ros said his role at Duke Hall Gallery has allowed him to grow as an artist and art educator.
“I think every show has given me something as I try to create something for the community,” he said.
Beth Hinderliter, an associate professor of cross disciplinary studies at JMU, was chosen by the university as the next director of Duke Hall Gallery. Hinderliter teaches courses in art history, women’s and gender studies and Africana studies.
Ros’s official last day is June 28. He hopes the momentum he’s injected into Duke Hall Gallery is maintained moving forward.