Lifelong artist Susan Dodge loves her new position as Director of ArcWorks Community Center in Peabody. “The job I am doing now is just such a reward. I smile everyday. I’m happy to go to work. And I get to do so many things I really love, like curating shows, working with artists and envisioning what the next project will be,” the Salem resident said during an interview at The Bridge at 211 in Salem, where she currently has a piece on exhibit.
The Northeast Arc (NeArc) is a not-for-profit organization that helps children and adults with disabilities become full participants in the community. ArcWorks is its inclusive art center, which serves artists and viewers of all talents, skills, interests and backgrounds and provides artistic opportunity for people with and without disabilities.
In her role as its director, Dodge is responsible for scheduling gallery shows at both the art center and Breaking Grounds, the coffee shop in Peabody that NeArc runs. She also creates curriculum and teaches various art classes during the day to NeArc clients and in the evening to community members.
“I am happily tired at the end of the day,” Dodge said with a smile.
Tim Brown, Dodge’s supervisor and NeArc’s Director of Innovation and Strategy, couldn’t be more pleased to have Dodge on board.
“I have been a personal fan of Susan’s art for many years,” he said. “What I did not know was how each step in her personal journey fit so nicely into the model we wanted to develop.”
Dodge’s impressive resumé includes teaching art; a commission for 48 paintings at the famed Palm Beach, Florida property, The Breakers; a seven-year stint as Project Manager at a web design firm; a business career in sales and marketing at The Hawthorne Hotel; curating many art shows, and owning her own pottery studio, The Artful Dodger, through which she sold murals, tiles and signature pottery throughout the U.S. and the Virgin Islands.
She earned a B.F.A from Massachusetts College of Art and returned to school at age 48 for a certificate in digital graphic design.
According to Brown, the diversity of Dodge’s experience was exactly what NeArc hoped a new director bring to the position — the abilities both to develop an engaging class structure using a variety of mediums, and to manage the Gallery Shows and Shop within the ArcWorks program.
“Within her first four months at NeArc, she has curated five different gallery shows. Each show brought new artists and viewers, expanding our reach and recognition within the art community,” he said.
Prior to her current position, Dodge has always taught private art classes to children. This is her first time working with students with disabilities, but she sees more similarities than differences.
“I look at people with disabilities as just people. Creating art in so many ways is about honing a technique and seeing things. Everyone has their own vision of how they see things. Basically, making art is just translating that vision into an object or putting it on a canvas or a paper,” she said.
She works with 25-year-old Polyvios Christoforos twice a week. “He is a prolific painter. We work together really well,” she said. Christoforos’ work was featured in a collection of greeting cards handed out at NeArc’s “An Evening of Changing Lives Dinner and Fashion Show” on April 29.
“When you teach people with disabilities, you have to be really present, and compassionate and listen really well,” Dodge said, noting that many of her clients have speech-related issues. “I have developed different ways I work with people” depending on their needs.
Over the years and from her teaching experiences in the U.S. and abroad, Dodge has noticed a consistent and common thread among all her students: they share an eagerness to create something they can be proud of.
“In my core, I believe that everyone is an artist. It’s just a matter of letting yourself do it without judging what you’re doing,” she said.
For more information, visit ne-arc.org.