Article by Allen Beuershausen – Photo by Carol He
Opportunity, hope, and encouragement are three of the most essential elements in helping a child to grow into a healthy, mature adult, yet for many disadvantaged and at-risk children these ingredients are in short supply if they exist at all. Thankfully, we have organizations in Austin like Anthropos Arts who step in and work to fill this void.
Anthropos Arts was founded as a 501(c3) nonprofit in 1998 by Austin musician Dylan Jones to provide at-risk students with the opportunity to learn to play music from professional musicians and to hear musical performances that they would never be able to experience otherwise. Taken at face value, his programs are about music education. What he actually created, though, is a community project that wraps an education in self-confidence, teamwork, responsibility, and self-respect in a program of music education and experiences.
Twelve years ago, Jones decided to act on his conviction that disadvantaged youth should have the same opportunities to learn and grow that others have, and he knew that the way he could best make an impact on these children was by sharing the gift of music with them. Jones, currently the bass guitarist in the middle eastern pop band Atash, grew up in a musical family. His aunt was a fiddler and a songwriter for the great Chet Atkins and Dottie West. He began playing the electric bass guitar as a teen, and has gone on to study and perform hip-hop, Indian music, and jazz, and has toured the world with the bluegrass band, Q. Jones has seen first-hand the power music has to enlighten and enrich people, and what better way to reach these children than through the “universal language?”
In order to serve the children who need the most support and enrichment, Jones decided to approach local “Title I” middle and high schools which are schools designated by the “No Child Left Behind” act as having the highest levels of student poverty. He proposed to provide band students at these schools with the opportunity to learn to perform and create music with individual instruction from professional musicians. No single band teacher could provide such personally tailored lessons. At first the schools were reluctant to partner with Anthropos because they have seen so many well-meaning programs fall apart due to lack of funding, burnout, or other reasons. Once they realized that Jones and Anthropos Arts were here to stay they were happy to have the help.
Upon receiving the acceptance and encouragement of the participating schools, Jones recruited other local musicians to help him provide free private music lessons to band students and to a handful of other students who are interested in learning to play. One of the first instructors Jones recruited to Anthropos Arts was local jazz great, Ephraim Owens. While Owens is no longer participating in the program, Anthropos Arts currently boasts such instructors as Brad Hauser, Raul Vallejo and Luis Ibanez of Trio Los Vigilantes, and Lauren Gurgiolo. In addition to providing free individual music lessons, Anthropos also conducts scores of music workshops each year and brings award-winning musicians to the schools to perform free shows. In any given year, Jones estimates that they provide private lessons to 100 students and reach 10,000 students through their workshops and concerts. Martin, Webb, and Keeling are three of the middle schools whose students they serve, and Reagan, Lanier, and East Side Memorial are a few of the high schools they serve.
The students who participate in Anthropos Arts’ programs learn to play music, but what they come to realize is that they are growing and maturing in other ways as a result of the instruction and opportunities they receive. All of the instructors serve as mentors rather than just being teachers and authority figures. The instructors are seen by the students as partners in a very real sense. Students learn to be creative and to work together. They all have the opportunity to perform solos in public concerts, and they often play alongside the musicians who visit their schools. For many students, the highlight of the year is the concert they get to perform along with their mentors at the Stubb’s amphitheater. This has been a perk for the children since Anthropos Arts first began.
As numerous studies have shown, children who study music tend to do better in school than those who don’t, and the students in Anthropos Art’s project are no exception. The overall graduation rate from Austin’s Title I high schools is about 60%, whereas 100% of Anthropos Arts’ students graduate, and 80% go on to college, typically on music scholarships. These students often come from very difficult situations at home, and many are homeless, yet through the encouragement and assistance of their mentors they come out as self-confident and successful leaders who see the world as a place of great opportunities, not insurmountable hardships.
Anthropos Arts is a remarkable organization that is making a tremendous impact on the lives of thousands of disadvantaged students each year. With the continuing support of volunteers, donations, and grants from the community, they will continue to thrive and help their students prosper. Jones’s dream is to have enough funding to serve all AISD and Manor ISD Title I schools, and ultimately to take their programming model state-wide and even nation-wide. Currently, they are only able to meet half of the kids who need their help, and they are unable to help all of the school districts who have asked to partner with them. Also under consideration is the idea of creating a scholarship fund to help students with tuition and purchasing instruments. These are big goals that won’t be achieved overnight, but so much is at stake, we all need Anthropos Arts to succeed in their mission.
To learn more about Anthropos Arts and help them out, visit their web site at www.anthroposarts.org