Dear Friends,

2020 has been a year like none other. It has challenged us, and demanded we grow and adapt in ways we could not have imagined. But above all else, the events of the past year have helped us to focus our intention, more than ever before, on the importance of inspiration and service. 

Through it all, music has shined as one of humanity’s greatest treasures. In its gentle and powerful way music has offered new roads to connect when so many have been closed. We’ve seen Italians serenading one another from their balconies in the height of the pandemic, Yo Yo Ma create #songsofcomfort, and the cast of Hamilton inspire millions through live-streamed appearances. Closer to home we’ve seen students and teachers make never-before-imagined collaborative artworks. Our youth and adult community ensembles have courageously sailed into unknown waters, and our concerts have reached audiences across the globe for the first time.

It is a solemn time, and a tragic time for many. In addition to the effects of pandemic life, our nation and our world has awoken to a new awareness of racism and inequity in our communities and within ourselves. Racism and inequity are not new, tragedy is not new, but the voices of change and leadership have thankfully found a larger platform in our public discourse.

I am deeply grateful for our team at ACG. And that includes you! We have worked hard to grow and adapt, pivot quickly where possible, and set in motion processes that will create the kind of mindful change that can only happen over a long period of time. 

On behalf of all of us on the ACG team, thank you for your belief in us, and for your belief in the power of music to do good in the world. 

Matt Hinsley, Executive Director


1) ACG Organizational Ecosystem

This is a report about ACG Education. For nearly twenty years, education has been the single largest division of ACG. At the same time we’d like to point out that, with growth and experience, we have come to see less and less actual division between the different streams of our work. We have come to realize that, like music, inspiration flows freely between all of our services if we can be open to the possibilities. For that reason, we’ll say just a few words about ACG overall. 

As an example of this intersection, every major ACG concert event begins with student performers. All students (in typical times) can attend ACG concerts for free, and in that way, our concerts enable large-scale performances that allow students to play on the biggest stages with artists and peers. This experience offers countless opportunities for collaboration, inspiration and education for all involved. For an extensive update about how ACG Concerts have adapted during this time, click here

We are frequently centering student and community projects as integral parts of our concert-making, as was the case, for example, with the premiere of Everything Changes at Once (a piece made by students in 29 US cities) in May as part of our 19-20 season finale. This was also the case with the premiere of Forward (created by our four youth and adult community ensembles) as part of our Fall 2020 finale.

Also in this report, we will discuss our strengthened efforts to acknowledge and take action towards racial equity in our services, for example, to diversify representation in our curriculum teaching library, among other things. But these efforts are not limited to ACG Education. They can, and should, be seen throughout our artistic production as well. For dozens of examples of inspiring artmaking, we invite you to look through our YouTube Channel.

ACG has remained strong and productive during the pandemic. Our curriculum and training were in high demand, our Music & Healing services actually expanded because of the move to online interactions, and our artistic pivots to live-stream concerts resulted in many strengthened connections with our supporters, many new friends, and a lot of good will as evidenced by overwhelming feedback and generosity.

2) Central Texas

Our partnership continues to deepen with Austin ISD. In a recent strategic planning meeting with the Fine Arts Director, Alan Lambert, we were very pleased to see Guitar listed as a core subject for every middle and high school in the district. We are happy to report that Manor ISD, expanded their offerings to include guitar at the high school level in fall 2020, complimenting the impressive growth and success of their Decker Middle School program. After school programming at Del Valle High School has stalled due to the pandemic, though we look forward to continuing services as soon as possible. Similarly the projected growth into San Marcos ISD Middle Schools has not taken place, but we are hopeful for the future. He have recently confirmed, however, Hutto ISD as a new Central Texas district partner, and we will begin training elementary and middle school teachers in spring 2021.

During “normal” times, on a spectrum from broad to specific, our services in Central Texas include: District Strategic Support, District and Region Assessment Creation and Execution, All City and All Region Audition and Direction, Curriculum Development and Distribution, Teacher Recruitment, Teacher Training, Individual Program Support or Teacher Consultation, Free Individual Lessons focused in Title 1 Schools, Instrument and other material support, Special Collaborative Events, Student Performance Opportunities, and In-School Guest Artist Performance Engagement.

We are particularly grateful to have added Jess Griggs to our team, in July 2019, as our Director of Music and Community Engagement. Among Jess’ many responsibilities is interfacing with our local districts and many teachers to assess needs, match resources, and accomplish our suite of services. We are also particularly grateful to report that, with the exception of All-City and All-Region ensembles, we have continued to provide all of our services, albeit with modifications. Here are some highlights:

Free Individual Lessons: Individual instruction is actually quite effective by video conference. We have slightly increased our budget for individual instruction to help meet needs during the pandemic and hired three new teaching artists. Our teaching artists are meeting with students via zoom each day from schools across Central Texas. We are particularly proud of our Javier Niño Scholarship Award Winner, Elijah Flores, a senior at Crockett High School who is currently preparing auditions and meeting with university professors.

Guitars: Many students do not own their own instruments, and remote learning as a result of the pandemic placed into relief this particular symptom of economic inequity. Thanks to the generosity of many donors, we have been able to provide nearly 250 guitars (over $35,000 worth) directly to students and programs lacking instruments. Read more on this effort online here

Everything Changes At Once: Normally there is an event called Concert and Sight Reading Contest each April involving ensemble performances for six external judges. This is a helpful focal point for programs, a great opportunity for teachers and students to receive feedback, and a powerful mechanism to maintain and communicate district-wide standards. When this event was cancelled in March 2020, we were tasked with coming up with an alternative. Travis Marcum wrote Everything Changes at Once, a hyper-flexible piece for guitar students at all levels, including options for video, photo, and spoken contributions. The piece was designed to be expressive of each person’s experience, and be approachable not only for all levels of students, but even for students who did not own their own instrument. The piece ended up serving not only AISD, but students in twenty-nine cities across the US.

Guitar + Dance: One of our favorite moments came during the last live performance we presented to the public, on March 7, 2020. The guitar and dance departments at Lively Middle School joined forces to make something beautiful together. In fact, the Lively Middle School guitar instructor, Meredith McAlmon, told us she took specific inspiration for the idea from the ACG overall season theme in 19-20 of “together.” From its inception, then, to the performance on March 7 in front of over one thousand people at our International Concert Series presentation of David Russell this beautiful artwork is a stunning example of the “ecosystem” for contextualized arts learning we mentioned at the start of this report.


3) Juvenile Justice System

At the onset of the pandemic we were particularly concerned about the possibility of continuing instruction in our Juvenile Justice System programs. While these programs were some of the last to authorize and implement remote teaching access for our teachers, we are pleased to report that by May our classes at WilCo (Williamson County Juvenile Services) and Gardner Betts (Travis County) were occurring regularly again. Since that time, classes have maintained consistency and even thrived amidst the challenges of online learning. In June, we actually added a third Central Texas program at Phoenix House, a residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation program. At Phoenix House we provide two sections of daily, for credit guitar classes. This program is directed by Jeremy Osborne, ACG’s Assistant Director of Education, and instruction in Williamson County is provided by Ciyadh Wells, ACG’s Director of Individual Giving. 

The ACG daily, sustained, for-credit performing arts model in the juvenile justice system is extremely rare. We are unaware of another similar program of this scope in the State of Texas. We were asked by the Arts Education Partnership (AEP), a division of the Education Commission of the States working alongside the National Endowment for the Arts, for information on our programming. ACG was then featured in the April 2020 national study: Engaging the Art Across the Juvenile Justice System (p. 5). Subsequently the AEP invited ACG staff to give a best-practices presentation alongside AEP and DreamYard staff at the annual Grantmakers For Education conference on November 30.

The groundbreaking nature of ACG’s work in the Juvenile Justice system has led to increasing talks with facility directors and educators across the state. Specifically we have been asked to replicate our program for Dallas County, and are engaged in long-term talks for a special new education initiative related to young adults.

For more insight into ACG Juvenile Justice System programming, we invite you to watch this 90-minute streaming special produced in April, 2020.


4) Curriculum and Teacher Training

The bulk of our technical and development resources since mid-March have been devoted to pivoting both our curriculum and teacher training to online formats. Even so, the team has published four additions to the curriculum library from Mexico: Sandunga, Son de la Negra, Cielito Lindo, and La Llorona. These additions were researched by ACG Director of Operations Salvador Garcia, arranged by Celil Refik Kaya, and finalized by Chris Lee. We have also added a “Special Projects” Section to the website to capture new-format multi-media collaborations like Travis Marcum’s Everything Changes at Once, Ofrendas and more.

At the on-set of the pandemic we made subscriptions to free for six months, pointed users to our already-free resource, hosted roundtable discussions, aggregated solutions, and then announced and offered our 2020 Teacher Summits online for free.

Teacher Summits

Offering our 2020 Teacher Summits online during this time required two major streams of development in June and July: 1) Content 2) Technology.

Teacher Summit Content focused on two major areas: Racial Equity and Remote Teaching. Our discussions of Racial Equity were led by guest speaker Sam Escalante, Professor of Music Education at UT San Antonio, and ACG Director of Individual Giving, and leading voice on Racial Equity in the classical guitar world, Ciyadh Wells. Over the summer Ciyadh was also asked to speak several times on the subject of Racial Equity for the Guitar Foundation of America and her talk Creating a Diverse and Inclusive Guitar Community can be viewed online here. Our second content area of Remote Teaching was embedded into the entire experience because the Summits were, in fact, remote experiences. We discussed techniques for engaging students in welcoming, encouraging, and respectful ways, and focusing on expressivity even through video conference, all laid over smart technical and musical sequencing.

Technology was led by ACG’s Education Consultant, and Director of Guitar at Bedichek Middle School, Phil Swasey, alongside ACG’s Director of Curriculum Eric Pearson. Phil created online classroom environments using the “Canvas” Learning Management System (LMS) thereby developing not only the course through which our remote trainees would learn, but also the model on which they would develop their own units for the fall classes. 

There is a lot here! You are invited to email us for more information on these content areas, technology, or any other subjects in this report.

5) Let’s Play: Braille Lifelong Learning Resource

We are extremely pleased to report that our braille lifelong learning system launched in November 2020 in its first full translation. This new site, which you can visit online here, has been created for use throughout the Balkan Peninsula. 

We are very grateful to our partner in Montenegro, Rados Malidzan, for raising the funds and striking the alliances throughout the Balkans not only to make the extensive audio and text translations, but also arrange for free braille printing and distribution in multiple countries to maximize the resource’s utility. We are also very grateful to members of our team: Jess Griggs, Eric Pearson, Jordan Walsh, and Tyson Breaux who worked for months to implement this system.

ACG Performance Engagement Artist Joseph Palmer and Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Music Instructor Jeremy Coleman created the original sequencing and materials for Let’s Play. Rados had this to say when the newly translated site launched: “I am immensely thankful to Jeremy and Joseph for all their beautiful work they put in these so carefully and beautifully created lessons – everything is there – gradualness, attention to every detail both in music and didactic, dynamics, musicality, and the music, which is beautiful in every single piece! I had many of these pieces singing in my head for days after recordings. I am happy that I have managed to secure the cooperation regarding free printing of braille scores with societies of blind and visually impaired of Montenegro, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republic of Srpska. In my opinion this will help to overcome this significant obstacle to the users, which is present at the moment in all these countries.”

Let’s Play was also an unexpectedly helpful system for many of our school-based teaching partners at the onset of the pandemic with the shift to remote learning. The system is built around a carefully sequenced solo learning track, paired with detailed audio guides, downloadable music scores, and no cost or barrier to access. These unique features made it particularly valuable for teachers with students learning at home.

6) Music & Healing 

ACG Music and Healing is a multifaceted program that serves Central Texans experiencing significant challenge or trauma in collaboration with over a dozen local hospitals, shelters and social service organizations. We began 2020 by hiring and training a group of five Music and Healing Artists, including 3 new musicians to share in creating music that helps our community members tell their story in song. Soon after, at the onset of the pandemic, we found that there was even more need for this type of service and remote interactions actually increased participants’ accessibility to the various projects. So we deepened our relationships with individuals at Dell Children’s Hospital, with new mothers at Any Baby Can through Lullaby Project. We created new songwriting courses and artist partnerships for women at Red Oak Hope serving victims of human trafficking. We deepened our friendships with the medical community, expanding our services to patients throughout Austin as well as working directly with the wonderful med students at The University of Texas at Austin Dell Med School. We added new partnerships with providers at St. David’s Hospital. We also began a veterans songwriting program in partnership with the veterans creative expression organization Resilient-Me. 

Another beautiful example of the crossover between ACG programs throughout the organization was Together, the large community-based production in January. Two participants from our Music and Healing programs at Dell Children’s Hospital and the Livestrong Cancer Institutes were featured in this show. Their voices echoed throughout, intertwined between original works of music composed around their story.


7) Music & Community

As we said at the beginning of this report, the boundaries between ACG Education, Concerts and Services is increasingly and intentionally blurry. As much as we wanted to inspire with meaningful art, and support school-based education, we also wanted to ensure that opportunities for connection for our youth and adult guitar ensembles would continue through the pandemic. We’ll highlight three such projects, in chronological order: Solace, Ofrendas, and Forward.

Each spring for fifteen years ACG has awarded a prize for a new guitar ensemble composition and then premiered the winning work with a large gathering of a multi-state, all-ages, all-levels ensemble at an event called ACGfest. This year’s winning composition was called Solace written by Brandon Carcamo. ACGfest would have occurred in April, and had to be cancelled. But, led by ACG Artistic Director Joe Williams, the project was able to continue as an online collaboration with the dozens of participants who would have been present live.

There is a tradition in Mexico and Latin America called Ofrendas where loved ones who have passed away are honored by placing their favorite foods, drink, or other significant objects on altars. These objects, called “ofrendas” or “offerings”, are believed to help guide and welcome the spirits of our departed loved ones back home to celebrate Día de Muertos. In collaboration with Mexic-Arte Museum, and led by our Director of Operations Salvador Garcia, who joined Joe Williams as the co-Artistic Director of this project, we commissioned 20 short music-video ofrendas from local artists, and received many dozens more from community members. We invite you to experience some of these captivating tributes in the playlist below, or read a story from one of our individual contributors online here.

Over the summer there were questions as to whether or not we’d be able to have our two adult and two youth community ensembles continue in the fall. We asked our members if they would be interested in trying to do something innovative together, and the answer was a resounding “yes!” What emerged, then, was an ACG commission from composer Michael Keplinger to write a forward-looking piece in four movements, each to be created as a multi-media work by our four community-based groups. The beautiful project, called Forward, led by ACG Community Ensembles Director Tony Mariano, Youth Camerata Director Stephen Krishnan, and Youth Orchestra Director Joe Williams, was premiered during our fall finale on December 12.


8) Future

Some exciting upcoming projects for us include the creation of an ACG Education Composer Residency. We will offer a year-long paid fellowship to composers of color specifically to write music for our students in Austin and those using worldwide. We plan to expand our teaching artist staff to serve even more young musicians through our free private lessons program while deepening the experience through mentorship and college preparation services. In Spring, ACG will be making concerted efforts to build artist partnerships with individual schools in Austin, Manor, San Marcos and beyond to help brainstorm, develop, and execute long-term projects (like Everything Changes at Once) tailored to the individual wants and needs of the particular school community. We will be exploring exciting new partnerships with ISDs and juvenile justice centers across Texas to help build inspiring, lasting music programs there. ACG Music and Healing is anticipating doubling services throughout the Austin area in 2021 and we plan on creating a handbook, training manual, and digital archive of all past projects in the coming year. 

In March of this year, the world changed for everyone. But for many of the people involved with ACG Education and Music and Healing, this change has been especially distressing. Students and teachers in our Title I. school programs, patients undergoing chemotherapy, families of color who are experiencing disproportionate loss of life and income. Our first priority is to be with our core Austin community, to listen, and to continue to create opportunities of respite and inspiration for all of us. In 2021 and onward, we will take with us the lessons we have learned, and those we continue to learn in an effort to better teach, create, play, laugh, cry, dream, together. 

I’m hopeful that when we do return to our normal life, we will appreciate each other more, have a stronger sense of community and a deeper, meaningful understanding of life… and how to live that life”

Statement from Albuquerque New Mexico High School Student

ACG’s education programs and social services are made possible through the generous support of many individual and institutional donors, including:

Augustine Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, City of Austin Cultural Arts Division, Kaman Foundation, Bill Wood Foundation, Cain Foundation, Webber Family Foundation, Still Water Foundation, Lucy & Bill Farland, Rea Charitable Trust, Texas Commission on the Arts, H-E-B Tournament of Champions Charitable Trust, Kodosky Foundation, Long Foundation, Shield-Ayres Foundation, the Skeel/Baldauf Family, Louise Epstein & John Henry McDonald, Bill Metz, MFS Foundation, University Area Rotary Club, Meyer Levy Charitable Foundation, Applied Materials Foundation, Seawell Elam Foundation, Sue L. Nguyen Management Trust, Dr. Michael Froehls, Sarah & Ernest Butler, Mercedes-Benz of Austin, Austin Community Foundation, United Way for Greater Austin, Carl Caricari & Margaret Murray Miller, Burdine Johnson Foundation, Wright Family Foundation, 3M Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Texas Bar Foundation, D’Addario Foundation, Strait Music Company, Urban Betty, Inc, PwC, Tesoros Trading Company, Calido Guitars, and many, many others.