The year is almost over, and that means it’s time for the ACG Top Ten! As always, we wracked our brains and then lobbied hard for our favorites, but because this list is brimming with so much beauty and gratitude, we’re all still smiling at the results.

We hope you love perusing these as much as we do. We hope our services make you proud. If you find something that inspires you, and it’s the right time to support our work, we hope you’ll consider making a year-end gift to help our Top Ten list a year from now sparkle even more!

And as always, if we forgot your favorite, by all means let us know. From all of us at ACG, Happy Holidays!

#10 National Guild for Community Arts Education

For more than fifty years the National Guild has been a leader in community arts education, bringing together educators and community servants from around the US and beyond, sharing ideas, and establishing best practices. So it was a big deal when they decided to have their 2019 conference at the JW Mariott Hotel in Austin, Texas this fall! It was an especially big deal for us for four reasons:

ACG Staff at National Guild Conference (Left to Right) – Matt Hinlsey, Jeremy Osborne, Karen Gallant, Travis Marcum, Jess Griggs

We gave a talk! Long-time board member, and current Nominating/Governance Chair Kendal Gladish, joined Director of Education Travis Marcum, and Executive Director Matt Hinsley to give a featured 90-minute presentation called Board and Staff Engagement: Service with a Purpose. It was a translation of our Five Elements education theory into a board, staff, and volunteer engagement strategic framework (you can learn more about the Five Elements here). Ask us about it – it’s actually really cool! And people seemed to like it.

We got a grant! Led by our operations Director Karen Gallant, along with Travis, ACG became one of twenty organizations nation-wide to be selected for a National Guild Catalyzing Creative Aging Grant. Look to out Top Ten of 2020 for something related to our roll out of new service for older adults!

Matt got an award! They give out “Milestone” awards for arts leaders who’ve made a difference for more than twenty years. Our Director of Development, James Fidlon, along with Travis, nominated Matt for the award and he was selected along with five others from around the nation. It was a nice moment.

Margaret Perry was honored. Margaret was a personal advisor to Matt, an ACG board member, an Austin arts icon, and a long-time member of the guild. She encouraged ACG for years to get involved with the guild. Her spirit was strong at this conference, and among many beautiful moments, the standout tribute was ACG board member, and Director of Armstrong Community Music School’s Liz Cass performing in her honor at the trustee’s reception.

#9 Heroes & Role Models

Great artists have great impact. Three artists in particular lifted us this year.

Berta Rojas inspired everyone with her soulful performance at our February gala. The evening’s student performers were from Crockett High School. The students met Berta after the show, but for the seniors in the group it was a special reunion, since they all remembered Berta’s visit to their school four years earlier. In fact, they told us they’d been fired up from the moment they learned they would be sharing the stage with her.

Berta Rojas with guitar students from Crockett HS.

Xuefei Yang opened our season in October. She prepared a special program of music from China and Spain representing her two greatest cultural influences. It was divine. But that’s not all she did here! Xuefei also gave a special interview and performance with the Austin Chinese American Network, taught talented students at UT Austin, visited with season ticket holders at our Gusto season opening dinner, and performed a private concert at Karrie and Tim League’s home in support of ACG Music & Healing.


Raphaël Feuillâtre gave a wide-ranging virtuosic performance on our International Series in November. He was mind-blowing. But while he was here he also visited Bedicheck, Travis, McCallum, and LBJ schools. Perhaps his deepest impact was felt at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center where the young people connected quickly and deeply to his warm presence and beautiful playing. We’d never witnessed anything quite so powerful in a guest artist visit to the facility.

#8 Tickets for Good

In early September 2017, we joined forces with our friends in the Miro Quartet, Conspirare, and Austin Chamber Music Center to raise disaster relief funds in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Hope After Harvey, as the fundraiser concert was called, raised $37,500, two car-loads of donated goods, and 200 clean-up volunteer names, in four days.

When things settled down at the ACG office and we reflected on the experience of running an event and sending 100% of the proceeds away to charity, we realized that we wanted our efforts to continue to benefit area nonprofit organizations doing vital work in our community. ACG Tickets For Good was born.

Since then we’ve raised thousands of dollars allowing supporters of local nonprofits to designate partner organizations to be recipients of 100% of their ticket purchase to our major events. One fun story we heard was from David Conger, Director of the guitar program at Lamar Middle School. He used ACG Tickets For Good to raise money to buy a new bass guitar for their school program. When we sent Lamar their check for $1,582 we were delighted to get David’s reply that the bass guitar they were purchasing was going to cost $1,595 – just $13 away!

Perhaps our most memorable fundraiser in 2019 was at the home of Mai Barazi and Hachem Dadouch. The concert featured UK-based Syrian guitarist Ayman Jarjour, and raised more than $7,500 for a scholarship fund for Syrian refugees.


#7 Music & Healing

Travis Marcum, ACG Director of Education, has been leading the way in ACG’s Music & Healing initiative for the past five years. It all began with our Lullaby Project in partnership with Carnegie Hall. Since then Travis has developed programming and worked directly with individuals facing a range of challenges from incarceration, to hospitalization, to homelessness.

Here’s a bit of a story from Dell Children’s Hospital Travis shared in May:

In early April, I met with a teenage girl – I’ll call her Anna – who expressed interest in taking guitar lessons during the three months she was hospitalized for a major procedure. We met every few days to have a lesson, play guitar, and talk about life and music.

Within moments of our first meeting, I learned that Anna had lived in Spain, and was a huge fan of flamenco music. Soon after, I found out that ACG’s good friend and world-class flamenco guitarist, Grisha, would be in Houston for a concert in May. I had an idea.

You can read the whole story online here.

#6 Kids Being Awesome Together

Kids got together in awesomeness a lot this year. Like, literally thousands of them, thousands of times! But a few of those times standout as particularly noteworthy.

In The Schools: In November, ACG Executive Director Matt Hinsley and ACG Artistic Director Joseph Williams conducted Austin ISD All Region Middle and High School ensembles with students from all over town, and in April nearly 1,000 kids in over 40 ensembles participated in Austin ISD’s Concert and Sight Reading Contest. These events are a big deal any way you look at it, but for us they’re particular pride points because the overall level is high, and because ACG has literally created these events for the district from inception, to design, to execution over the course of the past decade. Now we help other districts make similar standard-setting celebratory events around Texas and beyond.

In The Studio: Long time ACG Youth Orchestra (ACGYO) member Lennox Kolics is interested in recording tech and asked to be a summer intern, ACGYO has awesome players, and the ACG curriculum used around the world ( is hungry for model recordings of the vast number of pieces in its teaching library. So a match was made! Thanks to some willing ACGYO colleagues, and generous support form Shay Brown and Chez Boom Audio here in town, ten (that’s right, ten!) new recordings were made for the curriculum with ACGYO artists and Lennox at the board.

Lennox Kolics in the studio.

ACG Trio: Can’t believe it took this long for something like this to happen, but this summer three amazing ACG alumni got together to form the ACG Trio! The players are Justice Phillips (UT composition graduate, and current full-time ACG Operations Associate who we’ve known since Lively Middle School), Angelica Campbell (UT guitar major, junior, who we met at Crockett High School), and Alex Lew (UT guitar major, senior, who we first met at Lamar Middle School). They’ve been super busy performing all over town including two appearances at UT’s James Turrell Skyspace where they gave the premiere performances of the ACG-commissioned new work by Matthew Lyons called Skyspace, written for the occasion (Matthew is an alum too, who went on to San Francisco Conservatory, before a composition degree at UT!!).

ACGYO San Francisco: It was our first ACGYO tour, and it was awesome. Members and parents worked alongside ACG Artistic Director Joseph Williams to plan, raise money, and elevate their level of playing to “sublime,” before heading out to San Francisco where they joined other amazing young people at San Francisco Conservatory of Music, performed to open an Omi Foundation Dynamite Guitars series event, and then played at the Alamo Drafthouse San Francisco to open a sold-out screening of Back To The Future. Why? Because when kids play guitar, the future gets better!

#5 A Whole New

It may seem like a website redesign doesn’t belong in fifth place in a Top Ten list but trust us, this place is hard-earned! 

First, it’s important to know that is at the center of all our education program building. The shortest version of the story? We started in school-based guitar education in 1 school with 15 students in 2001. By 2004 we were in 2 schools with 100 students, and while we’d had good times, and 6 kids that had gone to college with music scholarships, we’d also come to realize that the world lacked the resources we needed to build the guitar programs of our dreams. So we worked like crazy from 2004 to 2008, invested about $250,000 in the early development, launched in October 2008, and now it’s used in our 60 central Texas programs, across the state, in forty other US states, and in about 20 countries. Whew!

Second, about the redesign. Let’s just say it’s a process we started in 2012, it includes work in multiple countries, multiple languages, many web developers, firms, and consultants, several notable power outages, one car accident, one particularly disruptive invasion, a reunion across the world, and loads of good, old-fashioned elbow grease.

What’s new? Lots of things you can’t see, but make updating, data management, and functionality all superior in the backend. Then there’s the new logo, the appearance, and tons of awesome new content from video, to news, forum, and plenty of marvelous music. Now we’re cookin’, and wildly excited about the future of ACG Education now that we’ve got a shiny new machine in the garage!

#4 Javier Niño Scholarship

In February 2019 the world lost a marvelous young man long before his time. An impaired driver took Javier Niño’s life on the way home from the gym partway through his first year at St. Edward’s University.

Javi was a beautiful human being, warm, talented, and generous. We first met him as a high school freshman at Eastside Memorial High School. He fell in love with guitar, worked with ACG’s Jeremy Osborne to win a scholarship to attend McCallum High School. There he worked with McCallum’s Andrew Clark and would proceed to take lessons with ACG’s Performance Engagement Artist Joseph Palmer. Javi distinguished himself as a soloist and in ensemble. His many performances and competitions with his McCallum Quartet were particularly notable. As part of a college essay, Javi wrote this about Joseph Palmer:

After seeing Joseph play, I was inspired to pick up the guitar. I decided to give it my all and be just as cool as him. I even started taking guitar classes in high school. I ended up coming in contact with Joseph later, and he took me under his wing as one of his students.

Becoming his student taught me how to be disciplined. It was hard, but I had so much enthusiasm to become a better guitarist that over time I was able to develop discipline. I also applied the strict discipline of practicing guitar to my schoolwork.

I always strived to be as good as him. I admired how amazing Joseph played and how easy he made it seem. It helped me understand what determination is and how to pursue it. Have you ever wanted something so badly that you are willing to set everything aside just to accomplish that goal? That’s exactly how much I wanted to become a great player, and I established my determination to do so.

It was later in the spring that Diane Skeel, the mother of one of Javi’s McCallum Quartet partners Aaron Baldauf, approached us about beginning a scholarship fund in Javi’s honor. Through Diane’s hard work and the generosity of many including the Skeel/Baldauf family, the scholarship was begun. We awarded the first scholarship in October to Elijah Flores, a terrific guitarist from Crockett High School. You can read more about Elijah online here, and learn more about the Javier Niño Scholarship Fund online here

#3 St. Louis  & Cleveland

As ACG Education has grown many service-minded educators and organization leaders around the US and beyond have approached us to collaborate for training, strategy, or just plain-old advice. Two places our team has spent the most time in person, on the phone, and online, have been St. Louis and Cleveland. We have enthusiastically invested a lot of resources in both areas because the leaders have reflected back such tremendous energy, and such willingness to do the hard work of growth and community development, while at the same time always putting the needs of their communities first.

Cleveland Classical Guitar under the direction of Erik Mann has been so incredibly beautiful to watch. They have produced innovative programming, been in the local and national news a bunch (like this beautiful CBS Sunday Morning Broadcast), and this year won a $150,000 grant from the Cleveland Foundation to grow their programming to reach 500 students each week.

St. Louis Classical Guitar, run for many years by Bill Ash, and now led by super-talented Executive Director Kevin Ginty, has built more than twenty beautiful school programs. Out team has been in St. Louis training teachers every summer for seven years. The reach of their services has been a beautiful thing to watch first-hand. So you can imagine how happy we were when Bill Ash was recognized this year by the Missouri Arts Council as Arts Education Hero of The Year!

You have to imagine with us for a moment a time ten years ago when we had no sister organizations building education programs of this caliber anywhere in the country. Or twenty years ago when school-based guitar education was rarely found anywhere at all, few resources or standards existed, and our ideas were met with skepticism. Fast-forward to today when so many thousands of kids are finding joy and identity in school through participation in guitar, and partner organizations are winning major grants and awards, it’s like jet fuel for the ACG engine!

#2 ACG Global Services

Who would have thought that a nonprofit music service organization in Austin, Texas, could help inspire kids in Mexico, could help put guitars in the hands of students in Cambodia, could train teachers in Nicaragua, or help build and fund a music education program in an orphanage in Kathmandu, Nepal? Who would have thought that the same organization could develop a Braille and audio guide lifelong learning resource that people as far away as Montenegro would want to raise funds to translate and bring to serve blind and visually impaired students in the Balkan Peninsula? 

Not us! Yet here we are. 

We’ve been overjoyed this year by our many wonderful connections across the globe. Some of our partnerships are well-established, like our work with Ravindra Paudyal at the Early Childhood Development Center in Kathmandu, Nepal. Ravindra regularly sends us videos of kids playing beautifully and confidently, and has plans to grow the program in Nepal soon. 

Other initiatives are bubbling rapidly, like Rados Malidzan’s plan to bring our Braille lifelong learning resource to Montenegro. Among other things, Rados was on national TV shows raising money for the effort, which begins in January (seen to the left).

And still more programs, like our new partnership with the Caring For Cambodia network of schools, are just getting started. With our friends at Calido Guitars we’re just now sending twenty new guitars to Cambodia, and will begin teacher training soon. 

A bonus item we’d like to mention here is the new KLRU PBS television special that came out the day after Thanksgiving on our April 2019 production of FlamencoIndia with Oliver Rajamani and Jeronimo Maya. We’re putting this here because it’s awesome. And also because we believe strongly in our role as an agent of positive international cultural exchange through arts, but that exchange can happen right here in Austin too, and there’s no better example than Rajamani’s FlamencoIndia. [Watch it here]

#1 ACG Juvenile Justice Services

We are coming up on ten years of ACG Education for incarcerated youth in Travis County. We made a commitment in 2010, and we’ve been teaching kids in the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center virtually every school day ever since. It’s hard to encapsulate what this program means to us, and what we believe it means for the kids we serve. The best we can do, perhaps, is to invite you to come see them perform. The experience is life-changing.

But just loving a program is not enough to land it in first place on the ACG Top Ten list! We placed this program here for a few other reasons. First, 2019 saw the development of a second ACG Education program for incarcerated youth, this one in Williamson County. Instruction began there on June 3rd, and there have already been three beautiful public performances, and some amazing stories of courage and transformation.

Additionally, in September the Austin American Statesman published the most extensive article ever about Austin Classical Guitar (over 3,000 words!). Michael Barnes’ beautiful piece began with a story about a paper guitar made for ACG’s Jeremy Osborne by a grateful student in Gardner Betts, and the article online even includes a video feature about the new Williamson County program. 

We are now in talks with yet another county judge about building a third program in 2020, so stay tuned! We truly believe that this program could bring indescribable benefits to court-involved youth across Texas and across our nation in the years to come.

Thank you for being together with us. For helping make the ACG family beautiful, vibrant, and loving. And we can’t wait to see what the new year and decade has in store for us!

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year