Anthropos Arts

Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

On Oct. 3, Elizabeth McQueen performed at Austin City Limits Music Festival with an unusual accompaniment. A group of five high school girls made up the horn section of McQueen’s act, playing just as well as any professional. This is because the girls were trained by professionals.

The girls were part of Anthropos Arts, a charity that connects professional musicians with kids in Travis County who can’t afford lessons. ACL provided a space for the organization as a part of ACL Cares, an area of the festival where select organizations can set up booths and provide information about their missions.

Dylan Jones founded Anthropos Arts in 1998 when he was coming into the Austin music scene. He founded the charity in response to his own experience of taking lessons as a kid. Jones said his teacher was a lifesaver when he was going through a troubling time.

“When I was a kid, my parents were able to pay the 20 bucks, or whatever it was, for a lesson back then, but I did a little bit of research in schools and realized that in the vast majority of Title I schools, there are literally zero kids taking private lessons,” Jones said.

Title I schools have a high percentage of low-income students, whose families typically would not be able to pay for private music lessons. Jones said the Anthropos Arts booth at ACL Cares allows the students to come to a festival they otherwise would not have been able to afford to visit on their own. For five girls, being allowed to perform with McQueen, one of Anthropos’ newest teachers, was just the cherry on top. McQueen said the girls were not intimidated in front of the huge crowd.

“It was exactly what I wanted to happen,” McQueen said. “Most of the girls are drum majors at their school, so they’re just total badasses to begin with, and they just totally nailed it.”

McQueen, a vocal teacher at Anthropos, said she thinks Anthropos Arts is a great way to take advantage of the high-quality, professional musicians in Austin. 

“We are flush with musicians in Austin,” Jones said. “Between the University and the music scene, we never lack teachers. We’re connecting that resource with the unfortunate surplus of kids living in poverty.”

Anthropos communcations director Viviana Kennealy said the program does more than just teach kids to play instruments; it’s teaching them to take commitments seriously and be self-motivated. For the past 10 years, 100 percent of seniors in the program have graduated in schools that have average graduation rates of 65 to 70 percent. 

“We pick kids based on their willingness and desire to do it, and, from there, we stay on them a lot about grades,” Jones said. “Having the extra two or three people in their lives through the Anthropos program that can be checking on them about their grades has been the biggest turning point.”

McQueen, who recently stopped touring after eight years as a vocalist with the band Asleep at the Wheel, said she signed onto Anthropos Arts when Jones asked her to join without really knowing what it was. But, after one semester, McQueen said mentoring the kids has become the highlight of her week.

“There’s a lot to learn, and there’s a lot to be inspired by,” McQueen said. “A lot of these kids are not going to become professional musicians, but they are going to see that you can follow your passion and thrive and also have time to give by watching their teachers do that.”

Members from The School of Rock who played with James Williamson of Iggy and The Stooges, far right, prepare to take a bow at the Austin Kiddie Limits stage Sunday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

For 14 years, Anthropos Arts has been instructing at-risk students with musical inclinations. Focusing on Latin and jazz music, the organization sends teachers to supplement band programs in low-income schools all over the Austin and Manor Independent School Districts. The nonprofit has educated thousands of students through more than 10,000 lessons and $1 million in services.

This year at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, Anthropos Arts had five music students play on stage with the School of Rock at the Austin Kiddie Limits stage. They were showcased in a booth as part of ACL Cares, a program that showcases ACL’s versatility and commitment to Austin’s overall well-being.

“We love being here, it’s our third year and second that we’ve had students play,” Dylan Jones, the founder and program director of Anthropos Arts, said. “It’s great to help these young artists feel like they’re part of the community; it’s a huge confidence boost for them.”

The high schools where the program has been started have an average 60 percent graduation rate. Astoundingly, 100 percent of the students enrolled in Anthropos have graduated with a high school diploma and 80 percent of them have matriculated to college with music-related scholarships. Over the last two years, all of the program’s seniors have earned college scholarships. 

“[East Side Memorial] was shut down for poor performance,” Jose Ahumada, an Anthropos alumnus said. “The school was just in a bad place, and I happened to be there.”

Since then, Ahumada earned a scholarship for baritone to Prairie View A&M University and participated in the school’s marching band. Ahumada also plays bass clarinet, trumpet and saxophone.

Commitment to playing music often spills over to other aspects of student life including academics.

“Caring about an instrument and your craft leads to caring for yourself, which leads to caring about your community. It’s a chain reaction,” said Aaron Day, chairman of the Board
of Directors.

Anthropos coordinates with school band programs that can’t afford to heavily invest in their students. They pay local Austin musicians to teach and commute to public middle and high schools every school day to offer private, one-on-one lessons.

“Paying the teachers to teach lessons supports two communities, both the local Austin musicians who need a steady income and the kids that’ll be musicians in the future,” Day said.

Because of the lack of arts funding in the public school system, many students in low-income districts do not receive the support or individual attention they need in a pedagogical environment.

“We specifically target the most dedicated students that are held back,” Jones said. “We’re filling the void in Austin of kids that want to study music but can’t
afford it.”

Athropos also hosts workshops led exclusively by Grammy Award-winning artists like Esperanza Spalding, who won the award for Best New Artist, and Grupo Fantasma, who won Best Latin Rock album in 2011.

The School of Rock has cooperated with the group since last year, and the two organizations host shows together to exhibit the best young musicians in Austin.

“What Anthropos Arts is doing is absolutely great. It’s great for both the community and for kids,” Yvonne Lu, the studio coordinator for the School of Rock, said. “The free aspect of the program gives great opportunities to kids that couldn’t play music otherwise.”

The long-term goal of Athropos is to expand into other school districts outside of Austin, but for now the students are engaging in a program that does more than teach them to
play instruments. 

“We’re not necessarily trying to make them professional musicians or I would cherry-pick the best ones in every grade,” Jones said. “We’re trying to teach them good habits and build their confidence.“