Today we’d like to introduce you to Matt Hinsley.
Hi Matt, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
Mine is a journey from artist to community servant. At some point, it came to me that I could do the most good as a platform for others. I try to act as a prism to focus others’ energy, resources, and talents to help make magic happen in people’s hearts with music.
I’m in my twenty-fifth year at Austin Classical Guitar, and it’s important to acknowledge that everything we’ve accomplished, locally and globally, is the result of a complex web of human spirits coming together in kindness and shared belief. Take, for example, our development of a first-of-its kind daily for-credit music education program for incarcerated youth in the Juvenile Justice System. The program is run by Jeremy Osborne, is supported by the teaching talent of Ciyadh Wells and Susana Diaz-Lopez, and was founded by Travis Marcum. A dizzying array of county officials, school officials, social workers, parole officers, and staff have chosen to support the program day after day for more than ten years. Astonishing generosity from hundreds of community members has made possible this consistent, gentle, creative, expressive, personal experience in places where those things are desperately needed. And, perhaps most importantly, is the dedication of each young person who has picked up a guitar and found the courage to try something new, work overtime, and share the results in public.
And so, in a sense, my journey has been one of recognizing willingness borne of kindness. I feel like my job is to connect, focus, and amplify the fragile yet resilient threads of positivity to help bring about uplifting beauty.
Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
My greatest professional struggle is also my greatest joy, and that is navigating the space between art and money. Art is famously hard to measure, while money is nothing if not measurable. Our deliverables are kindness, creativity, and inspiration in a world obsessed with balance sheets, ROI, social media metrics, and the Illusion of Linear Causality. We’ve had the great gift of building music education programs across the country serving tens of thousands of students for twenty years.
I’ve seen so much beauty.
I’ve seen so much transformation. Just this week, I saw a stunning, joyful video of guitar students and dance students creating a new work together based on a piece in our curriculum. The concentration, the movement, and the smiles exist in a realm of Essence and are the experiential building blocks of human character. Yet at the same time, in conversation after conversation we are asked to demonstrate—indeed justify—these kinds of creative programs through evidence they improve measurable Formal outcomes like attendance, or math, or SAT scores.
For me, it is less a struggle now than it is an opportunity. It is Yin and Yang. I believe my job and the role of nonprofit arts organizations in general is primarily to navigate this space with compassion.
Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
Austin Classical Guitar might be best understood as encompassing three large areas: Art, Education, and Healing. Our Artistic Director, Joe Williams, is constantly looking for ways to engage deeply with our local and global community creating experiences large and small in varying media and engaging artists from over fifteen countries in a typical year. In the past season, as a small sample, Joe and the team combined a guitarist and painter in real-time, put together a chamber ensemble with dancers and drone footage, connected a Brazilian jazz player with the Director of Horticulture at Lady Bird Wildflower Center, and collaborated with Mexic-Arte for a community-based musical tributes – Ofrendas – for loved ones who have passed away.
ACG Education is population-serving systems building like curriculum (guitarcurriculum.com) and teacher training, combined with focused direct services in high priority areas. The core team is Travis Marcum, Jeremy Osborne, Eric Pearson, and Jess Griggs, and they work tirelessly to set in motion the kinds of supports and inspirations that help many thousands of young people have meaningful experiences with music. We focus direct resources especially on local Title I schools through individual lessons and other services, and lately have extended our decade of work with Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired into the development of a Braille lifelong learning system for classical guitar online at letsplayguitar.org.
ACG Music & Healing is led by Travis Marcum and is a trauma-informed and compassion-based set of flexible interventions designed to bring comfort and connection to individuals involved with more than a dozen local partners from Dell Children’s Hospital to Travis County Correctional Complex.
Have you learned any interesting or important lessons due to the Covid-19 Crisis?
I feel like covid forced us to create new Formal containers for precisely the same Essential services. Our teachers needed meaningful ways to connect with their students. Our artists needed platforms to work. Our audiences needed human connection. Humanity needed hope and beauty and compassion.
None of that is new. But the technical challenges were new. And the deep, confusing, frightening pain of loss, combined with the unknown was all-pervasive.
We pivoted to online streaming delivery of all services. We were very fortunate to be able not only to connect meaningfully but also to inspire significant contributions that kept our team working and enabled us to commission over ninety original works and maintain our contractors.
We will certainly take forward our new technical capabilities. We’ll deepen our new global relationships that developed. But I think it’s important for us also to stay deeply connected with each other, with our humanity, our complexity.
Back to the dichotomy of Form and Essence: it’s very tempting to place greater value on Formal things that can be easily defined like grades in school, social media metrics, and profit in business, over Essential things that are harder to define like mental health, or spirituality, or friendship. Something I think we witnessed during covid—if you can think back to the videos of Italians serenading each other from their balconies or Yo Yo Ma’s Songs of Comfort—is the vital importance of those hard-to-define Essential elements, and that includes art and music.
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