Anthropos Arts provides free music mentorship opportunities to Austin youth

Liliana Hall

In a music driven city, it is easy to get swallowed whole by the industry. Despite barriers young musicians face, the nonprofit organization Anthropos Arts does not want money to be an obstacle that prohibits students from pursuing their dream.

Dylan Jones, founder and executive director of Anthropos Arts, started the nonprofit 20 years ago with the goal to connect low-income youth with professional musicians. Jones, a professional bassist, moved to Austin in the early 90’s and said he was quick to realize how disconnected impoverished kids were from the music scene.

“I was blessed to know all these really talented musicians and instructors so it just seemed like an easy match,” Jones said. “I started to raise money to hire and pay teachers to work with kids that couldn’t afford music lessons.”

When Jones started Anthropos Arts in 1998, only 15 kids were enrolled from two different schools from Austin Independent School District. Today, the nonprofit has around 150 children a year from 18 campuses in three districts. Anthropos has provided over 18,000 music lessons, all at $0 cost to students.

Jones said it isn’t only about providing music lessons to kids. The underlying mission at Anthropos Arts is to make sure all their students graduate high school.

“We talk about maintaining a 100 percent graduation rate for our seniors which is in stark contrast to the averages at the schools they go to,” Jones said. “We are helping them beat the odds to graduate and then over 90 percent of them are going to college on scholarship.”

JP Ortiz, alumnus of Anthropos Arts and local bass player, was part of the nonprofit from 2008-2013 during his time at Eastside Memorial High School. Ortiz said he wanted to pursue music but didn’t know how, because at one point, he didn’t think he would graduate.

“I am only one guy who has had this experience amongst hundreds and hundreds of other students, but Jones really gave me the motivation I needed to graduate high school and pursue whatever it was I wanted to do, which was music.”

Ortiz has since graduated and moved on to playing independent gigs around Austin. Ortiz said if it weren’t for Jones, he wouldn’t know where to start with booking gigs.

“When I first came out of high school, I was playing at least five nights a week and it was mostly because of the very fact that I was just hustling,” Ortiz said. “And that was all Jones.”

Leo Guana, program manager at Anthropos Arts and professional trombonist, has worked with Jones for nearly eight years. Guana mentors the students interested in playing low brass instruments.

Guana said much like a lot of the students, once he discovered his love for music, he was certain he would play music for a living with the help of a few mentors along the way.

“I definitely had musical mentors that led me in the right direction and kept me out of trouble,” Guana said. “They kept me occupied playing music and really gave me an outlet for my creativity. I wish the same for the kids I mentor here at Anthropos. I want them to realize what they are really good at musically and run with it.”