Earlier this month in Galveston, Matthew Hinsley, executive director of the Austin Classical Guitar, accepted the Texas Citizen of the Year Award from the National Association of Social Workers. Later that week at the AISD Performing Arts Center, Hinsley gave a brief pre-concert talk about what makes his nonprofit a nationwide model for arts-based community service.
We asked him to share his thoughts about the intersection of music and activities that many usually ascribe to the domain of social workers.
“In music school, in the most wonderful ways, I was taught to refine my musicianship,” Hinsley says. “Most everything at my core today — my work ethic, my sense of authenticity, my appreciation for individual strengths and weaknesses, my tenacity — has its roots in my relationship to guitar and the mentors who shaped me.”
His journey as a public servant through music began 21 years ago in Austin.
“In some ways — the obvious ones — that service grew directly out of my training,” Hinsley says. In other ways — perhaps less obvious — work in service stretched me from the very beginning and has never stopped. Because the myth for many young artists is that if you just get good enough at what you do, the world will come to you and watch you do it. But that notion is rooted in fallacy — because it is rooted in a model of the universe with oneself at the center. And that is not how the universe works.”
He believes that, as a public servant, he most constantly look at his community and ask who is being served and how can they be served better?
“It demands flexibility in every aspect,” he says. “It has led us to realizations that music can heal and engage so many people in such profound ways — but not perhaps the ways we thought we knew. So if it’s developing classroom-based systems for guitar education, or a Braille-adapted curriculum for students at Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired, or the Lullaby Project at Travis County Jail, or musical puppet shows for kids in Austin Public Library branches — we live and flourish in this irony that while the world may not revolve around that which we have, it most certainly can interact in beautiful and mysterious ways with that which we can be.”
So an award from the National Association of Social Workers makes some special sense.
“It represents a vote of confidence that we have at least begun to leverage the great art we are so fortunate to have roots in, toward something that is reaching diverse people in unexpected ways,” Hinsley says. “What excites me most, is that each day when something new happens, we are made aware of just how many more opportunities for meaningful connection there are yet to explore.”