HELPING HANDS: ArtistYear Program

Share this post
A PERFECT ARRANGEMENT. The ArtistYear Program is a division of Americorps. It works locally with the Aspen Music Festival and School to bring full-time teaching artists into RE 1 classrooms.

Last spring, I quarantined on a small island outside of Seattle, working to complete my doctoral dissertation. I felt completely disconnected from everything that once felt normal. Attending school. Performing live violin concerts. Auditioning. Interviewing. Then, while sifting through email, I found a notice for the ArtistYear Program.


A division of Americorps, the ArtistYear Program brings recent arts graduates into classrooms. The goal: to help fill the gap in arts funding for low-income school districts. It sounded perfect. An opportunity to spend a year teaching, sharing my musical experience in classrooms, and providing after-school strings instruction. The deadline, quickly approaching, kept me up past midnight.

The very next morning, I heard from the ArtistYear Program’s Regional Lead in the Roaring Fork Valley, director Tami Wisley. Her interest in my background felt powerful at a time when I felt stressed and confused. Interviews with Heather Kendrick and Katie Hone Wiltgen of the Aspen Music Festival & School and the hiring process felt like a great fit, and also like a whirlwind. In three short weeks I moved into a house in Carbondale with three other ArtistYear Program fellows.


My role as an ArtistYear Program fellow is somewhat unique. Instead of teaching only in specialized music or art classes, I work full-time with a first grade class at Crystal River Elementary School in Carbondale. This means that in addition to playing music with my students and being there as a teaching artist, I participate in teaching all of their subjects. I love being able to work with CRES teacher Emily Eshelman, reading a book to the class, working with students during math, or modeling teamwork through group participation.  

In both virtual and in-person settings, I have the opportunity to engage students by playing violin. Music can offer reprieve and joy and can also serve as a teaching tool to reinforce other subjects. It can help kids practice speaking and memorization, or collaborate with classmates.


During the first two months of the school year while classes functioned remotely, I worked with the Biblio Bus, a portable library run by Danny Stone, the CRES librarian. By playing violin at the Biblio Bus, I met and connected with students in-person, some of whom I taught in virtual class. One day, while performing with ArtistYear fellow Jeanette Adams, I spotted one of my first-grade students who brought over his ukulele. We had an impromptu jam session at the bus stop. After a long time seeing students only through a screen, this moment felt meaningful and moving. 


Jeanette Adams shares a similar experience with a student from Sopris Elementary School in Glenwood Springs. “An extremely quiet student who never participated and who struggled to keep up in class showed up in the school lobby one morning while I played violin to greet the students. The student reached for a small violin I brought for students to try. Soon enough,  every morning he would come to the lobby, excited to play the violin with me. I saw huge growth in this student over a short amount of time; he participated more and more in classes, and socialized much more with fellow students.”

“Musical free draw” is an activity that I bring to my first and second-grade students during CREW. I play three contrasting musical excerpts on the violin and ask students to use colors and words to express what they hear. This activity supports social-emotional learning, an effective approach both online and in-person.  One student drew a beautiful picture of rainbows and musical notes and wrote how the music made her feel calm.  

We also play “Tempo Song.” I introduced the word “tempo” to my students, which they aptly defined as “the fast and slow” of the music. I play alternating tempos and ask students to wiggle according to the tempo and freeze if I stop. This gives us time for movement, fun, smiles, laughter – all while growing in understanding the importance of tempo in music. (And in life!)


Art education strengthens all capacities of human growth and development. ArtistYear fellow Gwen Snyder, who teaches visual arts at Basalt Elementary School, shares, “Art integration is a great way to activate other parts of the brain. It is a way for kids to see how their learning can go beyond the test they are taking or the textbook they are reading. For example, a fourth-grade literacy assignment looked at the exoskeletons of beetles. We worked artistically to explore this concept, and made it come to life.”

“Art opens a pathway for english language learners,” Snyder continues. “They are able to speak in a friendly environment about what their artwork means to them, and to articulate what they are seeing, and what they like or dislike.” 

ArtistYear Program fellows
ArtistYear Program fellows have formed a quartet that performs in schools and around the community. Left to right: Delaney Meyers, Emily Acri, Jeanette Adams, and Julia Foran. (photo: Leila Milanfar)

Four of the six ArtistYear fellows in the Roaring Fork Valley happen to be string players. We formed a strings group called the Sopris Quartet. I play violin with Delaney Meyers (violin), Julia Foran (viola), and Jeanette Adams (double bass), who plays many cello parts on her double bass and reworks the arrangements to suit her instrument. This slight transformation from a standard quartet allows us to combine traditional quartet repertoire with folk-influenced music. We are excited about an upcoming recording project with the Basalt Regional Library. We also hope to perform for our after-school students in Aspen Music Festival & School’s Beginning Strings Program, and to inspire them with live music from their own teachers.

ArtistYear encourages us to not only teach music and art, but to connect with the community through our work and to maintain our own personal artistry. By forming the quartet, and pursuing our own art, we can enliven the arts for children. We encourage the parents of our students to keep music alive in their households. 


ArtistYear fellow Julia Foran, who plays viola, shares, “My parents are not musicians, but they value the arts and that was always apparent in my upbringing. They brought me to Aspen Music Festival concerts on the lawn when I was a kid and that’s when I decided I wanted to play violin.”  

ArtistYear began for me during the lockdown of COVID. It offered a way to connect to children and community through music. Now, after teaching both online and in-person, I am grateful for the power of music to build bridges. Throughout this time, especially while trying to understand how to meet this moment, I rely on what music has given me – the ability to persevere, to stay dedicated, and to embrace mistakes, not to fear them. This year, I am striving to create music and work hard with my students, and also to allow lots of time to laugh and enjoy being imperfect together.


During the pandemic, Roaring Fork School District Schools operated remotely. Crystal River Elementary School librarian Danny Stone wanted to make sure his students had opportunities to read. So he started the Bibliobus, which visited various Carbondale neighborhoods at certain times each week. He then invited ArtistYear Program fellow Emily Acri to join the fun. This gave her a chance to meet students in person whom she had otherwise only met in virtual classrooms. Children from downtown Carbondale neighborhoods followed the delightful sounds of Emily’s violin to discover a collection of books. Like the Pied Pieper, it drew the children in, and it drew us in as well. Here’s a video we shot one afternoon in fall of 2020, a highlight of an otherwise challenging time.

4 MILLION LOW-INCOME CHILDREN in the United States do not have access to arts education. The ArtistYear Program addresses this gap.

• Recent higher-education arts graduates with experience across various artistic disciplines work in classrooms. These artists include actors, writers, dancers, filmmakers, musicians, photographers, and visual artists.

• The ArtistYear Program works locally in partnership with Aspen Music Festival & School to provide arts in classrooms throughout the Roaring Fork School District. This is made possible with support from Basalt Public Arts Commission and Basalt Regional Library.




About Emily Acri

Emily began playing violin at age 7, and this introduced her to numerous teachers around the country. Last spring, she completed a Doctorate of Musical Arts (DMA) at the University of Washington. Soon thereafter, she moved to the Roaring Fork Valley to work as a musical mentor and teaching artist with ArtistYear. In our Helping Hands column, she reflects on her work in the classroom during COVID and how ArtistYear supports student-growth in art as well as all other academic subjects.