Musician Anna Clark’s “Guitars 4 Gifts” Provides Instruments to Underserved Groups
Anna Clark is a nineteen-year-old musician and philanthropist. As her “day-job” she works as a vinyl mastering engineer at Welcome to 1979 Industries, where she has been able to work on over 200 projects. In 2011, Clark founded 501(c)(3) organization Guitars 4 Gifts, which has given over 1,000 youth access to their first musical instrument thanks to national partnerships. Clark is a lifelong singer/songwriter and is currently recording her first album of original electronic rock music. This album is expected out late 2020. She is currently continuing her education in music business with plans to graduate from Belmont University in 2022.
What role has music played in your own life?
As a kid I struggled with anxiety and self-esteem issues. I had a hard time being social and speaking up. Music gave me an outlet for my emotions and also helped me feel like I had a voice. I felt like even if it was hard for me to tell people how I was feeling, I could write a song and sing about it which would make people listen. As I got older, music helped me find a community of people that I love being around. Music helped me not only socially, but also academically. As a kid I had a hard time finding my “thing” that I was good at. Music helped me learn how to work hard and set goals for myself. It helped me in other subjects academically by giving me confidence.
Which artists’ stories have you been most inspired by?
Honestly some of the people I am most inspired by are the veterans that we provide guitars to through CreatiVets. Their songwriting has helped me empathize with how much they have sacrificed and every song that I hear that they write is extremely inspiring. One veteran said that after writing his song, it felt like a ten year burden had been lifted off of his chest. He hadn’t been able to tell anyone about what he went through, but he was able to write a song about it.
Another artist that I am inspired by would be Regina Spektor. I watched an interview where she spoke about being a refugee and you can feel how much passion she has for music and for life through her work.
You founded Guitars 4 Gifts to provide instruments to underserved groups beyond your church’s Christmas Basket Program when you were 11. Was there a particular event that lead you to start the 501(c)(3) non-profit?
I remember my dad and I were talking about a month or so after I had given away the first four guitars. At the time, it was only going to be a one-time event. I told my dad about how I wanted to be able to help more people learn music more often and he suggested starting a 501(c)(3). Over the next year and a half I learned about starting a 501(c)(3) and set it up. There was definitely a huge learning process with starting a non-profit. Since then I have been able to help other people start non-profits which has been an extremely rewarding experience. I don’t think there was any one event that made me want to start a non-profit- it was more that I saw a need for musical instruments in my community and I wanted to do something to help.
How do you identify those specific groups who need help getting instruments to tell their story and heal through music?
Most of it has been through word of mouth. There are a lot of times where we’ve worked with one music program and the leader of that program has recommended other programs to us. We also receive many applications through our website. We have a three step vetting process that helps us identify what instruments a program needs- including the sizes, qualities, and more. I’ve found that developing a relationship with the programs we work with helps us make sure that every instrument we donate goes to a person who really wants and needs it.
Once the people have the instruments, are you able to follow-up with lessons or connect them with others in the music industry?
Yes we are! This is one of my favorite parts because it helps keeps us connected to the people we’ve helped. One of my favorite stories is from a young girl that we gave a viola too. Violas are expensive instruments and the school program that she was participating in did not have enough violas for everyone who wanted to learn. She was using a violin that was restrung with viola strings (which doesn’t work very well). After we sent her a viola we continued to get updates about her progress. She was even featured on an album that a local violinist recorded with a couple student musicians at her school!
Have any of the programs hosted recitals or online shows to share their music?
For about the last year and a half we have partnered with El Sistema USA, a non-profit who connects music education programs across the country. There are a lot of recitals from the schools who have received instruments through our partnership with their program who host recitals. I also attended a concert by a non-profit that helps teen refugees in the Nashville area. Most of these teens are given little help with school, learning a new language, driver’s ed etc. when they come to the US. The teens desperately wanted to have a music program. Guitars 4 Gifts gave them a couple guitars and a cajon which they were able to use to form a band. They then booked their own benefit show at a local church to help raise money to help other refugees!
Your goal of giving away an instrument a day to enable more people to share their stories. Is there a platform for people to share their stories to help you find others who are in the most need?
Connecting with us on Facebook or Instagram is a great way. We love sharing stories from people we have provided instruments to and we also connect with those programs that may need instruments. You can also contact us on our website to share a story with us!
With schools currently closed and vacation beginning in weeks, what’s the best way for teachers and parents to connect with you to help their struggling students?
The best way is to reach out to us through our website. We’ve recently been helping a couple school programs who are in need of instruments for their students. One program that we’ve worked with in the past recently reached out to me regarding one of their students who has been unable to play music because she was borrowing a violin from their school. This student has been taking regular classes and even got the chance to attend a prestigious music camp this summer. When the school shut down she was unable to bring a violin home and didn’t have another way to get an instrument. Luckily, we were able to work with our amazing partner Krutz Strings to send her a violin of her own so that she is able to continue to practice on her very own instrument.
How can musicians connect to donate their used instruments?
They can contact us through our website. We are always happy to give instruments a deserving home!
Can people in the communities help restore instruments?
Yes! We work with a couple luthiers to help make sure the instruments we provide are in their best shape. Anyone who would like to volunteer in this way can also contact us through our website.
Connecting through music education programs is a great foundation. There must be students not involved in those programs who could still benefit. How can you reach out to include them?
Typically we try to connect a student musician with one of our recipient organizations in their area if they aren’t already. This way they are able to have a community to provide support and lessons. This also helps give the students the chance to learn from amazing teachers and helps them feel like they are a part of a community. Currently we only provide musical instruments through other non-profit programs, but are happy to connect any students with one of our partners to get them started on their musical journey!
How do you see the program growing in the future, beyond the classroom and home, for those who have received instruments to pay it forward?
In the past we have helped other non-profit music education programs get started. I know it can be very challenging and confusing so I love to help out in any way that I can. I would love to help the next generation of musicians focus on giving back and making sure that every person feels like they have a voice. I hope to grow Guitars 4 Gifts to not only help more people have access to music education, but also inspire others to pay it forward as well. I hope that the stories we collect can help everyone learn that every person has a gift that makes them special. It is my hope that more people will have access to the tools they need to recognize their gifts and give back to others as well!