In the late 1990s, Richter visited the Navajo Nation in northeastern Arizona and saw an opportunity to expand the music education curriculum. To help, he founded Lead Guitar, a nonprofit offering music resources in public schools with low access to the arts. In 2013, Richter teamed up with the university to create a similar program using music and dance to help empower middle and high school students.
“With AZAiS, we wanted to provide the highest quality arts education possible to families who could typically least afford it,” he says.
Thanks to the combined efforts of Lead Guitar and AZAiS, more than 5,000 students in 83 schools in Arizona and beyond have access to music and arts education this year alone. AZAiS pairs a university instructor with a certified co-teacher at the school to ensure sustainability. It also brings global artist performances into the schools and AZAiS students on campus to perform.
In addition to tangibly better student outcomes in terms of dropout rates, behavioral issues and academic achievement, “these programs are a connecting point to broader cognitive and well-being benefits — from listening skills to growth mindsets to self-esteem,” Richter says. “Access to the arts allows these students to rewrite their personal narratives.”