A piano teacher and student at a piano


Walker West Music Academy

“Music is a need to have, not a nice to have.  Music is foundational to supporting academic success,” says Walker|West executive director Braxton Haulcy.

Walker West Music Academy (Walker|West) is the oldest African American community music education school in the United States.  It was started in 1988 by musicians Rev. Carl Walker and Grant West in the historic Rondo Neighborhood.  A neighborhood which was torn apart by the demolition of numerous homes to make way for Interstate 94 in the late 1950s.  By the late 1980s the neighborhood had succumbed to the “crack cocaine” epidemic and had become an arts & culture desert.

Rev. Walker and Grant West answered the call to serve the Rondo Neighborhood, providing a safe place for children to engage in a positive life-affirming learning environment. The mission of the organization has always been, in one way or another, to bring the healing power music to its neighborhood.

Today, Walker|West has grown to meet the needs of the community thanks to dedicated faculty –all of whom are teaching performing artists, through partnerships, and enthusiastic student-musicians of all ages. With over 3,000 donors, they now have their sights currently set on a capital-campaign and connecting with higher-net worth donors to ensure students always have access to high-quality music education in their own neighborhood.

“Music is a need to have, not a nice to have.  Music is foundational to supporting academic success,” says Walker|West executive director Braxton Haulcy.

A Healing Force for the Community

“We are constantly working to meet students where they are,” Haulcy said.

The sentiment is true: the organization encourages students to play the kinds of music they are most interested in, and they try to meet them where they’re at. Literally. As they have grown over the past few years, they’ve formed partnerships with schools (i.e. WALKER|WEST WITHOUT WALLS) to ensure music education is available to those schools who have faced budget cuts in the neighborhood.

“We still have the ‘No Child Left Behind’ legacy in the Twin Cities, which excludes arts and music from the core school day curriculum in many of our elementary and middle schools. We know music education, and the students who have access to it, perform better academically,” Haulcy said.

“Minnesota has the second highest education opportunity gap in the nation between Black and White students, which I believe is directly tied to taking music out of schools.  Historically Black people have used music as a tool for communication and engagement.  Music is embedded in our DNA” Haulcy said.  With their partnerships, and ongoing outreach, Walker|West continues to develop relationships with schools and the surrounding community, so that students of all ages have access to music education.

Additionally, Walker|West hosts a concert series (i.e. RONDO COMMUNITY MUSIC SERIES) for adults and families.  They also have a dementia friendly gospel choir (AMAZING GRACE CHORUS) for people suffering from dementia and their caregivers.

“Music is central to healing and success for our community, especially in this time in the Twin Cities when we have dealt with both racial challenges and COVID-19,” Haulcy said.

In the early days of the pandemic, Walker|West didn’t miss a day of lessons. Ninety percent of students stayed taking lessons as everyone navigated the uncertainty and trauma of the months to come.

“We weren’t going to stop the music, and we didn’t,” Haulcy said.

In 2021, the organization was named one of ten Regional Cultural Treasures by the Ford & McKnight Foundation.

“This recognition was important because it acknowledged the impact Walker|West has had on the arts and culture landscape in Minnesota over multiple decades” Haulcy said.

Teenage youth learn about digital music production.
Teenage youth learn about digital music production
Members of the Amazing Grace choir perform
Members of the Amazing Grace choir perform








Investing in a Legacy

In 2019, the organization underwent a major transformation with a strategic plan that had the organization bringing the power of music to all ages from infants to elders with its LifeLong Learning model.  During this transformation Walker|West significantly increased its community engagement to bring the power of music to our community and broaden our reach.

Additionally, they made it a priority to increase faculty wages and start a capital campaign for a new facility.  A significant part of the capital campaign is to increase staffing and program capacity to serve more students and families.

“As a BIPOC organization – Walker|West has been undercapitalized and underfunded.  The capital campaign will give us the opportunity to build new and sustainable relationships,” Haulcy said.

Working with Propel

Propel and Walker|West have a strong history. Most recently, the organization took advantage of Propel’s Recovery Capital Loan product to ensure operations could continue to run smoothly while they address cash flow concerns from a reimbursable grant.

“Propel has always been a good partner to us,” Haulcy said.

“They’re willing to help us solve problems, and they understand our work,” he said.

Support Walker|West

You may choose to donate to the general operations, underwrite a student scholarship, or make a significant donation toward the Walker|West’s Power of Music to Heal our Community Capital Campaign.

The school is registered with the state of Minnesota as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Donations to support our mission and operations are tax-deductible.

Donate here: walkerwest.org/donate.


Thank you to Braxton Haulcy for his contributions to this story. All photos are courtesy of Walker West Music Academy. 

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