Montessori For All Groundbreaking

Magnolia Montessori For All from above when it was just a cleared plot of land

Magnolia Montessori For All from above when it was just a cleared plot of land

Many of you are aware that my wife, Sara Cotner, with several other awesome folks, like Sarah Kirby Tepera, started Austin’s first public Montessori School, Magnolia Montessori For All (MFA). There are over 20 Montessori schools in Austin and MFA is the only one (until this year) serving students that isn’t private (meaning the only one that does not cost anything for students in grades kindergarten and up). 

Sarah Kirby Tepera and Sara Cotner before the groundbreaking ceremony

Sarah Kirby Tepera and Sara Cotner before the groundbreaking ceremony

Two students carefully carry their groundbreaking shovels

Two students carefully carry their groundbreaking shovels

Since MFA began three years ago the classrooms have been in portable buildings on their nine acre campus. While portables do the trick, they aren’t an elegant or long-term solution. They also aren’t what students deserve. Charter schools are unique in that, though they are public, in Texas they only receive per pupil funding, which does not cover any operations or building expenses. This means that any building (temporary or permanent) need to be maintained and built using a charter school's per-pupil funding or the money needs to be fundraised.

Amazingly, because of the awesome, awesome parents and donors of Magnolia Montessori For All, MFA will be opening up their first permanent classrooms TODAY. These classrooms will be serving grades PK3 through kindergarten and construction for classrooms serving grades 1 through 6 will begin immediately and will wrap-up in January.

These kids are just incredible. Everything about this picture makes me smile.

These kids are just incredible. Everything about this picture makes me smile.

Six months ago MFA broke ground on these grade PK3 through Kindergarten classrooms and I was on-hand to take pictures. 

Congratulations, my love. And, thank you to all the parents and foundations that put their trust and their money in this incredible project. As a husband to the founder, I know that things aren’t always perfect but that lack of perfection is never due to lack of trying or care. I can’t wait to watch what happens next!

I’ll be posting a follow-up to this blog post with footage from the completed buildings.


I'm also available for hire. Just fill out my contact form and we will kick off the process!

If you are an awesome non-profit or company doing good in and for the Central Texas area I’m eager to work with you! Head over to the contact page and let’s get something started!

HAAM - Corporate Battle of the Bands

One of HAAM's awesome bands waiting for the judges to announce their score 

One of HAAM's awesome bands waiting for the judges to announce their score 

HAAM stands for Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. It’s a fantastic organization that provides access to affordable health care services to support Austin's low-income and uninsured musicians. HAAM’s services fill a large hole that affects Austin’s creative residents due to a number of factors like Austin’s gentrification, rising rents and costs of living.

Each year HAAM throws a fundraiser called Corporate Battle of the Bands that raises money for programming, staffing, and health care services. I had wanted to volunteer photography for them for a while and this awesome event was the perfect time to do it!

Couple dancing the two-step

Couple dancing the two-step

Bands are made up of employees from different companies around Austin who practice for hours and hours to perform original pieces and covers in front of a packed house at the ACL Live Moody Theater. The bands are then judged by several prominent music folks from the Austin area. This year, the judges were Omar Vallejo (bass player in the band Vallejo and founder of 512 Studios), Graham Wilkinson (local musician), and James Minor (head of the SXSW festival). The event also has super cool, music-related items that are auctioned off, e.g. ACL tickets and signed guitars.

When taking these photos I wanted to focus on the chemistry between band mates, the enthusiasm that these musicians had with each other, and the beautiful lighting that performing under the Moody Theater’s lights afforded. I also wanted to try and get intimate shots of the audience and judges reacting to the artists.

I’m really happy with the results. It's incredibly important to be reminded of the critical role that non-profits like HAAM play in our community, filling-in the gaps that are left by a healthcare system that isn’t affordable and doesn’t cover all people. I can’t wait to work with HAAM on future events!

James Minor (music manager for South by Southwest) discussing a band's performance with the other judges

James Minor (music manager for South by Southwest) discussing a band's performance with the other judges


All photos in this blog post are available as prints. Just fill out the print request form and we will work together to get one created to fit your space and needs!

I'm also available for hire. Just fill out my contact form and we will kick off the process!

If you are an awesome non-profit or company doing good in and for the Central Texas area I’m eager to work with you! Head over to the contact page and let’s get something started!

Indiana Adventures - Part 2 - Sadness and Hope

I'm simultaneously nostalgic and relieved to be back in Austin after that whirlwind trip to the Midwest. In Part 1 of our Indiana Adventures to Camp Palawopec, I was super excited to share some of the special moments that happened at a place that was so meaningful to my development. What I omitted in acknowledging, and also what is omitted from the photos below in this post, Part 2, are my feelings of exhaustion, sleeplessness, and sadness.

Before I get started, I apologize for temporarily turning a photo blog into a journal entry. For those that don't see our day-to-day life, I don't feel like it's fair to only post photos that are happy and weird, but don't say much about how I'm feeling behind the camera and how that's affecting my abilities to be a good husband, dad, and friend.

Henry playing in the rain in Carmel, Indiana

Henry playing in the rain in Carmel, Indiana

I've been in quite a funk lately and I'm troubleshooting how to dance my way out of it. Since the inauguration of our president in January I've had feelings of being overwhelmed and of being helpless. It often feels like the wars that many in the GOP are waging are against the innate Christian values that I was raised with*. Instead of inviting the most-vulnerable to the table to share in our feast, our politicians (and at least 46% of voters) have decided that the most-vulnerable in our communities should be condemned to the fringes of our societies, to jails, and detention facilities. That they should be robbed of medical care, voting rights, family planning, economic assistance, education assistance, school lunch programs, protections against hate crimes, and no longer allowed to dream of citizenship.

These two just own my heart

These two just own my heart

It's felt like the incremental gains in the rights of people of color, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and people without economic opportunities are being tossed away like the chaff from the wheat. And all my feelings of helplessness, and sadness, and fear just came to a head two weeks ago (...and I know that as a white, married, cisgender, educated, insured, man of economic privilege I'm the least vulnerable to the current administration's policies).  

Keep on climbing

Keep on climbing

In a lot of ways, volunteering my photography over the past 7 months has been my way out of my sadness hole. It's allowed me to interact with just FRIGGIN' AWESOME people like the folks at Central Texas Pig Rescue (blog post), Healing with Horses, Caritas of Austin, Austin Justice Coalition, Muslim families in Houston (additional blog post), immigrant families in Austin, LGBTQ families in AustinThe Trail Foundation, The Blanton Museum (blog post coming soon), Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, and Casa Marianella. Opportunities I most-likely wouldn't have sought out without feeling the clouds of oppression that this administration has held over our vulnerable communities.

So, I guess that this is a two-pronged post: 1) I want to acknowledge that I'm profoundly sad on a day-to-day basis for the folks whose livelihoods, rights, opportunities, and families are under attack; and 2) that the best way I've found to bring myself out of my funk is to volunteer and get involved with awesome people and organizations.

I love you all. Thanks for reading! Keep making the world a better place for the people in your communities!

All photos in this blog post are available as prints. Just fill out the print request form and we will work together to get one created to fit your space and needs!

I'm also available for hire. Just fill out my contact form and we will kick off the process!


*I was raised Catholic until middle school when I dropped out of the church all together. However, culturally, I still feel very attached to Catholicism (like going to sanctuary, volunteering, helping the most-vulnerable, and giving what you can to those that need it most) though I'm sure many would not find what I practice to be Catholic/Christian. I hope that I embody a good portion of Catholic ideals like selflessness, humility, and helpfulness on a daily basis.

Indiana Adventures - Part 1

What a week and a half, what a week and a half. Gee whiz, that was fun.

I just returned last Saturday from a week and a half with the boys in Indiana. One day, the boys and I took a day trip down to beautiful Camp Palawopec in Brown County for some swimming, kayaking, bridge crossing, and tractor riding. And, I cannot wait for Hank and Tank to leave their mark on the valley.

It's an absolute privilege to watch these two boys explore the same trails that I got poison ivy on countless times. To have them jump off the same dive tower that I stupidly flipped (with the help of some campers... Tim Fuson and Tom Fell). To have them run through the same pastures where we played soooo much ultimate frisbee. And to cross the same bridges that I nearly fell off of every time it rained.

It was a circle of life moment where I was enjoying all the amazing things that Camp Palawopec has to offer but through my kids' eyes and through their smiles. Moments where I simultaneously wanted to protect them from potential hazards while also wanting them to make mistakes... as long as it doesn't hurt them too bad.

Myself and so many others were ridiculously lucky to have experienced the beauty, the trials, the relationships, the sadness, the joys, and the memories of Camp Palawopec. And my children, wife, friends, and colleagues have a better father, husband, friend, and peer in their lives because of it. Thank you, Nickels-es. Thank you sooooo much :)

All photos in this blog post are available as prints. Just fill out the print request form and we will work together to get one created to fit your space and needs!

I'm also available for hire. Just fill out my contact form and we will kick off the process!