20 years in, The Sphinx Organization looks forward to what next two decades will bring

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This guest post is from Afa S. Dworkin, president & artistic director of The Sphinx Organization

At this critically important time in our nation’s history, equity and inclusion remain a massive challenge for our field and continue to become ever more relevant to our greater society. Our communities, our culture, our humanity, all suffer when we do not celebrate our diversity and make a sincere effort to highlight unheard voices, unseen landscapes, and muted perspectives. When words fall short, music and the arts have the capacity to transcend the barriers of culture, race, and beliefs, to inspire empathy and the will to learn and to expand one’s worldview. As an organization whose ethos resides at the critical intersection of social justice and the arts, Sphinx aims to reflect the powerful mosaic of the human experience, thus enriching our field and our communities. It is our great privilege to serve and connect our communities with our mission, empowering the next generation of citizens whose lives, no matter their ultimate path, are transformed through the arts.

Leading up to 2017, our 20th anniversary year, we experienced many proud moments: our youth programs being honored at the White House with the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award; gathering leaders from 11 countries for our London-based Global Symposium on diversity in classical music; and reaching more than 10,000 audience members with our national tour. Kicking off this milestone year, we brought together almost 2,000 community members to celebrate our 20th annual Sphinx Competition for young Black and Latino string players, presented by the DTE Energy Foundation, and the launch SphinxConnect, our convening dedicated to career development for musicians of color. In holding these events in our beloved hometown, we have been enormously proud to add to the spotlight on Detroit, which is reclaiming its stature as an artistic mecca in this country. Our programming has generated a more than $1.7 million dollar impact on Detroit’s economy, working to uplift communities like Brightmoor, Southwest Detroit and beyond.

It is incredibly rewarding to have our work recognized as an impactful force for positive change. Most recently, we have received a great honor from the Kennedy Center: Sphinx Founder Aaron P. Dworkin and I were recognized as citizen artists for founding and leading Sphinx, receiving the second annual Kennedy Center Award for the Human Spirit. This award commemorates the seminal contributions made by President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy to cultural life in the United States. We are humbled and grateful to receive this esteemed award along with fellow recipients, distinguished philanthropists Joan and Sanford Weill.

As we look ahead to our next two decades, our drive is renewed and our charge is grand: 20 new commissions, $3 million in artist grants, $5 million in scholarships, 250,000 students reached through our programs and 40 million reached in live and broadcast audiences. We look to connect the immense talent that exists in our communities with the field itself through creative career pathways, mentorship networks, and effective partnerships. The relevance, cultural landscape, and ultimate survival of the arts and classical music depend on all of us—academic institutions, orchestras, presenters, musicians, teaching artists and supporters. Now is the time to join us in action, so that together, we can truly transform lives through the power of diversity in the arts!