Increasing diversity in the arts is an important and noble task. The art of classical music, for example, is one area that is severely lacking diversity in representation. A study published in 2022 by the League of American Orchestras found that only 1.4% of orchestra musicians were Black.
Since 1997, violinist Aaron P. Dworkin has made it his mission to help improve representation in classical music. Dworkin founded the Sphinx Competition to expand opportunities for Black and Latino string musicians in professional orchestras throughout the U.S. Dworkin chose the name “Sphinx” to symbolize the “power, wisdom and persistence that characterize the competition’s participants.”
Decades later, what started as competition has grown into the Sphinx Organization and is being led by Afa S. Dworkin, its Artistic Director. The organization continues to offer opportunities and support to Black and Latino students, many hoping to become classical music professionals. Although it originated in the Metro Detroit, Michigan area, it has since expanded nationwide — with over 326 partners across the country.
Ahead, we outline key program areas of the Sphinx Organization and ways it is being supported.
Sphinx Organization’s Key Program Areas
As the Sphinx organization expanded over the years, it identified four key areas in which to focus its efforts. Each of these areas has its unique programs and offerings:
- Education and Access: This area centers on nurturing talent at early and intermediate levels. This is achieved through programs like Sphinx Overture, a year-round beginner-level class in Detroit or Flint, MI, and the Sphinx Performance Academy, a national summer curriculum for Black and Latino youth aged 11 to 17.
- Artist Development: This area empowers young artists by providing opportunities to showcase their classical music talents. The flagship Sphinx Competition, Sphinx Orchestra Partners Auditions and National Alliance for Audition Support are vital components of this pillar.
- Performing Artists: This area focuses on providing platforms for professional Black and Latino soloists and ensembles to perform. Among the ensembles and orchestras affiliated with the Sphinx Organization are Sphinx Virtuosi, Sphinx Symphony Orchestra and the Harlem Quartet.
- Arts Leadership: Lastly, this area concentrates on offering career development opportunities to musicians, leaders and entrepreneurs, through such events as SphinxConnect and Sphinx LEAD.
Additionally, Sphinx has continued to give back to the classical music industry, hosting performances and tours and commissioning new works by Black and Latino composers.
To date, the Sphinx Organization has provided 8,000 full scholarships to educational partners, awarded over $10 million in scholarships and has over 1,000 alumni.
How Robert F. Smith Helps Nurture the Next Generation of Talent
In 2019, Fund II Foundation, of which Robert F. Smith is the founding director and President, made the largest donation to the Sphinx Organization in the organization’s history at the time. This $3 million donation continues to further support its leadership and development programs at the Sphinx Organization.
“As a long-time supporter and advocate of the Sphinx Organization, it was both crucial and personally meaningful for me to ensure long-term sustainability for these programs,” said Smith of the donation.
Yet, this was not the only support Smith has provided over the years. In 2016, he also personally donated $250,000 to the Sphinx Organization to support the Sphinx Competition. The competition is held annually in Detroit, MI. Young Black and Latino classical string players are given the opportunity to perform before a panel of internationally renowned judges to compete for the coveted Robert Frederick Smith Prize, which was created from his donation. This award is bestowed on the winner of the Senior Division of the Sphinx Competition. The winner receives $50,000 to help advance their classical music career.