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Arts & Life

Sphinx founder Aaron Dworkin leaving to run UM music school

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Bruce Giffin
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Courtesy of the Sphinx Organization
Aaron Dworkin is President Obama's first confirmed appointment to the National Council on the Arts

Aaron Dworkin, founder of the nationally recognized Sphinx organization – which runs scholarships and competitions for black and Latino students in classical music – is leaving to become the new dean of the University of Michigan's School of Music, Theater & Dance. 

"Sphinx has really been my life's work," says Dworkin, who's passing the baton to his wife and Sphinx's current artistic director, Afa Dworkin. 

"But I’m able to have 100% confidence that it not only will continue to thrive with me transitioning out, but also to go in directions I haven’t been able to bring the organization, under Afa's leadership.” 

Dworkin wants to shake things up a bit at Michigan, beyond his mission of making prestigious arts institutions look less like clubs for rich old white men. 

Diversity may be part of his ethos, but it will be "just one component" of his leadership as dean, he says. 

“From my perspective, schools today need to be able to prepare students for what ... realities are today," says Dworkin. "And that includes not just the traditional, if you will, kind of conservatory training. Do they have access to the entrepreneurial skill set?

"When you’ve got students that are looking at developing a career and aren’t necessarily going into, you know, the major dance company or orchestra, they could develop skill sets so they could just literally create a business around their art form.”

Dworkin knows those can sound like fighting words: saying you want your performing arts students to also know how to do practical stuff like, say, run a business, may send off alarm bells in the minds of faculty who see the school's mission as purely artistic.   

But Dworkin's not buying it.

"Too often people think that one of those is not possible if the other is being pursued," he says.  

"That somehow you must diminish or lessen the conservatory training if you’re also going to provide these additional opportunities. And I don’t think anything can be further from the truth. The reality is for our students, we have a responsibility to provide both opportunities and both tracks."  

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