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Aaron P. Dworkin

The University of Michigan, The Sphinx Organization

A 2005 MacArthur Fellow, a former member of the Obama National Arts Policy Committee, and President Obama’s first appointment to the National Council on the Arts, Aaron P. Dworkin is the Founder and President of the Sphinx Organization, the leading national arts organization that focuses on youth development and diversity in classical music. He was Dean of the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance, where he increased entrepreneurship and leadership training, doubled community engagement activities, and founded many new initiatives and programs, including the prestigious M-Prize chamber music competition and a Department of Chamber Music. An author, social entrepreneur, artist-citizen, and avid youth-education advocate, he has received extensive national recognition for his many accomplishments

He combines a uniquely strong organizational, fundraising, and administrative background with an unwavering passion for music and its role in society. As Founder and President of The Sphinx Organization, which awards over $150,000 in prizes and scholarships annually, he has built an infrastructure and led fundraising efforts totaling over $14,000,000, all the while overseeing a staff and faculty of more than 40. His organization’s Sphinx Competition showcases the top young musicians of color of the highest artistic caliber and features top professional minority musicians through the all Black and Latino Sphinx Symphony. The organization also impacts groups underrepresented in classical music through its educational and community programming, including the Sphinx Preparatory Music Institute and the Sphinx Performance Academy, which together reach over 35,000 youth each year.

He has been featured in People Magazine, on NBC’s Today Show and Nightly News with Brian Williams, CNN’s Airport Network-Innovator Series, and Anderson Cooper 360°, Newsweek’s 15 People Who Make America Great, NPR’s The Story and Performance Today, in addition to articles in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Detroit News and Free Press, Washington Post, Chronicle of Philanthropy, Emerge, Jet Magazine, and many other media outlets. He is the recipient of Harvard University’s Vosgerchian Teaching Award, National Governors Association 2005 Distinguished Service to State Government Award, Detroit Symphony’s 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award, 2003 Michiganian of the Year, Crain’s 40 Under 40 and Who’s Who Awards, BET’s History Makers in the Making Award, AT&T Excellence in Education Award, University of Michigan’s African-American Alumni Council’s 5 Under 10 Award, National Black MBA Association-Detroit Chapter’s Entrepreneur Of The Year award, and Interlochen Arts Academy’s 2003 Path of Inspiration Award. He was also chosen as a 2011 Angel in Adoption by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

A lifelong musician, he is also a writer and a spoken-word and visual artist. He authored an autobiographical poetry collection entitled They Said I Wasn’t Really Black as well as a children’s book entitled The 1st Adventure of Chilli Pepperz. His writing has been featured in Symphony Magazine, Polyphonic.org, Andante, and others. He has contributed to the first English edition of Superior Bowing Technique, a treatise by legendary violinist Lucien Capet, and authored the foreword to William Grant Still’s Violin Collection published by WGS Music. He founded and served as Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Bard, a literary magazine with a readership of over 40,000 throughout southeast Michigan. His memoir titled Uncommon Rhythm: A Black, White, Jewish, Jehovah’s Witness, Irish Catholic Adoptee’s Journey to Leadership was published by Aquarius Press.

A passionate advocate for excellence in music education and diversity in the performing arts, he has been a frequent keynote speaker and lecturer at numerous national conferences, including Aspen Ideas Conference, The League of American Orchestras, National Association for Schools of Music, National Guild for Community School of the Arts, National Association of Music Merchants, Chautaqua Institution, National Suzuki Association, Americans for the Arts, American String Teachers Association, Ithaca College, and the National Association for Negro Musicians. He served as commencement speaker at the University of Michigan, Longy Conservatory, and Bowling Green State University. He has served as a panelist on various arts committees, including the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, the MetLife Awards for Excellence in Community Engagement, the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, the National Association of Arts Presenters, Chamber Music America, The National Endowment for the Arts, Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, Surdna Foundation Arts Teachers Fellowship Program, as well as serving as a member of the University of Michigan School of Music Dean Search Committee.

He also served as the Co-Chair of the Arts and Cultural Education Task Force for the State of Michigan designing the required arts curriculum for Michigan schools and serves as Co-Chair of the Planning Task Force, which oversees the strategic merger of ArtServe Michigan and MACAA (Michigan Association of Community Arts Agencies). In addition, he serves on other strategic planning committees, including that of the League of American Orchestras.

He is on the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras, National Association of Performing Arts Presenters, Alumni Association of the University of Michigan, National Guild for Community Schools of the Arts, National Society for the Gifted and Talented, ArtServe Michigan, WRCJ 90.9 Detroit Classical and Jazz Radio, and the NEW (Non-Profit Enterprise at Work) Center. He also serves on the Advisory Board of ASTA Alternative Strings Awards, Rachel Barton Pine Foundation, and the Avery Fisher Artist Program, and on the Editorial Board of Downtown New York Magazine.

He has produced and recorded two CDs, Ebony Rhythm and Bar-Talk, in addition to producing and directing the independent film entitled Deliberation. He has also transcribed works for electric strings and developed Electric String 201, a college-level preparatory course in electric string performance.

An accomplished electric and acoustic violinist, he received his Bachelors of Music and Masters of Music in Violin Performance from the University of Michigan School of Music, graduating with high honors. He attended the Peabody Institute, the Philadelphia New School, and the Interlochen Arts Academy, studying with Vladimir Graffman, Berl Senofsky, Jascha Brodsky, John Eaken, Renata Knific, Donald Hopkins and Stephen Shipps. He lives in Michigan with his wife and children.

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