By Stephanie Powell
The Sphinx Organization, founded by Aaron P. Dworkin, announced its new successor, Afa S. Dworkin. Aaron P. Dworkin, currently serving as president, will leave his position to become the dean of the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance.
Afa S. Dworkin, a professional violinist with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, & Dance, will be serving as president and artistic director of the organization. Since 1999, she has served as artistic director and vice president of programming and, for the past two years, has also served as executive director.
“I certainly wasn’t looking to leave Sphinx,” says Aaron Dworkin, over the phone from Sphinx’s office in Detroit about his departure. “It’s my life’s work and I’m very close to it, but I’m 100 percent confident that not only could Sphinx continue to have the impact that it’s having, but potentially will go in some new directions that I haven’t been able to take the organization under Afa’s leadership.”
Sphinx is expecting a very smooth transition, Aaron says, thanks to Afa’s institutional knowledge. “She has played such a leadership role almost since the inception of the organization,” he says.
The change in leadership at Sphinx will be effective in July—Aaron adds that he will still maintain a “founder role,” providing supportive advisory and historical knowledge.
In his new role, Dworkin will lead the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, & Dance, one of the nation’s top 10 performing arts schools, as the first African-American dean of the school. His appointment, which was recently approved by the university’s Board of Regents, marks the second time in our nation’s history that an African-American was appointed to lead a top 10 performing arts school.
“In terms of the University of Michigan, it was a tremendous opportunity to have an impact at one of the leading performing arts schools, at a time that I think it is critical that we look at the new reality in the field,” Aaron says, “and that we make sure our students have the new skill sets and preparation so that we can make sure they can be successful in a new climate.
“And as an alumni, having so much close, personal, familial affinity with the school and the university as a whole, it seemed like an opportunity to have a significant impact with an institution that is very close to my heart.”
Dworkin is renowned for his myriad accolades. He is MacArthur Fellow, President Obama’s first appointment to the National Council on the Arts, and member of the Royal Philharmonic Society in London.
“His lifelong commitment to excellence in arts education is widely recognized in the US and abroad,” Martha Pollack, provost of the University of Michigan, said in a press release. “Aaron brings exceptional experience with organizational governance and a style that is collaborative, inclusive, and pragmatic. He will lead the school with integrity, energy, and enthusiasm.”
His term will be effective July 20 through July 19, 2020; he will also receive a tenured professorship as the Paul Boylan Collegiate Professor of Music.
The Sphinx Oragnization will continue under Afa’s guidance and leadership with “no fundamental changes to the mission or ultimate vision of the organization” to be expected.
“What I envision for Sphinx is decades of continued commitment to excellence first and foremost because artistic excellence has been the pedigree for Sphinx’s reputation in the field,” Afa says. “And looking ahead to the ever-changing landscape of the entire industry because, of course, the industry doesn’t look the same as it did at [Sphinx’s] founding—and at how Sphinx can be better positioned to change within the field overall.”
As for Aaron, he admittedly has come full circle—he first mentioned his idea for Sphinx to his professor Paul Boylan at the University of Michigan when he was a student—and, now, is eager to return as a faculty member.
“There is a lot that I will miss about Sphinx,” Aaron says. “It’s brought me the deepest pride and joy to work with all of our artists, many of whom we began to work with when they were quite young, and now they are professionals in the field. Being able to experience their trajectory has been profound.”
For more information about the Sphinx Organization, visit SphinxMusic.org.