Dr. Aaron Dworkin, a multimedia performer, author, entrepreneur, and educator currently serves as dean of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, and Dance. As a former member of the Obama National Arts Policy Committee, and the first appointment by President Obama to the National Council on the Arts, Dr. Dworkin receives continual and extensive recognition for leadership and service to his community.
As a founder of the Sphinx Organization, Dr. Dworkin has helped develop a variety of programs to help underprivileged students gain access to, and passion for, the performing arts and music.
The Sphinx Organization’s vision statement is “we transform lives through the power of diversity in the arts.” Following Dr. Dworkin’s inspiration and example, the foundation offers programs to encourage and aid students of color that have few or no resources available to them in their pursuit of music. Overture, for example, is a program that provides free violins to elementary school classes in underserved areas.
How can participating in the arts make a positive impact on a child’s future?
I believe it can be transformative, regardless of what path their follow professionally. The arts instill discipline, a sense of self-awareness, confidence, all of which improve our quality of life. Exposure to and participation in the arts is an essential, core aspect of a young person’s development. It should not be an ancillary, optional activity but rather an essential component of our childrens’ lives.
“We transform lives through the power of diversity in the arts” is the motto of the Sphinx Foundation.
Why do you feel diversity is important to incorporate in the arts?
We are fortunate to live in an incredibly diverse society, representing people of all walks of life, cultures, backgrounds, persuasions. The arts are a mirror of a society: we think of the arts as having a reciprocal relationship with the community, a renewed, rediscovered sense of relevance and belonging. At Sphinx, it is said that in order for the arts to ultimately thrive, they must be enriched by the voices of those they aim to serve. I believe that the work we do in developing the next generation of artist-citizens must be informed and empowered by that concept.
What message do you want to send to today’s youth?
Don’t be afraid to dream, disrupt, to challenge the status quo: don’t be afraid of failing. In any instance, strive to go above and beyond: as an incredible educator and civil rights leader, Dr. Arthur Johnson shared with me, it is important to do more than what is required.
What things have you done to inspire young people to participate in the arts?
Over the past two decades, I have worked to foster participation in the arts through educational programming in Detroit and Flint, as well as nationally and globally. The power of learning through an inspiring example set by an older peer is endless: in most situations, people remember a poignant experience of being introduced to the arts, hearing music played by someone relatable.
What motivates you everyday?
Everyday, I am motivated by our young people, the next generation of those who will move our society forward. The arts are an incredible instrument through which to enact and propel change, a source of empowerment, and an avenue for unlocking potential in so many. In my new role as the Dean at my beloved alma mater, I feel privileged to work with young people, be surrounded by so many creative minds and soak up the enthusiasm and the energy they emit. I see my role as that of a catalyst/supporter, someone who can, hopefully, help them find their unique path and help them make the arts relevant to our community at large.
For more information, visit sphinxmusic.org.