The Sphinx Organization is a Detroit-based national organization dedicated to promoting diversity in the arts. The organization was founded in 1997 by Aaron P. Dworkin, who believed that the name “Sphinx” was representative of the power, wisdom and persistence of the patrons of the programming. Their mission is “Transforming Lives Through the Power of Diversity in the Arts,” and is carried out through their four primary areas including Education & Access, Artist Development, Performing Arts, and Arts Leadership. These programs provide a pipeline for classical music development in music education, on-stage performances, repertoire and programming, communities represented in audiences, and artistic and administrative leadership.
Through the programs presented by Sphinx, more than 100,000 artists and over two million in broadcast audiences are reached annually. However, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic the organization has been forced to pivot, sparking the Sphinx Artist Fund and the Sphinx Match Project. The Sphinx Artist Fund has been able to support more than 60 program alumni throughout the course of the pandemic, and the Sphinx Match Project has awarded seven artists with matching grants to support online concert initiatives.
The Sphinx Organization recently announced the recipients of the 2021 MPower Artist Grants; competitive scholarships designed to empower alumni of the Sphinx Competition, Sphinx Symphony, Sphinx Virtuosi, Sphinx Performance Academy, Sphinx Medals of Excellence, Sphinx LEAD, and EXIGENCE to achieve their career objectives in classical music. This year, 13 deserving artists were selected to receive a total of $100,000 intended to address each individual’s needs as a creative, while the landscape of the arts industry continues to adapt and change.
MPower Grants differ based upon the scope, need, and nature of each competitive application, with the average award amounting to $10,000. Thomas Mesa, 2021-22 MSO Symphony Season guest artist is a 2021 recipient of the MPower grant, and has participated in the Sphinx Competition, Sphinx Virtuosi, and Sphinx Symphony Orchestra. Mesa’s MPower project includes a partnership with PARMA Recordings and pianist Michelle Cann to record a cello/piano “Call for Scores” album of new music by Black and Latinx composers. Read about all of the winners’ projects now on the Sphinx website. Learn more about Thomas Mesa‘s appearances with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and subscribe to the 21-22 Symphony Season now.
“The Sphinx Medal of Excellence is the highest honor bestowed by the Sphinx Organization, recognizing extraordinary classical Black and Latinx musicians. Along with a $50,000 career grant, Sphinx annually awards the Medals of Excellence to three artists who, early in their career, demonstrate artistic excellence, outstanding work ethic, a spirit of determination, and an ongoing commitment to leadership and their communities.” 2021-22 Symphony Season guest artist Kelly Hall-Tompkins received the award in 2017. You can find all past winners on the Sphinx website. Learn more about Kelly Hall-Tompkins‘s appearances with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and subscribe to the 21-22 Symphony Season now.
Learn more about all of The Sphinx Organization’s programs:
The goal of Sphinx’s Education and Access programs is to “make classical music accessible to communities historically underrepresented in the field through education initiatives and community engagement.” The Education and Access section of the organization is comprised of three programs: Sphinx Overture, Overture Summer Camp, and Sphinx Performance Academy. Sphinx Overture provides free classes, lessons, and violins to local elementary school students in both Detroit and Flint, Michigan. Overture Summer Camp is a two-week summer music program for Detroit Overture students, and Sphinx Performance Academy is an intensive summer music program with a focus on cultural diversity for string musicians ages 11-17. Th Sphinx Performance Academy summer music program provides full scholarships for all attendees.
Artist Development programs “empower emerging musicians by encouraging, developing, and recognizing classical music talent in the Black and Latinx communities.” The Sphinx Competition for young Black and Latinx string players allows musicians to compete for prizes ranging from $3,000 to $50,000. Musicians also receive guidance and mentorship from established musicians through this competition. The Music Assistance Fund provides a series of scholarships to alumni of the Sphinx Competition and generates access to educational opportunities and instruments.
Another program under the Artist Development umbrella is called the National Alliance for Audition Support, which is a partnership with the New World Symphony and the League of American Orchestras. This program provides mentorship, audition preparation, financial support, and audition previews for Black and Latinx musicians. Additionally, the Sphinx Orchestral Partners Audition (SOPA) offers an opportunity for musicians of color to audition for a panel representing multiple American orchestras. The primary goal of this program is to provide job placement for musicians of color within American orchestras.
Performing Arts programs encompass both professional ensemble and soloist efforts to bring “dynamic programming” to diverse audiences. These ensembles include Sphinx Virtuosi, Sphinx Symphony Orchestra, Sphinx Soloist Program, Sphinx Global Scholars, Catalyst Quartet, Harlem Quartet, and EXIGENCE Vocal Ensemble. Sphinx Virtuosi is a professional chamber orchestra, while Sphinx Symphony Orchestra is an all Black and Latinx orchestra comprised of top professional musicians from around the country. The Sphinx Soloist Program showcases top Black and Latinx string players through featured performances with orchestras.
The Catalyst Quartet is a professional quartet whose members also serve as a principal faculty at Sphinx Performance Academy, and the Harlem Quartet is a group of professionals dedicated to engaging in new audiences with diverse repertoire. The Sphinx Global Scholars is an initiative that brings Sphinx artists around the globe to teach, learn, and perform abroad. The EXIGENCE Vocal Ensemble highlights artistry with Black and Latinx communities, and was founded by conductor Eugene Rogers.
Programming surrounding Arts Leadership works to support musicians, leaders, and entrepreneurs of color through career development and professional empowerment opportunities. An annual conference called SphinxConnect serves as the epicenter for artists and leaders in diversity. The program also provides awards and $50,000 career grants for three Black and Latinx classical artists, renowned as the Sphinx Medals of Excellence. Sphinx MPower provides competitive scholarships for program alumni designer to empower achievement of career objectives in classical music.
Sphinx LEAD is a 2-year professional empowerment program for arts leaders of color, and the Sphinx Venture Fund provides competitive grants for initiatives which work to resolve issues related to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in the Performing arts.
The programming that Sphinx offers is robust and paves the way for leadership in the classical music industry. Both Sphinx and the Madison Symphony Orchestra have ties to the League of American Orchestras, whose efforts in Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion is leading the industry. Our work to reach diverse communities both through educational programming and audience engagement echoes the goals set out by Sphinx, which as an organization helps to provide a guidepost for progress in classical music.