Sphinx hosts diversity conference

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

More than 300 artists, administrators and cultural activists will gather at the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel this weekend for the Sphinx Organization's third-annual conference on diversity in the arts, which kicks off Friday.

SphinxCon, as the three-day event open to the public is called, will feature 35 speakers on 13 issues ranging from creative placemaking to the difference arts participation makes in the academic performance of disadvantaged kids.

"We're trying to learn from other art forms like dance and theater what they've done to increase diversity," says Afa Sadykhly Dworkin, Sphinx executive and artistic director and wife of founder Aaron Dworkin. Both are also violinists. "Hopefully we can take away concrete ideas to put in practice and make a difference."

This year, in contrast to previous SphinxCons, a panel discussion with arts experts will follow each 10-minute presentation, with opportunities for audience input, as well.

The keynote speaker will be National Endowment for the Arts Chairwoman Jane Chu, who will deliver closing remarks Sunday.

Detroit's Sphinx Organization works to get minority youth in underserved communities playing classical stringed instruments. Programs include a summer chamber-music intensive and an in-school program that provides free violins and lessons to elementary-age kids in the Detroit Public Schools.

The nonprofit, founded in 1997, is most famous for its Sphinx Competition, which takes place Sunday afternoon at Orchestra Hall. Young musicians of remarkable talent from across the country compete for cash prizes and much-sought-after performance opportunities.

Given the organization's mandate, Afa Sadykhly Dworkin says, it just made sense to launch the diversity conference.

"It just seemed like we should be a catalyst for this conversation," she says.

The conference comes at an opportune time for Detroit, where development and a recent influx of new residents have raised concerns that people of color may get pushed out as the city revives.

"One of our seminars, 'Out of Place,' is all about gentrification and what's going on in Detroit," says Dworkin. "We're looking at trends and trying to figure out how to capitalize on our artistic and cultural heritage, and make that more inclusive."




3 p.m. Friday-noon Sunday

Westin Book Cadillac Detroit

1114 Washington Blvd., Detroit

Tickets: from $35-$150, available online and at the door


Sphinx Competition Finals

2 p.m. Sunday

Max M. Fisher Music Center

3711 Woodward., Detroit

Tickets: $10 - $20

(313) 576-5111