Dworkin to head University of Michigan music school

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

Aaron P. Dworkin, founder and president of Detroit’s nationally recognized Sphinx Organization, will be the new dean of the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance.

University regents voted to confirm the appointment Thursday afternoon. Dworkin, 44, takes over in July.

His wife, Afa Sadykhly Dworkin, Sphinx’s executive and artistic director, will become president.

“I am deeply honored to take on this role at one of the best performing-arts schools in the country,” said Dworkin, who got his bachelor’s degree and Master of Fine Arts in violin performance at the university. “It’s both an honor and a responsibility that I take incredibly seriously.”

Dworkin will be the School of Music, Theatre and Dance’s first African-American dean.

The chair of the search committee, Performing Arts Technology Prof. Jason Corey, cited Dworkin’s “distinguished cultural entrepreneurship, outstanding track record of fundraising, deep commitment to community engagement through arts education, and extraordinary leadership around issues of diversity and inclusiveness in the arts.”

Dworkin, who lives in Ann Arbor with his wife and two sons, won a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” in 2005. He was President Obama’s first appointment to the National Council on the Arts in 2011 and was named by Gov. Rick Snyder to the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.

“I think it’s a total win for everybody,” said Detroit Symphony Orchestra President and CEO Anne Parsons, who said Dworkin was the first Detroiter to call and congratulate her on getting her new job in Detroit.

“Aaron and I have been great partners since I got here,” Parsons said, noting that the annual Sphinx Competition for top, young string players is held at Orchestra Hall.

“I’m very fond of Aaron. He’s a great colleague. And Sphinx,” she added, “is what all youth programs should be. They just have a great model of youth development for the arts.”

Dworkin founded Detroit’s Sphinx Organization, which gets black and Latino kids involved in classical music, in 1996 when he was just 26.

The group quickly won national and international fame for its ability to recruit and propel minority performers, often from disadvantaged backgrounds, into top music schools and then on to professional careers.

In moving to the University of Michigan, Dworkin is taking on a vastly larger, more-complex organization. The School of Music, Theatre and Dance has a budget of $44 million, which is about 10 times Sphinx’s, an endowment of $140 million, and more than 200 faculty and staff.

“People say, ‘Sphinx is your life’s work — why would you want to leave?’ ” Dworkin said. “But I absolutely love the University of Michigan, and think I can have a broader impact there than at Sphinx. Plus,” he added, “I’m really excited to work with a world-class faculty.”