by Afa S. Dworkin

At this critically important time in our nation’s history, equity and inclusion are ever more relevant to our greater society and our beloved field. When words fall short, music and the arts have the capacity to transcend the barriers of culture, race and beliefs, to inspire empathy and the will to learn and to extend.

Today, our beloved field of classical music and the performing arts in general remains challenged with a lack of a reflective and integrated relationship with the communities we should serve.  Our communities.  Our constituents, our young people, our agents of change and our beacons of hope…

Here’s why that can no longer continue and what each of us can do about it.

  1. Common myth No. 1: we’ve built it, but they haven’t come. We post the openings we have, we reach out, we advocate, but the musicians just aren’t there.
    1. Response: As an organization whose ethos resides at the critical intersection of social justice and the arts, I can share that we have more than 600 alumni whose artistic integrity and contributions to any artistic institution would be an asset and we would be thrilled to make as many direct connections as it takes to debunk the myth.
  2. Common myth No. 2: we would love to make inclusion a priority, but funding is a huge issue and we have to make difficult decisions on where to focus.
    1. Response: Intentional inclusive strategies do not need to come with an expensive price tag and simply mean a change in approach and an authentic priority on having folks at the table and in leadership (decision-making) roles. The pool is not the problem: my question is what have we done to try?  Incremental steps to change this reality becomes costly: lacking a connection to our communities will eventually mean lack of relevance and that can deteriorate even the finest and once stable of our institutions.
  1. Common myth No. 3: we would love to institute a new initiative, but our board must approve a new feasibility study and assemble a steering committee to establish what we need to do. This means we need a planning grant, which means nothing can happen immediately.
    1. Response: Actually, we are lucky to have our membership institutions like League of American Orchestras and others, who have already conducted multiple, recent studies on the state of inclusion and what has essentially not worked in any substantive ways overt the past couple of decades. We needn’t fund another white paper nor another committee.  We have the statistics and tools.  Further, we are the people and the time is now.  Anything we do to move the needle is a plus: deciding that we will identify and teach and perform repertoire by composers of color, seek out teaching artists reflective of our diversity ideals, hiring leaders and administrators of color and critically assessing if there if there is anything more that we can be doing. Being behind every other industry in our efforts to reflect our communities, we can focus on what CAN be done, how we can thoughtfully yet immediately seek excellent candidates for leadership roles in our institutions, program works by composers of color, commit to measurable and robust goals with our applicant pools and every day, work to change the landscape of our field to reflect that of our country.

The relevance of the arts today and the very survival of classical music depends on all of us—academic institutions, orchestras, presenters, musicians, teaching artists and supporters.  Now is the time to lean in, to question, to act, so that together, we help ensure that our art form is inclusive, relevant and transformative.


Afa & Aaron Dwarkin.Portrait Session

Afa Sadykhly Dworkin is President and Artistic Director of the Sphinx Organization. One of Musical America’s 2015 Top 30 Influencers and Detroit Crain’s 40 Under 40, Ms. Dworkin has worked with the Sphinx Organization since 1999. Ms. Dworkin is an adjunct faculty for Roosevelt University’s Master’s Program in Performing Arts Administration, a member of the Advisory Committee for the Ben Holt Memorial Recital Series at Lawrence University Conservatory of Music, former Trustee of Walnut Hill School for the Arts and the National Guild for Community Music Education and a Trustee for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and CultureSource.  She also served as an advisor for Casa de Lerma Musicale (a music publishing firm founded by the late preeminent musicologist Dominique Rene de Lerma).