The Annual Sphinx Competition Delivers Music, Message on Arts Representation

Rooted in social justice and transformation through the performance arts and classical music, the Sphinx Organization gives space to Black and Latinx classical musicians around the world from their Detroit headquarters.


Working at the intersection of social justice and the arts, the Sphinx Organization is an international organization based in Detroit with a foundation rooted in nurturing the development of classical artists of color. 

Kevin Kennedy / Sphinx Organization
Kevin Kennedy / Sphinx Organization

“We’re looking at the issues of representation, equity and inclusion in society but through the present of the performing arts. Nationally, Black and Latinx musicians represent approximately 4% or so in American orchestras and the numbers are actually quite similar in academic institutions across conservatories and music schools,” says Afa Dworkin, president and artistic director of the Sphinx Organization. “Part of Sphinx’s work is believing that in our society, music and the performing arts are a human right and access and participation is something that  should be afforded to a person with an affinity really without regards to race or a zip code.”

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With their year-round programming, the organization reaches nearly 10,000 people directly and more than 2 million in live and broadcast audiences. Part of that programming extends to its annual Sphinx Competition. For over 20 years, large, diverse crowds would gather at Orchestra Hall to witness the top, young, Black and Latinx musicians compete for a $50,000 grand prize and the mentorship of established professionals in their field. 

This year, with the threat of a global health pandemic looming, the junior and senior division final competition will take to a virtual stage to share an evening of classical sounds from an abundance of talent. 

“What you see on stage (being) reflected in what you see in the audience is only a testament to the fact that talent and merit isn’t any accident of demographic. It’s a myth that artistic merit, accomplishment or affinity toward classical music is somehow not present or unfamiliar to communities of color,” Dworkin says. “That falsehood is proved once you enter (the space). What is displayed on stage is so compelling.”

You can stream the 24th Annual Sphinx Competition for free on Saturday, January 30 at 7pm. Watch here.

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