In late January 2024, your correspondent attended the Sphinx Organization’s SphinxConnect in Detroit, Michigan. The conference is billed as “the largest and longest-standing convening dedicated to diversity and inclusion in classical music” and there were over a thousand people gathered in Detroit with many more viewing plenary sessions and other selected portions of the conference online. The streamed content should be available for on-demand viewing at Sphinx’s YouTube channel later this winter.
This review consists solely of my own opinions and reactions to the conference. In full disclosure, I am a current member of the Sphinx LEAD program and as such my conference registration, airfare to and from Detroit, and lodging at the conference hotel were all covered by the Sphinx Organization.
The conference opens on Thursday evening and closes on Saturday afternoon with plenary sessions, and immediately following the closing plenary is the annual Sphinx Competition (the original event at the founding of the Sphinx Organization in the late 1990s) to which all conference attendees are invited.
Across two days are a very full schedule of panel discussions featuring performers, arts administrators, music professors, and industry consultants. Important to note that all sessions are panels. There are no slideshows with monologues here, each and every event on the conference schedule is a conversation and includes audience questions at the end. That included the opening plenary, at which Sphinx Organization founder Aaron P. Dworkin interviewed Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson, the chair of the National Endowment of the Arts.
Topics are relevant to performing musicians, music teachers and professors, artist managers, arts administrators, marketing and development professionals, composers, and college and graduate students pursuing careers in any of the above. The conference draws an international attendance; I attended at least one session with two panelists from Europe. Lots of discussion of diversity and inclusion in the arts, specifically the importance of telling diverse stories with our music. Not insignificantly, there was also much discussion about the most promising methods of change management for organizations working on their diversity and inclusion initiatives.
There is a small exhibit hall as well, with representatives from graduate music programs, summer music camps, the service organizations, the military bands, and a few arts management consultancies.
I would absolutely recommend attending this conference. Even after my time in Sphinx LEAD (and thus all-expenses paid attendance) concludes, I could see myself returning every few years if it fits my schedule. The conversations, both amongst panelists and amongst attendees, are rich and important.