Keynote Speaker

Named a 2005 MacArthur Fellow, President Obama’s first appointment to the National Council on the Arts and appointed to the Michigan Council for Arts & Cultural Affairs, Aaron P. Dworkin served as dean of the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD), which is ranked among the top performing arts schools in the nation. He is currently a tenured full professor of arts leadership and entrepreneurship at SMTD as well as serving as a Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. 

In addition, Aaron is a successful social entrepreneur having founded The Sphinx Organization, the leading arts organization with the mission of transforming lives through the power of diversity in the arts. He also serves as host of the nationally-broadcast Arts Engines show which reaches a weekly audience of over 100,000 in collaboration with Detroit Public Television, Ovation TV, The Violin Channel and American Public Media including Performance Today and YourClassical.

As a best-selling writer, Aaron has authored The Entrepreneurial Artist: Lessons from Highly Successful Creatives, a science-fiction novel, Ethos: Rise of Malcolm, as well as his memoir titled Uncommon Rhythm: A Black, White, Jewish, Jehovah's Witness, Irish Catholic Adoptee's Journey to Leadership, a poetry collection, They Said I Wasn’t Really Black, and a children’s book The 1st Adventure of Chilli Pepperz.

A lifelong musician, Aaron is a prominent spoken-word performing artist represented by Cadenza Artists with a current national tour of his American Rhapsody with a national consortium of orchestras and premiered with the Minnesota Orchestra and Maestro Osmo Vänskä.  He has collaborated with a breadth of artists including Yo-Yo Ma, Damien Sneed, Anna Deveare Smith, Damian Woetzel, Lil Buck and others. 

His visual digital art project, Fractured History, has been exhibited at multiple galleries and museums to rave reviews. Aaron is also an award-winning filmmaker having produced and directed two films including An American Prophecy and Deliberation and in addition to recording and producing two CDs, entitled Ebony Rhythm and Bar-Talk.

A multi-media performing artist, author, social entrepreneur, artist-citizen, and educator, Aaron continually receives extensive national recognition for his leadership and service to communities. He has been featured in People Magazine, on NBC’s Today Show and Nightly News, CNN, NPR’s The Story and Performance Today. He has been the subject of articles in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, Washington Post, Chronicle of Philanthropy, Emerge and Jet Magazines, and many other media outlets, and was named one of Newsweek’s “15 People Who Make America Great.” He is the recipient of the Royal Philharmonic Society Honorary Membership, Harvard University’s Vosgerchian Teaching Award, National Governors Association 2005 Distinguished Service to State Government Award, Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award, Detroit News’s 2003 Michiganian of the Year Award, Crain’s 40 Under 40 and Who’s Who Awards, BET’s History Makers in the Making Award, AT&T Excellence in Education Award, and National Black MBA’s Entrepreneur of The Year.

Aaron personifies arts leadership, entrepreneurship and community commitment with an unwavering passion for the arts, diversity and their role in society. As dean of the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance, he led a world-class faculty of 180 and a staff of 100 while administering a budget over $60 million, an endowment in excess of $140 million and successfully completing a capital campaign over $90 million. As founder of the Sphinx Organization, Aaron created an international organization with a staff and faculty of over 50 and a budget of $5 million that awards more than $1,000,000 in prizes and scholarships annually. The organization serves as the leading advocate for young people and diversity in the arts worldwide. Aaron also founded and served as publisher and editor-in-chief of The Bard, a literary magazine reaching over 60,000 readers.

Aaron serves regularly as a board or advisory member for numerous influential arts organizations including the National Council on the Arts, Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, National Association of Performing Arts Presenters, the Avery Fisher Artist Program, Independent Sector’s Advisory Group, League of American Orchestras, National Society for the Gifted and Talented, Creative Many Michigan, the Knight Foundation, The Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, The Michigan Theater, Rachel Elizabeth Barton Foundation, Editorial Board of Downtown New York Magazine and Chamber Music America.  As the co-chair of the Arts and Cultural Education Task Force for the State of Michigan, Aaron designed the required arts curriculum for Michigan schools.

Aaron has strong interests in politics, innovation, creativity, human pair bonding and issues of economic and social justice. In addition to various genres of music and disciplines of the performing arts, he enjoys travel, movies, and the culinary arts.  He is married to Afa Sadykhly Dworkin, a prominent international arts leader who serves as President and Artistic Director of the Sphinx Organization and has two awesome sons, Noah Still and Amani Jaise. 


2020 Award Recipients


Award Category  Winner
 Arts Manager of the Year Sean McLeod
President & CEO
New York Institute of Dance & Education
Kaleidoscope Dance Theatre
 Arts Board Member of the Year Bea González
Board President
Syracuse Stage
 Newcomer of the Year Joann Yarrow
Director of Community Engagement and Education    
Syracuse Stage
 Artist as Manager Jon Garland
Musician & Director of Operations
 Arts Educator of the Year Michelle Matteson
Instrumental Music Teacher
Homer Intermediate School