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The Sphinx Organization: Diversity And Fostering New Audiences

By Expert Author: David Richerd

Each summer I serve as the Artistic Director of the Festival Del Sole in the Napa Valley, which I co-founded in 2006 with Rick Walker. IMG Artists serves as the Executive Producer. The Festival features the greatest musicians and artists from around the world today. Culinary and wine events are held throughout the day, including spectacular dinners at our partner wineries.

Festival Del Sole is a glamorous event that attracts the best and the brightest from San Francisco, the Bay Area and beyond. Our patrons and winery partners are dedicated and vocal supporters of not only the Festival but also the goal of bringing the arts to the Napa Valley. This summer’s Festival featured not only such distinguished artists as Joshua Bell and Pinchas Zukerman, but also star chefs Michael Chiarello and Piero Selvaggio and legendary actors Sophia Loren, Robert Redford and Whoopi Goldberg.

This past summer, the Festival decided that it was time to invite an organization that promotes positive change in the arts and recognizes the need for building future audiences: the Sphinx Organization. Dr. Aaron Dworkin is the organization’s Founder and President. He was President Obama’s first appointment to the National Council on the Arts. Sphinx promotes the inclusion of African-American and Latino musicians in performing arts organizations across the country. Sphinx has formed the Sphinx Orchestra, which is the only orchestra comprised solely of African-American and Latino musicians.

Over the past couple of years, I became increasingly disturbed by the very prominent fall from grace of several once-heralded bastions of the arts including the Minnesota Orchestra, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the San Diego Opera, not to mention the recent travails of the Metropolitan Opera. Each one of these situations is of course different, however, it isn’t difficult to identify the root of the problem: decreases in funding and reduced marketing budgets have resulted in fewer tickets being sold and dwindling audiences. The problem manifests itself in different ways: potential lock-outs, combative negotiations with the musicians’ unions and/or the erosion of a core base of patrons. It boils down to one simple thing: the economics don’t work in today’s age. We must create and build a future generation of enthusiastic concert-goers who become supporters of the arts.

Where will this new demand come from? The education of new, younger and more diversified audiences is imperative. We know the product is good one (great music). We must devote our efforts to build demand through education and grass-roots initiatives. El Sistema in Venezuela and the Sphinx Organization in the USA have proven that it works exceptionally well. By showing black and latino audiences that they can also participate and are welcome on stage makes them more comfortable in the concert hall. The results have been nothing short of electrifying. Examples of this are the extraordinary success of Gustavo Dudamel’s sold out tours from London to Beijing to Los Angeles featuring the most prominent product of El Sistema in Venezuela, the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, and the Sphinx Orchestra’s Carnegie Hall appearances and tours across the US.

In Napa at the Festival this summer, it was heartening to see the reactions of the audiences, patrons and the community to the participation of the Sphinx. It certainly infused the event with a new energy. One could feel the spirit of the young musicians on stage and their appreciation for the opportunity that was given to them by the Sphinx Organization to perform at such a prestigious event. It was also clear that we were seeing a new and different audience developing as well.

In addition to the Sphinx this summer, tribute was paid to Sophia Loren for her lifetime of work on the grounds of the idyllic Far Niente winery on the closing Saturday of the Festival. The focus of the evening was her son, conductor Carlo Ponti, Jr. The Festival launched his new project, the LA Virtuosi, a new orchestra that donates 100% of its net revenues to music education programs. When asked about the orchestra’s goals, Sophia told me that for her, access to arts education for all is the most important message she could possibly wish to promote.

Despite the doom and gloom, this summer proved in a small, but encouraging, way that there is hope. When we announced that Sphinx was coming this summer, I said that “education and equality in the arts have been shown to improve academic outcomes, promote higher career goals and deepen civic engagement. Yet, funding for and access to the arts is, increasingly, the domain of an exclusive class. This trend threatens to both inhibit the progress and development of some of our most talented youth and further diminish the already dwindling audience base for classical music. Aaron Dworkin and the Sphinx Organization are guiding lights promoting equality, access, and education for those who wouldn’t otherwise have the same opportunities.” Now I know from firsthand experience how true this is.

Barrett Wissman is an avid entrepreneur, philanthropist and concert pianist and the Chairman of IMG Artists, the global leader in the performing and cultural arts entertainment business. With offices in the US, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. IMG Artists manages artists, tours artists and groups of all genres, manages and owns branded arts and lifestyle festivals and events and has an active venue management and project consulting business worldwide. I write about culture and the arts and the entertainment industry, the travel and culinary adventures I experience on the road and the world of philanthropy in the arts and entertainment industry. Follow me on twitter at @barrettwissman and visit Barrett Wissman and IMG Artists.

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