Thursday, November 11, 2021

Sphinx Organization: Announcing the 2022 Sphinx Venture Fund Recipients!



 Inaugural Nina Simone Piano Competition for Black pianists 

Inaugural New York City Opera’s Duncan-Williams Voice Competition for Black and Latinx emerging singers

Composing Inclusion, a partnership between The Juilliard School, the New York Philharmonic, and American Composers Forum
DETROIT, MICHIGAN (NOVEMBER 10, 2021) — The Sphinx Organization has announced three recipients of its Sphinx Venture Fund for 2022, awarding two grants of $100,000 and one grant of $97,500 for projects that meet the fund’s mission to support initiatives designed to solve a challenge or an issue related to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in classical music. Sphinx—the social justice organization dedicated to transforming lives through the power of diversity in the arts—launched the Sphinx Venture Fund in 2020 with the goal of investing $15 million over five years. The 2022 recipients are the third cohort to receive grants. They are: 
  • Pianist and President and Artistic Director of the Art of the Piano Festival & Foundation Awadagin Pratt and the inaugural Nina Simone Piano Competition to be presented in partnership with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati ($100k).

  • Manhattan School of Music’s Chief of Staff and Assistant Vice President for Special Initiatives Alexa Smith and the inaugural New York City Opera’s Duncan-Williams Voice Competition ($97.5k).

  • Dean of the Preparatory Division at The Juilliard School Weston Sprott for Composing Inclusion, a partnership between The Juilliard School, the New York Philharmonic, and American Composers Forum that will commission, premiere, and publish nine new works with flexible orchestration by Black and Latinx composers to be performed side-by-side by musicians of varying skill levels ($100k).

Only a select number of proposals are chosen for The 
Sphinx Venture Fund each year with an average grant 
size of $50,000 to $100,000. The Sphinx Venture 
Fund is made possible by the Fund II Foundation. 
Sphinx Founder, Aaron P. Dworkin, serves as Strategic 
Advisor to the program. Sphinx President and Artistic 
Director, Afa S. Dworkin, said:

“The Sphinx Venture Fund explicitly funds highly 
impactful programs affecting sector-wide and 
measurable change in addressing DEI issues. 
This year’s recipients all exemplify this 
mission. Sphinx welcomes these two new 
performance competitions for Black pianists 
and Black and Latinx singers, both of which 
aim to identify and celebrate a long-standing 
tradition of artistic excellence. Initiatives
 such as these further affirm that artistic 
integrity is inseparable from inclusion. 
Additionally, we applaud the Composing 
Inclusion project for identifying gaps in the 
side-by-side repertoire and creating such an 
enriching experience for students and seasoned 
professionals, as well as effectively transforming 
the classical music canon. We congratulate all 
three projects and the visionaries behind them!” 


The inaugural Nina Simone Piano Competition for 
young African American pianists will be held in summer 
2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The competition is the 
brainchild of pianist and conductor Awadagin Pratt and 
will be presented by his Art of the Piano Festival & 
Foundation, of which he is President and Artistic 
Director, in partnership with the Cincinnati Symphony 
Professor of Piano. The competition will be held every 
two years immediately before the annual two-week Art of 
the Piano Festival on the CCM campus. Prize winners will 
receive automatic admittance to the festival, 
performance opportunities in Cincinnati and elsewhere, 
and cash prizes. Modeled on the Sphinx Competition, the 
Nina Simone Piano Competition will be divided into 
three divisions: Junior Division (ages 10 to 13); Senior 
Division (ages 14 to 17); and Young Artists Division (ages 
18 to 35).

The competition is named after Nina Simone: 
Mr Pratt says the competition aims to give young Black 
pianists a platform to showcase their skills and to 
gain opportunities, experience, and support. He said: 

“In the almost 30 years that it’s been since I won 
the Naumburg International Piano Competition in 
1992, far too few African American pianists have 
joined me on the concert stages across the United 
States. I know what a wonderful addition to the 
classical music community these voices will be and 
this competition aims to fix this problem.”

The competition has a goal of directly supporting 
over a hundred African American pianists by its 
ninth year and also aims to commission new 
 works. Applications for the inaugural competition 
will open in December 2022. For more 
information, visit 

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