Aaron Dworkin On Making Art into a Career

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Is it possible to turn artistic passion into a sustainable career? 

So many people say that when they turn their passion into the way they earn income, the passion becomes work. Artist, author and academic Aaron Dworkin believes it is possible to continue feeding one’s passion and also earn a living from it. 

Aaron was a guest on Episode 66 of the Make Meaning Podcast, and spoke to Lynne Golodner about his experiences as a performing artist, social entrepreneur and educator.

Multi-media career

Founder of the Sphinx Organization, Aaron Dworkin was President Obama’s first appointment to the National Council on the Arts.

He was also appointed by former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to the Michigan Council of Arts and Cultural Affairs

Aaron has produced two CDs, an independent film, a visual digital art project, and authored several books in a variety of genres.

He is currently touring a spoken word and orchestral performance entitled “American Rhapsody.” 

Aaron Dworkin and the art of being a creative entrepreneur
Uncommon Rhythm by Aaron Dworkin

Uncommon Rhythm

Aaron grew up in a diverse household, as he describes in his book “Uncommon Rhythm: A Black, White, Jewish, Jehovah’s Witness, Irish Catholic Adoptee’s Journey to Leadership.” 

He began playing violin at age 5, but it wasn’t until he was studying music at the University of Michigan that he realized the community of classical music composers was more diverse than he had thought. 

He tells Lynne on the podcast that new worlds opened to him when his white violin teacher asked him if he would like to play music by black composers.

“I didn’t think there were any black composers,” Dworkin said. “My teacher started laughing and pulling volumes of works off his shelves.”

Aaron was taken with the music of composers like William Grant Still, Roque Cordero, and Joseph Bologne de Saint-Georges, and became determined to share their works with others.That inspired him to create The Sphinx Organization, which is now a nationally-recognized non-profit that brings classical works by diverse composers to life through education and performances – and brings classical music opportunities to diverse youth.

While he had a clear vision, he needed money to fuel this passion project in its early days, and so his entrepreneurial side kicked in. Aaron raised funds, found corporate sponsors, and learned to share his story as a way to attract others to his cause.

Empowering the next generation

Although Aaron has stepped away from Sphinx, he uses lessons he learned building it to teach students about making a living from their art. Aaron is now a tenured professor of arts leadership and entrepreneurship at University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and a professor of entrepreneurial studies at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business

“I love to empower students to build sustainable enterprise around their art making,” he told Lynne on the podcast. “Creative entrepreneurship programs are growing significantly across the country because these skill sets are critically important.”

His latest book, The Entrepreneurial Artist: Lessons from Highly Successful Creatives, profiles 13 artist-entrepreneurs, offering takeaways on the traits that helped them succeed. 

The Entrepreneurial Artist by Aaron Dworkin

Some of the people featured in the book are Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda; country music artist Lee Greenwood; violinist Midori; and actor Jeff Daniels as well as historical figures William Shakespeare and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart through a modern lens of creative entrepreneurship.

“I love to empower students to build sustainable enterprise around their art making.”

— Aaron Dworkin

artistic career
Make Meaning Host Lynne Golodner with Aaron Dworkin in the podcast studio.
Making Meaning

On the podcast, Aaron reads an excerpt from a chapter on dancer-choreographer Bill T. Jones, and shares insights with Lynne.  

“Artists are on a quest to find their mission and share it with others. Successful ones build an enterprise around it,” he says.  

Aaron is a perfect fit for the Make Meaning Podcast, which is dedicated to helping people find meaning in work and purpose in life.

Finding a way to channel meaningful work into a sustainable income is an important piece of the puzzle, ensuring the artist-entrepreneur can continue to create, and inspire others along the way. 

Listen to the Make Meaning Podcast episode with Aaron Dworkin here

Lynne Golodner often interviews academics on the Make Meaning Podcast. Through her company, Your People, LLC, she helps educational leaders define their personal brands, create a memorable presence, expand their social media footprint and write and publish thought leadership articles. 

Educational Leadership Course

Lynne’s 4-week Educational Leader Personal Branding Course, which covers all of these topics and more, is starting June 1. Learn more about the course and register here.