After four years as president & CEO of The Center for The Performing Arts in Carmel and The Great American Songbook Foundation, Tania Castroverde Moskalenko resigned in August of 2016. Then in October, she stepped into the role of CEO of The Auditorium Theatre at Roosevelt University in Chicago, Illinois.
Moskalenko, who came to the U.S. from Cuba in the late 1960s, previously served as executive director of the Germantown Performing Arts Centre in Tennessee. During her time in Carmel, Moskalenko was credited with bringing transparency, accountability, and stability to the Center and Songbook Foundation at a time when the organizations needed it most. She was also able to stabilize the financial situation by reducing the municipal support from $5.5 million to $2.5 million. The Center ended the fiscal year with a surplus the last 3 years (out of 4) she was was there. Known for building bridges between the Center and other arts organizations Moskalenko was also regarded as a major arts advocate in Central Indiana.
During a visit to Chicago in late November I dropped by to see Moskalenko at her office in the 125-year old, Auditorium building located at the corner of Congress Parkway and South Michigan Avenue. After chatting in her office, with its view of Lake Michigan, we moved to the spectacular theater. A National Historic Landmark, the Auditorium Theatre is known internationally for its perfect acoustics, innovative architecture and stunning design. Designed by the architectural firm of Adler and Sullivan, the 4,000 seat theatre in 1889 used modern technology, including electric lighting and air conditioning. At the time, the Auditorium the tallest building in Chicago, was the first multi-use building ever designed and the most massive modern edifice in the world for its time.
After opening to immense critical acclaim as a masterfully-designed opera house the theater fell into disrepair. For decades the Auditorium Theatre underwent a serious decline before experiencing a resurgence in the 1960’s, and ultimately returning to its former glory. Due to multiple restoration and conservation projects, the theater’s 24-karat gold-leafed ceiling arches, hundreds of Sullivan’s restored intricate stencil patterns, ornate gilded and bas-relief designs, and endless floor and wall mosaics and murals by Charles Holloway and Albert Fleury remain for the public to enjoy.
After catching up with Moskalenko, all the while taking in The Auditorium’s massive size and stunning architectural detail, we agreed that I would be in touch at a later date for an interview. One day a few weeks ago, while I was on Facebook, a story with an announcement of The Auditorium’s 2017-2018 season appeared on my newsfeed which prompted me to reach out to Moskalenko to arrange an interview. Recently we spoke by phone. Herein is our conversation.
You have been in Chicago now for six months. How does it feel?
I can’t believe it has been that long. I feel so at home here. I have fallen in love with Chicago. It’s such an amazing city and people are really nice. It’s still a midwestern city but there is so much to do and so much to see and so much to explore. This year’s winter was not difficult at all because it was very mild and I am thankful for that. Today the temperature is in the 60s. I am looking at the lake right now from my office window and it’s sparkling. I look forward to spring and summer because there is so much to do and so much to explore.
Has your family adapted to to life in Chicago?
Our nearly 9-year old twins, Nickolas and Tatiana love it here, so that has gone well. My husband Alexie, who is assistant artistic director of the Youth America Grand Prix loves his job. We enjoy living downtown and walking everywhere.
What about Chicago’s diversity?
Well, I don’t think you could get more diverse than Chicago. It’s such a fabulous multi-cultural city. A very cosmopolitan city too. I love that our audiences are a reflection of the city As a matter of fact. We just unveiled a tag line for the theatre that we discovered in some of the history books about the Auditorium. It’s ”The Theatre for the People.”
What’s old is new again.
Well, I think that it is a wonderful time right now to express that sentiment and recommit to it.
How did you compile the Auditorium’s new season?
When I arrived in October they had not started planning the season yet, so my team and I put the season together in six months which is pretty remarkable because usually you work a year in advance, right? It’s a little nerve racking when you are working so close to a season announcement but we were able to pull it off.
When I interviewed you previously, while you were at the Center in Carmel, you schooled me about scheduling, etc.
Even after doing this for over 20 years it never ceases to amaze me when a season finally goes to the printer. Organizing all of the dates and confirming the availability of the artists is such a juggling act. Every year it just amazes me when it finally comes together. It always does. It’s quite a good feeling when everything falls into place and you finally get to announce the season.
Chicago is a major market and you have 20 years of contacts that you have built up. Do these factors help you?
Chicago is a major market. The auditorium is an historical national landmark that is very well respected all over the world. And of course, as a result working in this field for 20 years, I do have many contacts.
Did you devise the season’s various series?
No, these series were already in place. I have some ideas to expand those series but there was no way we could do that with a six month timetable. Having six months to put together a season I have to pace myself because there is work to be done and you want to do it right. But the auditorium is different. It is known for dance and its known for international dance so the focus is already there. But I am absolutely not complaining because dance is a passion of mine.
You have to work around the Joffrey Ballet schedule as well. Is that correct?
We work together. The Joffrey is our resident company so much like the work we did at the Center in Carmel. We worked with our resident companies there so that everybody had the space and the time they needed on the calendar. That is one of those enigmas. You have this calendar and so much competition for time on it.
It sounds like a dance but it also sounds like a chess game.
How is fundraising? Have you gotten the lay of the land? It’s vast in Chicago, right?
Fundraising is something I will always be working on and yes, Chicago is vast. I continue to meet our existing donors, new ones, and those who love and care for the auditorium. It is is important that we tell our history. What’s amazing is that everyone I meet has a story about the auditorium. Either they remember it when they were here as a child, or the period of the rock concerts of the 70s, or the period of the Broadway shows in the 80s. I imagine that at some point a hundred years from now the same will be true with the Palladium. People will have their own stories about it.
How are donors responding to your leadership?
Everyone has been very, very positive. I believe that our board members are engaged, as well as are our major donors. As a not for profit organization, that is something we are constantly working on.
Who is your board chair and do the two of you have a good working relationship?
We have a fabulous board president. His name is Charlie Gardner. He has been involved with the arts in Chicago for many years. He is a lover of dance, which helps tremendously, and is very involved with other dance companies in Chicago and across the country. He is a very supportive and we get along quite well. Charlie is very focused on the artistic piece but is also a very good board chair. He is focused on the financial piece of the organization. He brings an excellent financial acumen to the role and knows the history of Chicago. He knows the market and he knows how we fit into it as well.
Are you now able to see how all your experience in Tennessee and Carmel prepared you for your present job?
Oh, absolutely. We are who we are because of our past and everything that we have experienced. That certainly is true for me in my career. When I set out to do the work, I wasn’t thinking “I’m going to end up running a theatre in a major market or a national historic landmark.” You never do that. You just do the work daily and then it just sort of evolves. You don’t navigate aimlessly but it does evolve in a way in a way that you cannot imagine. It was certainly the case for me. I never imagined I would be here. I really didn’t.
Thus far, what has been the most satisfying thing that has transpired in your position as CEO?
I think that being able to announce the new season with such short notice. The reason I say that is because it really brought this team together. My marketing and development operations and programming teams—everybody worked hard together to make it happen. I think it really solidified my relationship with the entire staff, working together to get this season out in time. You are planning the new season why you are executing the one you are in. Like flying a plane while you are fixing it. I love the process of working hand in hand with the team.
What do you hope to achieve in your current position? Short term? Long term?
In the short term I hope to grow our artistic offerings by presenting interesting and compelling programming that will inspire our audiences. In the long term, I want the Auditorium Theatre to be in the hearts and minds of everyone in Chicago and that they will be compelled to support our institution. I’d like to launch a campaign that will allow us to restore the theatre to its original glory.
Do you have a message for your former friends and colleagues in Central Indiana?
I miss all my Central Indiana friends tremendously. I stay in touch with many of them via Facebook, email, and text, and some have already visited me in Chicago.
Will you be back to visit?
I will be back this summer as I’m doing a week-long residency at the I.U. Lilly Family School of Philanthropy where I’m working on a Masters Degree in Philanthropic Studies.
Should your Central Indiana peeps come to Chicago to see shows at the Auditorium and if so, why?
Absolutely. Chicago is such a great city. There is so much to do and see. The cultural offerings are tremendous; Broadway, opera, symphony, dance, theatre, museums, the list goes on. Also, the parks are amazing and there are festivals all throughout the summer to suit every taste. It is also a great family-friendly town. Plus, I’m here. And, I’d love to see all my friends.
For tickets and information about The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University 2017-2018 season visit www.auditoriumtheatre.org.