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Passion for the performing arts drives Palladium CEO

Friday, Sept. 5, is momentous for the Palladium at Carmel's Center for the Performing Arts because a concert featuring country music super star Martina McBride, will be the 1000th performance at the venue since its Jan. 2011 grand opening.

Martina McBride
Center for the Performing Arts
Tania Castroverde Moskalenko
Zach Dobson

The Center, which got off to a rocky start with controversy surrounding financial shortfalls and the abrupt resignation of its first president and CEO Steve Libman, managed to weather the storm, mainly through the stability and quality of the leadership that followed. Frank Basile, the Center’s board president at the time, took over in July of 2011 as interim president and CEO for a year, after which Tania Castroverde Moskalenko became the head of the nonprofit organization in Aug. of 2012.

Moskalenko, who is now two years into her position at the Center, recently met with Examiner.com to talk about the progress that has occurred under her watch and the Palladium’s 2014–2015 season that commences with the McBride concert. Celebrating her birthday on the day of the interview, Moskalenko couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate location than the downtown Indianapolis Artsgarden to update this writer about the Center and her efforts as its leader.

How is the Center’s new season different, if at all, from the previous ones?

From the beginning, the bar was set very high at the Palladium. The caliber of the artists we are bringing hasn’t changed. As a matter of fact, we actually did an analysis of the artists coming in this season and together the artists who will be coming in this season have garnered 170 Grammys.

What is your selection process?

Mostly I do the programming and I like my team to be very involved. Marketing is involved in that when we look at an artist, we talk about the marketability of an artist. Also, part of our mission is education and to introduce new artists to this community. We can’t always present artists who are household names so part of our mission is to invite the community to discover something new with us. We want to be the leader in introducing new artists to the community so when we program the season, it’s a combination of what we know will sell and what we think we need to be introducing to the community. It’s more about curating the season.

How far in advance do you book the artists out?

Two sometimes three years. I am already looking at 2017. It takes a while to put a season together. I have been doing this for 17 years and it never ceases to amaze me because every year when the season is finally booked and I get the brochure I look at it and I am amazed it has come together. There are a lot of moving parts. You have the artists that you want to present for your community for all the right reasons. The artists have to be touring. They are not always touring the year that you want them. They have to be touring in this part of the country and your theater has to be available on those days. Another piece is what they are performing. It’s important to keep up with what the artist is doing at the time because it changes.

What artists are you excited about?

I am excited about a number of them. You have to realize I am very tied to all of this because I am so involved. For me they’re like children and of course I have my favorites. They include the The 5 Browns—5 siblings, 3 females, and 2 males, all of whom went to Julliard. They will be performing “Rhapsody in Blue,” “The Rite of Spring” and pieces from Solti’s “The Planets” so it is a full and exciting program. Then there is Zakir Hussain, from India, who plays the tabla. He’ll be part of the World Stage Series. There is a lot of diversity here in Central Indiana and we have a very large Indian community in Carmel and throughout Central Indiana. Those are just a few.

What does the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra classical season at the Palladium represent for you all?

I think it is terrific for the ISO to come back to the Palladium. That hall is perfect for orchestral music. I had an opportunity to hear them in there and it sounded terrific. And I think it will give patrons on the north side an opportunity to visit the Palladium and listen to the ISO. Now I am really excited that they are bringing the Masterworks program. I think the ISO and the Palladium are great partners.

Do you still hear complaints about the Center siphoning off donor support from Indianapolis arts organizations such as the ISO?

The reality is that classical music is being challenged all across this country. It is not only Indianapolis. Orchestras all across the country are being challenged. Instead of using the Palladium as a scapegoat for that, I think that we as a community should look more closely at how the arts have been cut from our schools. If a child does not grow up with the arts, what are the chances that, at the age of 25, when they have a job and decide how they are going to spend their money, they go to a concert hall? That has not been a part of their vocabulary so I think that is the real dialogue that needs to be happening.

How do you feel about your fundraising efforts up to this point?

I think we’ve done really well. I think we closed a really great year. Around August last year this time we actually adopted a strategic plan. We spent 8 or 9 months putting it together and the entire staff was a part of it. So now we’ve had a year of implementing the strategic plan and it has been remarkable. We are saying to our donors “we are nonprofit and how fortunate for the community that the city of Carmel built this facility but now we need your support to maintain it.” We go through who we are, what we are, what we do, where we want to go and the donors understand that. We have over 92% retention and our donors have all either renewed or increased their gift to the center.

How are your resident companies such as Actors Theatre of Indiana and Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre doing?

They are doing well. We are working with them. We are including them more often in some of our planning and I stay in touch with them on a regular basis.

Have the Feinstein Foundation Great American Songbook High School Vocal Competition and Encore Awards raised the Center’s profile?

It’s gaining more and more attention. The participants are doing more and more. Julia Goodwin went on America’s Got Talent and Nick Ziobro has had incredible success and wherever they go they are taking the message. Michael of course is so active. He is performing all over the country. He has a television show. He has a radio program so he brings a very high profile to the center, the vocal competition and the hall of fame.

What are the challenges that lay ahead?

I think that one of our biggest challenges, and this goes for the ISO, Dance Kaleidoscope and all the arts organizations—our biggest challenge is the next generation. How do you engage the next generation? How do we remain relevant to the next generation?

Any disappointments?

I can’t think of anything that has been terribly disappointing. We do the work day to day in the same way. I am a very passionate person. My high days are very high. My low days are very low, and it is disappointing whenever there is an artist that I know is an amazing opportunity for discovery and the attendance is not full to the rafters. That is very idealistic, right? I know the transformational power of the arts and sometimes it does make me sad that not everybody gets it. I think we have to work together as an arts community to get it in the schools and get parents to bring their kids to see performances so 20 years from now they will be arts patrons. We offer $15 tickets (classical and dance but not pop or country). It’s less expensive to bring your child to the Palladium than leave them at home with a baby sitter.

So if you were to give yourself a grade what would it be?

That’s an unfair question (laughs). What I can tell you is that I go to work every day with tremendous passion. Every single day I wake up with optimism for the future. Not only of our organization but the future of this entire community. I made a commitment to come here and to really shape the future of the Center for the Performing Arts. I look back on the last two years and we have done a lot of good work but there is still a long way to go.

Does Carmel feel like home now?

You know it felt like home pretty quickly. I feel like I have been completely embraced by this community from the very beginning so I have felt very comfortable here. I would love for my board to send me down to the islands in January and February (laughs). Winter was tough last year but other than that, it is a wonderful community, filled with interesting people who are wonderful to talk and be with.

For tickets and information about the Center for the Performing Arts at (317) 843-3800 or visit centerfortheperformingarts.org

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