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Associated Press
Tania Castroverde Moskalenko was hired in June to oversee the Center for the Performing Arts, with 90 employees and a budget of $11 million.

Revolution set arts chief on winding path

– On a warm spring day in 1968, a nervous 6-year-old Cuban girl boarded a plane with her family, one-way tickets to Miami in hand.

The Cuban revolution had changed the course of Tania Castroverde Moskalenko’s future. Instead of enjoying a good life in Cuba, where her father had been studying to be a doctor, her family was thrust into post-revolutionary chaos. The medical school closed and her father, Lazaro, was sent to work in sugar-cane fields.

“I don’t remember a lot because I was so young, but I know we moved in with my grandmother in Havana,” said Moskalenko, 51, who is approaching the end of her first year as chief executive officer and president of the Center for the Performing Arts.

“I also know that when my father was allowed to come back, we didn’t recognize him.” He had been forced to spend a year and 29 days doing hard labor. “He had lost so much weight and was unshaven.”

Those were hard times for her home country. By the mid-1960s, Fidel Castro’s revolution had taken away political freedom, shut down small businesses and virtually eliminated private property. Thousands of Cubans wanted to flee.

And so it was 44 years ago, on May 15, when Moskalenko boarded one of President Lyndon Johnson’s “freedom flights” – planes sent from Florida to Cuba, eventually bringing 250,000 Cuban refugees to the U.S.

It would not be the last time life would lead her down an unexpected path.

Moskalenko’s journey has taken her from Miami to Memphis; from childhood ballet classes to university music school; and from a desire to change the world as a CIA agent to changing it through the performing arts.

Artistically, she identifies most with her Cuban heritage, but her cultural influences have grown with each step along the way. In mid-life, she developed a love of Russian culture, thanks to her second husband, Alexei, a professional ballet dancer from Moscow.

Just last weekend, those cultural influences were on display when she unveiled the upcoming season of performances at The Palladium, including a variety of musical genre and artists – from classical to country, southern blues to Russian ballet.

She came to Carmel from suburban Memphis with a reputation as a successful promoter and manager of the arts.

“Tania is really good at connecting people to each other in ways that benefit them,” said Deborah Hernandez, director of research and development at the University of Memphis, who worked with her in planning a Latino Festival.

“Not only did she get us amazing talent, but she also leveraged media connections to get us publicity, and she personally got key influencers involved from the entire spectrum of our community,” Hernandez told The Indianapolis Star.

Moskalenko chuckled when asked how she ended up in Carmel.

“I never thought I’d come to Indiana,” she said, tossing out more likely places to land, such as Florida or the East Coast. “But my life has had all these amazing twists and turns that have presented themselves to me.”