As a Cuban exile Tania Castroverde Moskalenko has experienced first-hand how the arts can connect us to other cultures. She tells IAM how she plans to continue sharing the culture of her home country through her new role as CEO of Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre, and why we need art to bring us together more than ever before.
On 15 May,1968, my parents, my siblings and I boarded a Pan Am flight in Havana, Cuba. Part of President Lyndon Johnson’s Freedom Flights, we were bound for the United Sates where we were welcomed as political refugees.
Fast forward 48 and a half years. I’m sitting in my downtown Chicago apartment at midnight on the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend and I’m browsing the internet while the television murmurs in the background. There’s a sudden breaking news flash across the TV: ‘Fidel Castro is dead!’ I bolted from my chair and ran down the hall to give the news to my parents, who were visiting from Miami for the holiday. 48 and a half years – a lifetime – flashed in the blink of an eye.
My love of the arts came to me early in life. Specifically, two years after we had arrived from Cuba, my parents purchased their first home where a truckload of furniture was soon delivered. The first item off the truck was a brand new white spinet piano. After the truck was unloaded, my mother sat at the piano to play the music of Cuba’s legendary composer Ernesto Lecuona. As my mother played, she began to weep. This beloved music brought all of her emotions to the surface.
At that moment, I witnessed the transformational power of the arts. The arts can heal. The arts can bring us together. The arts can connect us to other cultures, other worlds. I knew that, somehow, I would make a life in the arts.
I followed that path and became a performing arts presenter 18 years ago. Even though I left Cuba at a young age, the roots of my home country run deep. Throughout the past 18 years, I’ve had the privilege of leading performing arts centres in several cities across America and presenting performances that highlight the power of music and dance to create bridges of cultural understanding.
Recently (on 3 October to be exact), I began my tenure as CEO of the historic, 127-year-old Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. It was serendipitous that the first performance I would welcome was Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba, a company I know well, having shared time and space with the artistic director, Lizt Alfonso, over 15 years ago, in both New York City and Havana.
I’ve had the opportunity to share my Cuban culture with the communities I’ve served long before President Obama re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba in December of 2014. In 2002, I presented Camarata Romeu, an all-female chamber group under the musical direction of Zenaida Romeu, who comes from a long lineage of Cuban musicians. The string ensemble performs the music of Cuban composers and was the subject of the documentary Cuba Mia: Portrait of an All-Woman Orchestra, which won the Silver Screen awards at the US International Film & Video Festival in 2003. The following year, I presented the iconic charanga band Orquesta Aragon, founded in 1939. Their contagious rhythms and the joy of the danzon, cha-cha-cha, and son cubano songs had the patrons dancing on the aisles.
Over the years, I continued to present the music and dance of my native country, including newly-arrived artists such as jazz pianist Alfredo Rodriguez, who was discovered by Quincy Jones at the 2006 Montreux Jazz Festival. I did so in the hope of giving patrons a glimpse into the rich and vibrant culture of Cuba. I also recognised that presenting the cultures of other countries was the surest way to find common ground and our shared humanity with others. I have taken great joy in presenting artists from countries such as India, Argentina, Uganda, Ireland, Spain, and Mexico, among others.
My arrival at the Auditorium Theatre has coincided with times of extreme uncertainty and division in the US. In these times, the role of the arts has been amplified – now, more than ever, we need healing, unity, and cultural understanding. The architects of the Auditorium Theatre, Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, imagined it to be a theatre of the people when they opened the doors 127 years ago. Today, in light of events in our country and around the world, it has never been more important to recommit to this vision as a performing arts presenter. I will continue to present artists from my home country and from around the world, in the hopes that all can experience the transformational power of the performing arts.