Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

With new CEO at the helm, arts foundation builds Sarasota's next stage

Tania Moskalenko, Sarasota Performing Arts Foundation's new CEO, knows what it will take to create a new performing arts center at The Bay — and it's a lot.

  • By
  • | 5:00 a.m. March 27, 2024
Tania Castroverde Moskalenko took over as CEO of the Sarasota Performing Arts Foundation in February.
Tania Castroverde Moskalenko took over as CEO of the Sarasota Performing Arts Foundation in February.
Photo by Lori Sax
  • Arts + Culture
  • Share

When Tania Castroverde arrived in Miami from Cuba as a 6-year-old, she had little sense of the possibilities that awaited her. But her parents did. In 1968, the family of five joined the mass exodus of some 300,000 Cubans into the U.S. as part of the Freedom Flights, a Cold War program initiated by President Lyndon Johnson. 

As a result of her parents’ life-altering move, the little girl who arrived in Florida knowing two words of English — pencil and monkey — has gotten to live her rendition of the American dream. Tania Castroverde Moskalenko — the latter name is her husband’s — took over as CEO of the Sarasota Performing Arts Foundation (SPAF) in February.

“Although I was too young to realize it at the time, [the move] had a transformational impact on my life,” Moskalenko says. “I’m a risk-taker, so I can see the lineage.”

Moskalenko holds a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the University of Memphis and a master’s degree in philanthropy from Indiana University. She has danced with Ballet Concerto, a storied Miami institution, and founded, directed, choreographed and performed in her own contemporary dance company. She has also served as chief executive for four performing arts centers in Tennessee, Illinois and Indiana, and was the executive director of the Miami City Ballet until 2022.

Heading up SPAF arguably poses her biggest challenge yet. The organization, long known as the Van Wezel Foundation, has run renowned educational programs at the iconic performing arts hall since 1987. The group changed its name in 2019 to better reflect its new mission: spearheading the creation of a new performing arts center in The Bay park.

The price tag for the center will be somewhere around $275 million, according to SPAF’s board chair, Jim Travers. Because the project is a public-private partnership with the city of Sarasota, SPAF is responsible for half the cost. About $30 million has already been raised, Travers said in February, with $20 million in pledges from board members and $10 million from Paul Seed, founder of, who has a seasonal home on Longboat Key. 

Travers stepped in as interim CEO when Cheryl Mendelson resigned in early 2023. A national search homed in on Moskalenko, and she went through an extensive round of interviews, including with a variety of stakeholders in the community. “We wanted third-party opinions,” Travers says. He cites the many reasons Moskalenko was the consummate fit: her experience running several performing arts halls; a track record of fundraising; a background in public-private partnerships; terrific references and the intangibles. “She’s somebody who doesn’t blink when it comes to challenges.” 

Tania Moskalenko
Photo by Lori Sax

The foremost challenge is raising money. Moskalenko is no stranger to shaking the trees for big-dollar contributions. Most recently, she led a four-year, $55 million campaign for Miami City Ballet that ended up amassing $65 million. But Moskalenko and her team are not about to knock on doors just yet. “There’s a lot of work that has to be done in preparation for a campaign, so I’m hoping to launch this time next year,” she said in February.

At that time, a contract with architectural firm Renzo Piano Building Workshop had yet to be finalized, but Travers felt it was close at hand. He predicted that an artistic rendering of the project — a key tool for fundraising and community awareness — would be completed by early 2025. 

SPAF’s strategic plan states that it will oversee the planning, design, construction and public communication for the new venue. Plus, the organization will continue to run and fund the Van Wezel’s long-standing education programs. If all that sounds like a daunting task, Moskalenko doesn’t let on. “I like to say that leading a nonprofit is not for the faint of heart,” she says. Once the building opens, either Moskalenko will manage the venue or SPAF will hire a director who reports to her, Travers says.

The strategic plan calls for completion of the building in 2027 or ’28, although Moskalenko is more prudent with the timeline. “I would venture to say it will be 2029 and probably more like 2030.”

Moskalenko says she’s found a residence downtown, a block from the office. Her family of four — including 15-year-old twins, a girl and a boy — will be reunited when the kids finish the school year in Miami, and she’s looking forward to walking to work. “We love the city lifestyle,” she says. During our interview, Moskalenko was visiting her daughter — one of three in their 30s, from a first marriage. The newly minted CEO was there doting on her first grandchild, a week-old girl. “When great things happen,” she says, “sometimes they happen all at once.”


Latest News