Some of the most powerful performances happen behind the scenes
“I loved performing and being on stage. It was so exciting to dance in big theatres across Canada. In 1990 we went to Ukraine, just before the country became independent from the Soviet Union,” says Darka. “We were the first major Ukrainian dance group from North America to perform in the major concert halls there, so we didn’t know what people were going to think of us.”
“ I love the human side of art—it gives us balance, a chance to truly look at ourselves and a way to better understand the world.” Darka Tarnawsky
It turned out that the audiences were thrilled with what Shumka was doing—merging Ukrainian dance with the Canadian experience and making that heritage relevant today.
“They said we were keeping the culture alive more than they were because they couldn’t really experiment artistically when they were living under communist rule. It was one of the most emotional things I’ve ever been a part of.”
Now the president of the Shumka board, Darka keeps culture alive every single day. But she didn’t always know that promoting the arts would be her life’s work.
After eight years with Shumka, Darka realized it was time to hang up her red boots and retire. She focused on finishing her bachelor of science with a specialization in psychology, then got a job analyzing case documents for child protection services. She missed the excitement and emotion that comes with being in front of an audience, so she volunteered with Shumka behind the scenes.
“I didn’t love my job, but I didn’t think I was really supposed to love it. It was just my job. Volunteering with Shumka was a way to remain a part of the magic.”
Then a friend casually mentioned the Arts and Cultural Management program at MacEwan.
“I was absolutely thrilled—and surprised—when I discovered that there was a way to make the arts my career.”
Darka signed up immediately and hasn’t looked back. She opened her own management and marketing firm in 1993 and has been bringing the arts—music, theatre, festivals, dance and more—to people and communities throughout the city and beyond for more than two decades.
“I love the human side of art—it gives us balance, a chance to truly look at ourselves and a way to better understand the world.”
And Darka is quick to add that making art part of your life doesn’t necessarily mean having the best seats at the opera, being a ballet subscriber or having a $10,000 art piece in your home.
“It can be as simple as taking part in a festival or painting a painting—regardless of who you are and what your background is.”
Creating opportunities for everyone to access art and culture is what Darka loves and she thrives on promoting a wide range of cultural opportunities in her community.
“It’s magical to be at the theatre on opening night when the curtain goes up and there’s a buzz of excitement in the air, or to be standing at the back of the theatre during a standing ovation. It gives me chills to see children who are walking into the Jubilee Auditorium for the first time. They cheer or boo for the villain during a swordfight, and scream in delight at the big split jumps in a Shumka dance. Their response is genuine—they’re not inhibited—and you can see that they are absorbed in the art.”
Those opportunities to share in the thrill of being on stage—even from a distance—is at least part of what keeps Darka going.
“I’ve been doing this for so long, but every day is little bit unique and the more experience I have, the more excited I am about the projects I work on because I can better understand the possibilities.”
Darka relishes the chance to share those endless opportunities when she teaches the next generation of arts managers and administrators in the Arts and Cultural Management program.
“We often talk about the artists and the creators—who are amazing—but we forget about the people who raise the money, sell the tickets, make sure there is a building to rehearse in and work to advocate for the arts. Those are the arts managers and administrators. I love teaching because it gets me thinking about the reasons why I got into the field in the first place and renews my passion for what I do.”
What is Darka most passionate about? Taking the essence of a creative idea and watching it grow. Seeing artists come together to develop something new and insightful. Watching the world begin to appreciate the level of work coming from a place they’ve probably only ever heard of because Wayne Gretzky used to play hockey here.
“Seeing the wide range of what’s on the stage where I live and work—to me, that’s my escape. And it’s also my career. I’m a lucky girl.”
Darka Tarnawsky is not only an Arts and Cultural Management alumna—she's also a faculty member. Learn more about the program at MacEwan.ca/ArtsManagement.