A Letter from the President

Update from Ed Markoff, President PIFAI Board of Directors – April 18, 2016

For a PDF download of the letter, click here.

On September 5, 2014, Duquesne University announced:

“The Duquesne University Tamburitzans folk music and dance ensemble, known as “The Tammies,” will become an independent, nonprofit organization over the next two to three years, and for the first time will audition students from other universities, as well as Duquesne. The move will help increase the ensemble’s applicant pool, allow for a more robust performance schedule—thus more operating revenue—and position the group to more broadly pursue charitable support from individuals, the foundation community and government agencies.”

Since that date, I, as President of the Pittsburgh International Folk Arts Institute (PIFAI d/b/a “The Tamburitzans”) am excited and pleased to announce that considerable progress has been made.   On April 13, 2016 and on behalf of the PIFAI Board of Directors, I signed the separation agreement with Duquesne University effective July 1, 2016 that positions The Tamburitzans for future success and sustainability.

The purpose of my message is twofold:  1). provide an update to our constituencies on our key accomplishments and 2). request your support moving forward.  Hopefully this information will provide a context for this change and describe our challenges moving forward.

Genesis for the Change   

During the 75th Anniversary of the Tamburitzans, the message from Duquesne University leadership was clear:  The Tamburitzans were losing considerable money and were in jeopardy of obsolescence.  I applaud the past leadership administrations under Matt Gouze, Walter Kolar, Tom Roncevic and Paul Stafura who gave us the legacy and foundation upon which to build.  However, the Tammies were no longer booking shows, their shows were not selling tickets and filling venues, interest from students aspiring to be Tammies was waning and Tamburitzan performances, albeit stellar in my view, were not providing an opportunity for growth.  In business acumen, when product lines are not performing, they are replaced with new and innovative ones.

Our initial involvement was not to “save” the old Tamburitzans – but that’s exactly what we did.  Had we collectively not intervened following the 75th anniversary message from Father Sean Hogan, the Tamburitzans would have been phased out and discontinued by Duquesne University sometime over the past two years as validated by DU officials.   That was the harsh reality of the situation.

Our new vision and scope are much broader:  we are now dedicated to presenting and perpetuating international cultural heritages through entertaining performance and folk arts programs for the global community – while awarding scholarships to talented and deserving students attending a Pittsburgh-based university.  We want to make Pittsburgh proud as the home of the premier folk arts ensemble in the world.  Towards this end and through the leadership of Artistic Director George Butch Kresovich, we have improved our on-stage product based on outstanding audience feedback.   Effective consultation and contribution from board members Gene Lubas and Dianne Melodia accelerated the artistic achievement.   The performing members of the ensemble, the students, continue to be stellar performers, high academic achievers and excellent citizens poised for success upon graduation.


Since we began this transformation commensurate with the September 5, 2014 announcement, much has occurred across multiple components comprising the change:  organization, university outreach, business development, marketing/communications, fundraising, systems and processes, risk management and our on stage product addressed above.  I’d like to briefly highlight some “wins” that I feel are significant toward our achieving independence and sustainability.

Organization:  The inaugural meeting of the PIFAI occurred on January 30, 2016 with 19 members who are accomplished, experienced and exceptional leaders in multiple fields.  We have organized for success with an Executive Council and ongoing committees consisting of Human Capital Management, Finance/Compliance, Development, Risk Management, and Marketing/Communications.   We have an engaged Advisory Board that has contributed advice and counsel.  The Tamburitzan staff under the leadership of Executive Director Robert Vukic have effectively run the operation, increased the caliber and number of shows, recruited 2 classes of Tammies, and exceeded expectations on managing student performance on and off the stage.

The dedicated and effective members of our Board of Directors are:  Ed Markoff- President, Bill Dorfner-Vice President, Mark Kosovec- Treasurer, Rudy Choich- Secretary, John Huckle, Mark Husnick, Cara Kassabov, Maura Krushinski, Bob Kurp, Gene Lubas, Dianne Melodia, Brad Novic, Paula Poskon, Janet Pribanic, Cissy Rebich, Myron Sainovich, Tracy Saula, Paul Stafura, Jr. and Robert Vukic.

Esteemed members of our Advisory Board include: Paul Block, Mike Dorfner, Tony Dren, Pat French, Chris Jordanoff, Bill Kolano, Ed Kolano, Walter Kolar, Bernadette Luketich, Jerry Nadal, Bill O’Rourke, Ken Service and Dave Vinski.

University Outreach:  We have had initial conversations with 5 Pittsburgh-based universities on their willingness to partner with the Tamburitzans by awarding scholarships to students in exchange for national recognition, enrollment enhancement, and access to Tamburitzan performance for their on and off campus events.  These universities include:  CMU, Chatham, Point Park, Robert Morris, and LaRoche.  We have also received endorsement via a proclamation from the City of Pittsburgh.  There is still much work to be done in creating this consortium of partnering schools, but all have expressed initial interest and we will continue progressive communications for their participation.  By the way, for the past fiscal year, the Tamburitzans had its first non-Duquesne University student (CCAC) in the ensemble.  For next fiscal year, we anticipate two Pitt students and one from LaRoche.

Business Development:  A 3 year strategy and plan is defined with goals and objectives to:

  1. Build and sustain “The Tamburitzan” organization
  2. Achieve a sustainable operating model
  3. Manage the talent of all organizational entities
  4. Create and present a world-class on-stage production
  5. Become a valuable community partner

These strategies and goals are important because they directly influence our operational goals and actions in areas such as fundraising, revenue/expense, marketing, compliance and human capital management.  For example, more profitable shows have been added by re-engaging with venues in Detroit and Toronto and non-profitable shows have been eliminated.

I am pleased to announce that Cara Kassabov recently began leading our Development initiative with an organization addressing 1). Constituency Engagement, 2). Major Gifts and Planned Giving, 3). Corporate, Foundations and Government Relations and 4). Events.  Needless to say, focused efforts in all areas of Development (fundraising) are critical processes to achieving sustainability and independence.

I am extremely encouraged by the leadership that Cara has provided.  After presenting a robust, comprehensive and realistic plan for development in the four areas above, she has already engaged foundations and organizations for the “ask”.   In the area of “Events”, our subcommittee chair Brad Novic is planning next fiscal years’ slate of events, which will culminate in our blockbuster 80th Anniversary weekend in 2nd quarter 2017.  Chuck Cubelic and Pam Plesh Weigand have already agreed to Co-chair this event!

Marketing/Communication: Working very closely with our Development team and the Tamburitzan staff, our marketing and communication processes are the best I’ve seen in many years regarding the promotion, public relations and communications of all Tamburitzan-related activities.  We are very fortunate in having Janet Pribanic lead this effort in developing strategies and plans to advance our message to our customers and constituents.  Our recently implemented website is an example of the state-of-the-art presence she brings.


Fundraising:  On September 5, 2014, the PIFAI and its predecessor (Tamburitzan Executive Council) had a grand total of $0 in the bank.  Through the efforts of board member Rudy Choich and volunteers such as the Dorfner family, Mary Craver, Millo Novic, Bill Vergot,  and others, I am thrilled to share that we anticipate having close to $100K in the bank post separation.  This was accomplished via fundraisers including the Communion Breakfast, Tamburitzan Patron initiative, Calendar fundraiser, Communion Breakfast, West Mifflin show sponsorship, Movie Night at the German Club, Golf Outing and a generous $10K donation from the CFU.  This to me is outstanding.

However encouraged I am on how much we were able to fundraise without a coordinated and sustained strategy, the level of participation from Tammie alums, one of our key constituencies, is extremely disappointing.  We have approximately 600+ Tamburitzan alumni.  In both our Patron and Calendar initiatives, we had less than 10% alumni participation.  Even though we raised approximately $15K in both initiatives, I personally was disappointed that the participation levels did not approach at least 50%.  However, we will continue to actively engage our alums and other constituencies in building our volunteerism, financial support and networking goals.

Systems, Processes, Compliance and Risk Management:  We are currently in the process of defining and implementing all business, IT and financial systems and processes to operate as an independent and sustainable corporation.  Mark Kosovec, our Treasurer, is leading the initiative to insure all systems and processes are in place including those for audit and compliance.  For example, three bank accounts have been established with First Niagra to facilitate income, expense, and fundraising activities.  Use of 3rd party entities and processes are being defined.    Mark Husnick and Bill Dorfner are leading the due-diligence on all technology systems and processes.  Myron Sainovich, our legal counsel, has been invaluable in mitigating our risk exposures across many fronts.  Through their efforts, I am confident that the PIFAI will be “ready for business” on July 1, 2016.

Separation Agreement with Duquesne University 

We have had a very close and supporting relationship with John Plante, DU’s VP Development, and others from Duquesne University during this transition period leading up to separation on July 1, 2016.  I personally thank John for being a true advocate for The Tamburitzans over these past two years and for facilitating what the PIFAI board thinks is a reasonable and generous separation agreement.

Highlights of the agreement are as follows:

  1. All real and personal property will be legally transferred to PIFAI as of June 30, 2016. This includes the building (TAB), garage, bus, truck, all instruments, all costumes, all library and archive materials, all office equipment and furniture including computers and phone system
  2. DU agreed to increase and accelerate payment amounts to  $400,000 (Yr 1) and $300,000 (Yr 2) payable to PIFAI on July 1, 2016 and July 1, 2017 respectively
  3. PIFAI will have ongoing access to the annual interest (approx $200K) from Endowed Scholarship Funds (approx $4.2M) to fund scholarships for Tamburitzan students attending Duquesne University.
  4. PIFAI will have ongoing access to the annual interest (approx $2.5K) from 2 Endowed Resource Funds (Musician and Dancer) for student expenses.
  5. DU will transfer the non-scholarship endowed funds (approx $200K) to support operations to PIFAI on June 30, 2016.  PIFAI will utilize the interest from these funds for operating expenses.
  6. DU will transfer the full balance of New Tamburitzan General Fund to PIFAI on June 30, 2016

We need your help.

We need your financial support.

We need your enthusiasm.

We recognize that you are proud of your Tamburitzan legacy, as are we.  We understand that you may not “like” every aspect of a show or fundraising initiative.  We ask your support both when you like or dislike these initiatives.  This legacy of The Tamburitzans can only continue with a unified body.

Below is a list of areas where you can immediately contribute, volunteer and participate in the activities of PIFAI and “The Tamburitzans”:

  • Donate to PIFAI. Your donations are tax deductible.  In the near future, technology mechanisms will be implemented to facilitate payments via credit cards, ongoing pledge deductions and other enablers.  Checks can now be made payable to “PIFAI” and mailed to The Tamburitzans, 1801 Boulevard of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15219.
  • Become a “patron”/member of PIFAI, d/b/a “The Tamburitzans” at one of the designated levels of membership support:
    • $ 25.00 for  1 Year   (“Bronze”)
    • $ 65.00 for  3 Years (“Silver”)
    • $ 90.00 for  5 years (“Gold”)
    • $165.00 for 7 years (“Platinum”)
    • $300.00 – LIFETIME MEMBER (“Legacy”)
    • Patronage/Membership Dues are tax deductible
    • Benefits of Patronage Membership are:
      • Advance notification of special events and new activities
      • Performance schedules and related information
      • Invitations to participate in special informational webinars
      • Periodic Newsletters and related publications
      • Invitations to scheduled patronage membership meetings
  • Volunteer to assist at fund-raising activities or other special events, either as an event Chairperson or sub-committee member/worker; additionally, if you have suggestions or ideas for planned events in support of the Tamburitzans, please let us know and help us make them a reality.
  • Sponsor a show or at least help identify potential contacts for scheduling additional performances in your geographical area. This type of active networking is a valuable means for “The Tamburitzans” leadership to identify potential show sponsors.
  • Communicate new contacts or leads relative to foundations, corporations, governmental agencies, artistic trusts and organizations, and individuals that might be willing to contribute to the Tamburitzans via the Development team. Again, the importance of this type of networking cannot be overstated.
  • Encourage your friends and family members to join and support the PIFAI and its activities to create a stable, sustainable organization for “The Tamburitzans”.
  • Stay positive. Personally, I am not a Facebook user, but do recognize its merits as an effective social media tool.  Periodically, I read discourse on Facebook that quite frankly surprises and disappoints me.   While I encourage debate on topics such as performance “entertainment” vs. “authenticity” that is conducted in a professional and constructive manner, character attacks and harmful criticism are unacceptable. I ask that future debates, discussions and opinions be positively aligned to the overall good of the organization.

In Conclusion

The PIFAI Board of Directors and Tamburitzan Staff are working diligently on numerous fronts to prepare for separation, our next season and all the strategic initiatives that help us achieve independence and sustainability.  I, as President and former Tammie alum, am extremely proud of the work and contributions many of you have recently made:  our performing ensemble, board members, Tammie staff, advisory board members, volunteers, and donors.   To you, I say “Thank You”.  For those of you who are “interested bystanders”, come join us on this journey, we welcome your contributions in any form.  The sky’s the limit!!!

Ed Markoff
President, Board of Directors
Pittsburgh International Folk Arts Institute (PIFAI)
The Tamburitzans

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