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2023 Village Awardee: Yara Arts Group

Village Preservation is very proud to honor Yara Arts Group as a Village Awardee in 2023. Join us in recognizing Yara and these other worthy awardees at Village Preservation’s Annual Meeting and Village Awards on Tuesday, June 13. Registration is free and open to all!

Established in 1990 by Virlana Tkacz, Wanda Phipps, and Watoku Ueno, the Yara Arts Group has been a key organization in expressing the artistic side of the Ukrainian East Village. The group has produced 40 theatrical pieces that explore contemporary and traditional cultures, with a focus on Ukraine but sometimes delving into works from the rest of Eastern Europe and Asia. “Our signature style is a fusion of poetry and translations,” said founding director Tkacz, along with multilingual images set to music. Projects have also included poetry readings, dialogues, artists’ workshops, music, puppetry, exhibitions, and historical lectures.

Radio 477!

Yara’s meaning to the community can best be presented by looking at some of the theater pieces and exhibitions it has offered to the public. Radio 477!, for example, highlights the group’s cross-disciplinary approach to its endeavors. Performed at the Ellen Stewart Theatre on East 4th Street in March, the play is based on a 1929 jazz musical about the city of Kharkiv that was long thought lost in the Stalinist purges of the era. The original score by Yuliy Melius was recently rediscovered in an archive, which inspired a modern production of the work featuring an updated score by Anthony Coleman and words by Serhiy Zhadan. 

The group’s most recent work, Undesirable Elements: Ukraine, was a co-production with Ping Chong, who runs a company that like Yara is in residence at La MaMa Experimental Theatre (which is receiving this year’s Regina Kellerman Award at our Annual Meeting). The collaborative piece tells the experience of five Ukrainian Americans who came to live in the East Village at various times over the past century. Performed at the Ukrainian Museum and The New School, Undesirable Elements uses family stories of local community members to explore place, identity, and belonging. 

Undesirable Elements: Ukraine

One of Tkacz’s favorite works at Yara was a Ukrainian verse play about the first human walking into the primal forest, told from the point of view of the forest. Presented in 2021, Virtual Forest Song was initially shown via Zoom, but later performed at the Plaza Cultural community garden on Avenue C. In addition, last year Yara collaborated with Howl Arts on “Mariupol,” an exhibition of award-winning photos and video by Evgeniy Maloletka and Mstylav Chernov taken during the first days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Over the course of three decades of performance and exhibition, “we [have tried] to bring an understanding of the various roots that are already here,” Tkacz noted, “and to introduce people from outside our community so they can watch, understand, and appreciate their neighbors.”

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