Dawn Wolski, the former artistic director of Inland Northwest Opera, strongly believes that people’s path will unfold before them as they go, but even she didn’t expect to end up where she is today.
She initially wanted to go into education and be a choral director.
“I tend to pursue my greatest loves and walk through the doors that open,” she said. “The doors that kept opening were in performance. I don’t like to tell people no.”
Wolski’s work has been recognized with the 2022 YWCA Women of Achievement Award in arts and culture. Wolski and the other award winners will be recognized at a luncheon at 11:30 a.m. on March 24 at the Davenport Grand. Ticket sales close Thursday.
Wolski grew up in the area of Annapolis, Maryland, and attended St. Mary’s College of Maryland, a small liberal arts college.
“There were six music majors in our class,” she said. “It was really a fabulous experience. I loved it.
“That school really knew how to nurture artists and meet them where they were.”
After that she attended the Manhattan School of Music for two years. While she was there, a friend told her she should consider joining the military to help pay for her student loans. “All of the military branches have elite bands and music bands,” she said.
Since she grew up in Annapolis, she was familiar with the bands. When she graduated from the Manhattan School of Music, her friend let her know that there was an opening for a soprano in the U.S. Army band. She auditioned and reported to boot camp on Sept. 6, 2001, only days before the Twin Towers and Pentagon were struck by planes hijacked by terrorists
After leaving the Army, she taught voice briefly at New York University until her husband, Mateusz Wolski, got a call from Eckart Preu, then the director of the Spokane Symphony, who needed a concertmaster. The couple moved to Spokane in 2007 and Wolski began singing professionally and teaching.
“We love it,” she said of Spokane. “This is our home now.”
She had performed with Inland Northwest Opera, then called Opera Coeur d’Alene, several times before she was asked to take over as general and artistic director in 2017. Despite never having considered working in administration, Wolski agreed.
“I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” she said. “It certainly was a surprise. It wasn’t the plan.”
The group was struggling when Wolski took over and she was determined to move Inland Northwest Opera forward. She doubled the budget and attracted ever-growing audiences, injecting new life into the group.
“I was the only staff member,” she said. “We focused on making it a more sustainable organization.”
But early this year, it was time to go.
“I had always told them I would give them three to five years,” she said. “My goal was to grow the company beyond me. We did that. We’ve grown.”
It was also time to leave because Wolski, who has a hard time saying no, decided it was time to start. She and her husband have a 6-year-old son, Stefan, and Wolski said she needed to spend more time with him and less time working 80-hour weeks. She’s now teaching voice at Eastern Washington University and doing some performing. She’s set to perform “Carmina Burana” with the Spokane Symphony on Saturday.
“I just have to find a balance,” she said. “The next chapter is kind of a fun question mark for me.”
Wolski said she was glad to get back into the classroom.
“Teaching is my happy place,” she said. “Mentoring is kind of my favorite thing.”
She got the call from the YWCA about her award as she was working a string of 12- to 16-hour days. Hearing the news made her cry, she said.
“I said, ‘Thank you, I needed to hear that,’ ” she said. “It forced me to pause for a minute. It was incredibly humbling.”
She said she’s still amazed that she won the award and notes several previous winners in the arts and culture category are people she looks up to.
“When you look at the women who have done this, a huge number were my mentors,” she said. “These are women who have changed the face of the arts. My job is just to live up to that.”