Elko, Nevada - The Western Folklife Center’s Board of Trustees has hired David Roche to be the organization’s new Executive Director. Roche has spent 35 years leading nonprofit arts organizations, focused on the public presentation of traditional art forms. In his new post at the Western Folklife Center, Roche hopes to maintain the quality and integrity of the organization’s current programs, including the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, while building bridges among diverse communities in the rural West and continuing to move the organization forward in the 21st century.
“The Western Folklife Center and the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering are truly gems of Americana. The quality of every aspect of the work—from documentation and archiving to retail and festival management, gallery exhibition and media production—is outstanding and nationally and internationally recognized,” says Roche. “My task is to maintain that high quality while reaching out to new communities and potential partners while honoring the diversity that exists in Elko and in the region with projects that connect us all.”
Roche spent seven years as the Executive Director of Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music, one of the largest nonprofit community music schools in the country, with 6,000 students and an annual budget that rose from $6 to $9 million during his tenure. The Old Town School of Folk Music produced over 80 ticketed performances in a year and its Chicago Folk & Roots Festival enjoyed an average attendance of 20,000. For his work at Old Town, Roche was given the award for “Chicago Arts Management Excellence” in 2005 by the Chicago Arts and Business Council.
The Chicago festival is just one of several that Roche has managed. He served as Artistic Director of the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival and as Traditional Arts Director for the Festival at the Lake, an annual event in Oakland, California, which drew 120,000 attendees. At the Festival of the Lake, Roche curated and produced the “Local Cultures” program, where he presented Native Californian cultural performance and craft demonstration, as well as programming with the state’s recent refugee Southeast Asian communities.
Most recently, Roche was Executive Director of the Blue Bear School of Music in San Francisco. Prior to that, he was the Director of the Office of Arts Education for the Chicago Public Schools where he established the first public-privately partnered, multi-disciplinary arts central office in that district, the third largest in the United States, with a total of 650 schools and 408,000 students. During his tenure, he was in charge of raising $2.6 million in new funding for arts in the Chicago schools and was the executive producer of the Chicago Guide for Teaching and Learning in the Arts, the first comprehensive, national standards-based curriculum framework for all arts disciplines in the history of the district and a model for the National Endowment for the Arts’ Arts Education guidelines.
Roche has also served multiple terms as a Governor for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (the GRAMMYS®) in Chicago and San Francisco, has been an associate producer for Chris Strachwitz’s Arhoolie Records, and was a DJ for “Worldmusicmobile” on Berkeley, California’s KPFA-FM for seven years.
“The Board is very excited that David, with his vast and impressive experience, will be helping us look to the future and envision and seize new opportunities,” says Gail Steiger, Chairman of the Western Folklife Center’s Board of Trustees. “Under David’s guidance we will look for new ways to nurture connections with and among rural and ranching people locally and globally, and to produce as much value for as many people as we can.”
David Roche holds a Ph.D. in music with a concentration in ethnomusicology from the University of California, Berkeley, and masters’ degrees in ethnomusicology and music education from Wesleyan University and Holy Names College. Roche has held two Fulbright Fellowships to India and one each to France and Hungary, and has also been the recipient of three American Institute of Indian Studies Fellowships for Hindi language and graduate research in ethnomusicology. He is considered an international cultural authority on South Asian communities and an accomplished sitar player.
The Western Folklife Center is dedicated to exploring, presenting and preserving the diverse and dynamic cultural heritage of the American West. We celebrate the wisdom, artistry and ingenuity of western folkways through exhibitions, educational programs, national radio and television programs, research and preservation projects, our website, and our premier event, the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. We nurture connections among rural and ranching cultures globally, exploring universal themes in working traditions and artistic expression, which we believe are vital links to the past, present and future of the American West.