Getting the arts back on track
Rochford assumes helm at Durango Arts Center

by Stew Mosberg

The Durango Arts Center is kicking off the New Year on a positive note. Not only is the organization working its way out of debt, the DAC has restructured its Board of Directors, put together an Advisory Board and hired Sheri Rochford as the new executive director and

Terry Swan as President Shanan Campbell-Wells. Rochford started working in the gallery part time to learn the business. Although she doesn’t have an academic background in art, she harbors a love for it and acknowledges that learning from Campbell-Wells gave her, “a chance to work with the best.”

Rochford, who grew up in Durango, developed her working knowledge of the visual arts over the past couple years as director of the Sorrel Sky Gallery. Formerly dean of Administration and Development at Fort Lewis College and executive director of the FLC Foundation, she was an integral part of the team that successfully generated funding for the Concert Hall and the Center for Southwest Studies. She also serves on several boards of directors throughout the community.

Rochford accepted the DAC position on a six-month basis and got down to work Jan. 4, just three days after her New Year’s Eve wedding. Admitting that she has a lot on her plate, she said that her first order of business at the Arts Center is to “listen and learn.” Rochford’s stature in the community should prove valuable in unifying the town’s disparate art groups. Both she and new board president Terry Swan recognize the importance of collaborative alliances and hope to bring together various organizations to maximize everyone’s dwindled resources. With her fund-raising and grant-writing expertise, Rochford adds a much-needed component to the Arts Center’s search for firmer footing.

Swan, a retired Air Force pilot and a college-level communications teacher, also has a strong arts background. As a professional communicator, he said he will seek input from inside as well as outside the Arts Center and believes it is essential, “to meet the needs of all the DAC’s constituents.”

Leaving Sorrel Sky was a difficult choice for Rochford because of her longtime friendship with gallery owner donors and boards were the ultimate deciding factors in her hiring. Perhaps a bit understated, she refers to the DAC’s past and extant difficulties as “organizational blips,” and says that her initial steps will be to examine what works, what doesn’t work, and listen to how the DAC can best serve the community.

Shanan Campbell-Wells. Rochford started working in the gallery part time to learn the business. Although she doesn’t have an academic background in art, she harbors a love for it and acknowledges that learning from Campbell-Wells gave her, “a chance to work with the best.”

Campbell-Wells said she is sad to see Rochford leave the gallery but believes her loss will be the community’s gain. “We’re going to miss her. She will be a gift to the Arts Center; there isn’t another person in the community who is better suited for the position. She’s a perfect fit.” That comment comes on the heels of Sorrel Sky being cited by the Small Business Commerce Association for the 2009 “Best of Business” award in the art gallery category; an accolade in which Rochford undoubtedly played a part.

Rochford was chosen to take over from the DAC’s Interim Director Scott Hagler, only after she and 10 other candidates were scrutinized for the right skill set and familiarity with Durango. Other than those two criteria, Rochford says her love of the community, relationships with people and ability to work with teams,

donors and boards were the ultimate deciding factors in her hiring. Perhaps a bit understated, she refers to the DAC’s past and extant difficulties as “organizational blips,” and says that her initial steps will be to examine what works, what doesn’t work, and listen to how the DAC can best serve the community.

“Art is healthy for the community,” she says, “all aspects of art, including children’s programs, which have suffered from education budget cuts. Because there’s been a blip doesn’t mean the (DAC) is a failure.”

Rochford’s hire and the appointment of Swan are augmented by the addition of new board members, including several working artists. Referencing the newcomers she said, “It is a real working board with a diversity of experience, and I will meet with each of them on a one-on-one basis.” She goes on to point out that her job will be “not just working with the board, but also with the community.”

Singularity in direction and style has not always been the case with respect to an executive director and a board president at the DAC. However, it is evident that Rochford and Swan agree that cooperation is vital. “I am happy to be part of a vibrant organization,” she says.

That not withstanding, Rochford and Swan take the helm at an ever more trying time for the DAC. They not only need to rally the management team and find donors, they are also faced with probable confusion over the Henry Strater Theatre’s announced reinstatement of the Melodrama under their own marquee following the DAC’s ill-fated purchase of that venerable ensemble. Whether Durango can sustain two melodramas, legal action will ensue or some collaborative benefit can be worked out remains to be seen. However, one thing is for sure. The complexity of keeping the arts as a viable entity in this mountain town continues to be a difficult if not elusive quest. Rochford and Swan might very well pull the local institution back on its feet and give Durango the Arts Center it deserves. But it will take collaboration, communication and the support of the community to do so. •

 

 

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