If you didn’t know, you’d likely be surprised that the organization that brings the Big Ears Festival to Knoxville each March has operated with only three full-time employees. Executive Director Ashley Capps is supported by Director of Operations Bryan Crow and Director of
Development Casey Fox. With that small staff, Knoxville has been transformed to an international cultural destination once each year. Additionally, programming has been extended throughout the year through their rapidly growing outreach program.
In order to continue the forward momentum, the organization is adding Tom Welsh as Managing Director and Rachel Milford as Community Arts Director. Welsh will focus on the festival, while Milford will focus on the growing outreach efforts.
Welsh comes to Knoxville and Big Ears from Cleveland, Ohio where he has worked with the Cleveland Museum of Art for the last fifteen years. According to the press release, “he developed an acclaimed performing arts series that rose to international stature.” Milford is a local artist and cultural organizer who is the “founder and director of Knoxville’s Cattywampus Puppet Council.” She worked with the community outreach portion of programming for the 2022 Big Ears Festival.
From Ashley Capps, Executive Director:
Big Ears enjoys an international profile as a groundbreaking, forward-thinking arts and culture experience. After several years of steady organizational growth, the 2022 festival this March was transformative in many ways. It was an extraordinary experience for those who participated, and its success signals remarkable potential for the future. We’re bringing Tom and Rachel to the team so that we can fully explore and realize that potential.
Welsh’s experience runs deep in the kinds of programming we’ve come to expect from the Big Ears Festival. He previously managed New Albion, a contemporary classical music record company where he counted among his clients, Terry Riley, who has twice appeared at the Big Ears Festival. He directed multiple concert series in Cleveland, commissioning original works, and placing the Cleveland Museum of Art at the center of that city’s cultural offerings.
Local arts lovers are familiar with the Cattywampus Puppet Council and their oversized Dolly and other creations. In addition to founding and directing that organization, Rachel has worked for over twenty years in the arts. As part of that work, she has “collaborated with such organizations as the Knoxville Museum of Art, Knox County Schools, Alternate Roots, and the Highlander Research and Education Center.” Using her recent work coordinating the Krewe du Cattywampus Parade as a springboard, she will expand to year-round community programming.
With the addition of new staff, the future of Big Ears is more secure and the benefits enjoyed by the city should be assured for many years to come. The 2023 Big Ears Festival will return March 30-April 2 to downtown Knoxville venues.