Vanessa Cooksey joined the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis (RAC) as president and CEO, effective November 2. RAC is the largest public funder of the arts in the region.
“I’m excited to bring all of my professional expertise, experience and networks as well as my life-long love of the arts to an organization that envisions a full creative life for every St. Louisan,” said Cooksey.
“I look forward to partnering with all of RAC’s stakeholders to overcome the present challenges facing the arts and culture community. RAC has a very important role to play in building the capacity of our artists and arts organizations to support St. Louis’ long-term recovery and sustainability.”
Cooksey brings to RAC more than 25 years of business and civic experience, with marketing, communications and philanthropy leadership positions across a variety of government, non-profit and for-profit organizations. Her previous experience includes roles with Wells Fargo, Anheuser-Busch Inbev, The City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office and Cartoon Network. In her most recent position at Washington University, Cooksey was responsible for developing professional and continuing education outreach programs for University College.
“One of my personal prayers is ‘Lord, help me to not ever have my privilege outpace my humanity,’ so that I can be in any space and connect authentically with people,” Cooksey told The St. Louis American in 2018 when she was recognized as the St. Louis American Foundation’s Corporate Executive of the Year. “Because what I really want is if someone’s had an interaction with me, that they feel better because I showed up.”
Cooksey was then senior vice president of Community Relations and Corporate Responsibility at Wells Fargo.
“Vanessa has a reputation as a strategic grantmaker, team builder and widely respected leader throughout our community,” said Mont Levy, chairman of RAC’s Board of Commissioners. “She brings her high-energy personality with the skills RAC needs to build partnerships, facilitate collaboration, and be an effective convener. During this unprecedented time of pandemics, we are confident she is the right leader when the urgency of social justice also demands RAC’s unwavering efforts to address diversity, equity and inclusion in our community.”
Cooksey will succeed Celia Hosler, who served as the interim executive director, and will be responsible for the day-to-day operations and leading RAC’s strategy as the organization continues to execute its five-year strategic plan released earlier this year.
The title change from executive director to president and CEO was determined during the search process to strengthen the pool of candidates and organizational benefits.
With the assistance of Isaacson Miller, a national executive search firm, RAC’s search committee was led by Cheryl D.S. Walker, RAC Vice Chair of the board of commissioners, with assistance from other board members including Levy, Rosalind Johnson, Vin Ko, Cynthia Kohlbry, Andrea Purnell and John Russell.
Cooksey earned her bachelor’s degree in Radio-Television-Film from the University of Texas at Austin and a master’s degree in Business Administration from Webster University. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for several local and national nonprofit organizations including the SIFMA Foundation for Investor Education, Harris-Stowe State University and The Deaconess Foundation. She was the recipient of the 2016 Eisenhower Fellowship and studied in Japan and Rwanda.
For more information about RAC, visit racstl.org.