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Recognizing 100 CEOs & C-level Executives
Vanessa Cooksey Regional Arts Commission Of St. Louis

Vanessa Cooksey

President & CEO

Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis

Location: St. Louis, MO

Founded: 1985

Industry: Arts & Cultural Tourism

When Vanessa Cooksey joined the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis as the president and CEO, it was during the COVID-19 pandemic when the organization lost 50 percent of its revenue. She jumped in and worked to stabilize the organization and set it on a path of sustainable growth.

“Often describing her experience as running a 38-year-old startup, Vanessa managed through expense and staff reductions while keeping grantmaking to support struggling artists and art organizations a top priority,” said her staff. “Vanessa continues to lead the elevation and evolution on how St. Louis thinks and talks about artists and arts organizations in a way that truly honors and reflects the economic value-add of their creativity.”

The Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis is the largest public funder of the arts in St. Louis. As the leading public catalyst, the organization leverages the power of creativity to strengthen and enrich the community. Since the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis was founded, the organization has provided more than 7,000 grants worth over $100 million.

Under Cooksey’s leadership, the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis convened more than 100 arts organizations to advocate for a portion of the American Rescue Plan Act fund received by St. Louis City and St. Louis County. As a result, RAC was awarded $10.6 million in ARPA funds, the largest tax allocation in the organization’s history.

The Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis was able to award nearly $4.5 million in 2023 grant funding in 2023 to 350 individuals and organizations in St. Louis city and county, one of the largest grant distributions in the organization’s history.

Cooksey’s innovative leadership approach adds true value to the organization and its community, said her staff. “Her innovative leadership approach welcomes artists and arts organizations into business and civic discussions, not as check-the-box invitees, but as strategic thought partners that bring out of the box and innovative ideas to the table,” they said.

According to Cooksey, successful leaders embrace change. “All successful leaders must be willing to engage in the process of learning, unlearning and re-learning how to be human in personal and public environments that are constantly changing,” she said.

With 25 years of business and civic leadership experience, Cooksey has been awarded more than 50 awards for her industry and community work, including the 2016 Eisenhower Fellowship and the 2018 St. Louis American Corporate Executive of the Year.

Adding to her list of awards, Cooksey has been named a Titan 100.

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