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Vanessa Cooksey

President & CEO

As the Regional Arts Commission’s (RAC) third leader and first President and CEO, Vanessa Cooksey leads the largest public funder of the arts in St. Louis. Celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2020, RAC has been pivotal in nurturing the vibrant arts sector throughout the region, awarding more than 7,000 grants totaling over $100 million since its inception in 1985.

Vanessa has more than 25 years of business and civic leadership experience. She’s held marketing, communications and philanthropy leadership positions with a variety of companies including Mary Kay Cosmetics, The City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office, Cartoon Network, Anheuser Busch, Wells Fargo and Washington University in St. Louis. Vanessa is known for her ability to build results-driven partnerships, facilitate dynamic collaborations, create high-performing teams and effectively convene diverse stakeholders.

Vanessa is a serious change-maker and has led innovative arts, education, technology and health & wellness initiatives reaching millions of children and adults over the course of her career. Always willing to serve in her community, Vanessa’s humanitarian efforts over the last three decades have helped promote and advance human welfare and social reform across the United States. Highly sought-after for her expertise in governance, organizational culture, talent development, DEI and reputation risk management, she has served and continues to serve on multiple local and national non-profit boards including the SIFMA Foundation for Investor Education, Harris-Stowe State University, Vote Run Lead and Mercy Hospitals.

Vanessa earned her bachelor’s degree in Radio-Television-Film from the University of Texas at Austin, a master’s degree in Business Administration from Webster University and has studied and traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia. Vanessa has received 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. Not one to take life for granted, Vanessa enjoys cycling, cooking and spending quality time with her family and friends.


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