Nonprofit arts leader Sonnet Kekilia Coggins assumes the role of Executive Director of the Merwin Conservancy beginning September. She will initially work part-time and begin full-time work in late October.
Coggins comes to the nonprofit from her 5-year-long job as Deputy Director of the Williams College Museum of Art in Massachusetts. At WCMA, she was responsible for outreach, donor relations and developing innovative programs, including a new exhibition on the historical connections between Williams College and Hawai‘i. Prior to WCMA, Coggins spent nearly a decade at the Denver Art Museum, where she directed and helped to fund a range of educational initiatives related to modern and contemporary art.
Merwin Conservancy Board President Matthew Schwarts said beyond Coggins’ professional experience, she impressed the search committee with her ability to articulate a deep passion for the Merwin’s mission. They also were impressed with her ideas for expanding its programs and network of supporters both in Hawai’i and nationally.
Coggins joins the Merwin Conservancy at a time of considerable growth and success at the organization, which is providing imaginative programming and educational offerings across Hawai‘i and the continental United States. Those initiatives are designed to inspire innovation in the arts and sciences by advancing the Merwins’ ideas and values, according to Interim Executive Director Sara Tekula. One notable program is its “Green Room” literary and environmental salon series that has recently expanded to include events in Honolulu.
“The Merwin Conservancy’s singular capacity to connect us, in a tangible, visceral, beautiful way, to the truth that a creative gesture can have profound impact, is poignant and urgent,” Coggins stated. “It invites us all to steward the generative possibilities of nature and of our own imaginations.”
Tekula said she is looking forward to the opportunity to work closely with Sonnet to further the Conservancy’s mission and grow the organization, which was founded by renowned poet W.S. Merwin and his late wife Paula Merwin. “I think she’s a brilliant leader who brings a wealth of valuable experience, passion, and energy to our organization and to our greater community,” Tekula said.
“The board believes that Sonnet will be a great partner for Sara Tekula, who has so ably led the Conservancy these past few months as our Interim Executive Director while also carrying out her regular work,” Schwartz added. “Sara will return to her role of Director of Communications and Outreach in September once Sonnet starts work, with our deepest gratitude for a job well done and expectations of more great things to come in partnership with Sonnet and the rest of the Conservancy team.”
Photo: Merwin Conservancy