Kwofe Coleman to become 103-year old institution’s first Black president
It didn’t take very many summers after Kwofe Coleman began his relationship with The Muny as a 16-year-old usher for president and CEO Denny Reagan to see that there was something special about the young man.
When Reagan announced that he would be retiring from the position after 30 years at the end of 2021, one of the success stories he proudly shared was Coleman rising through the ranks of the organization to the role of Managing Director – a position created to bridge the administrative and artistic arms of the organization. Reagan, who has been president and CEO since 1991, will remain as a senior advisory til January.
“What a great kid,” Reagan told The American in December. “He was so smart. He always went above and beyond – and there was just this spark in him.”
The Muny announced on Friday, April 23 that after embarking on a national search, their board decided unanimously that Coleman was the perfect fit to succeed Reagan at The Muny as its next President and CEO. Reagan called Coleman “the absolute perfect choice” as the next person to helm the organization.
“It’s still sinking in, but it feels right,” Coleman said. “I feel like this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Like Reagan, Coleman has spent his career rising through the ranks of the Muny. Also like Reagan, he connected with the organization as a teen.
“I know this institution inside and out – this is a place that I’ve been for 22 years,” Coleman said. “And equally important, I know this community. This is home. I am from St. Louis.”
When Coleman was about to graduate from Emory University and starting to map out his future career, Reagan wanted to make sure he presented Coleman with The Muny as an option.
“He was thinking about law school,” Reagan said. “I told him, ‘if you would consider working for us full-time, we can make a position for you.’ I just felt like he fit into the future of the organization.”
Coleman joined The Muny full time in 2008 as a staff accountant, presiding over finances and payroll. In the decade preceding his position as staff accountant, he performed a variety of roles, including house manager.
“More than anything, The Muny has believed in me,” Coleman said. “I wasn’t a theater kid, but I worked hard. They were always giving me opportunities to excel. When a place believes in you and trusts you and you reciprocate that, the relationship keeps developing and it becomes a really natural fit.”
In 2011, Coleman formed The Muny’s first digital communications department. He was promoted to director of marketing and communications in 2014, where he managed The Muny’s branding and marketing efforts through its 2018 centennial season. During that time, Coleman was also key in the creation of both The Muny’s Second Century Strategic Plan and The Muny’s $100 million Second Century Capital Campaign. Following the 2018 season, Coleman was named The Muny’s managing director.
He will assume the position of president and CEO on January 1, 2022.
“Undoubtedly, Kwofe will ensure The Muny continues its commitment to accessibility, regardless of physical or socioeconomic limitations, while expanding the vital role we fill in our community,” said Muny Board Chairman and Second Century Capital Campaign Chairman James S. Turley.
“Kwofe is a remarkably gifted leader who understands the institution at its core, and more importantly, its commitment to the St. Louis community,” Reagan said. “He will ensure The Muny’s future remains bright, while offering a new perspective on how to lead our beloved theatre into its next century.”
Making Muny history
His appointment is a historic one. Coleman will become the first Black president in the organization’s 103-year history.
“Being the first Black at anything, there is a responsibility to leave a mark and a legacy to make sure that you are not the last,” Coleman said.
There is also a sense of pride. “Someone who looks like me can see me at this job and say, ‘that’s a possibility for me, because someone like me has done it before.’ That’s important,” Coleman said. “It’s also important that I can bring the perspective of being a young Black man from this community to how I lead, how I communicate – and to how we reach out and how we welcome new and different audiences through our gates.”
Coleman, a 2015 recipient of a St. Louis American Foundation Salute to Young Leaders award, mentioned that The Muny keeps diversity and inclusion top of mind and expressed the necessity for diversity in all of its definitions to exist among the top ranks of arts institutions.
“To be able to bring whatever your identity is to the table is important – and I am so immensely proud of the reality that I’m the first Black president of The Muny,” Coleman said. “I will be prouder when there is the next Black president or the Black president of another city’s version of the Muny. I hope people of different ethnicities and backgrounds who are the best qualified and happen to be people of color continue to have the opportunity to compete for those roles – and earn them.”
He calls his upcoming presidency “a new chapter” for The Muny.
“When you talk about a new chapter, you are not rewriting the book,” Coleman said. “When a place is 103 years old and still remarkably successful, our model works. But the next chapter brings new energy and the ability to start imagining ‘now what are we are going to do?’”
He’s interested in how The Muny can use its 100-plus years of influence and resources to engage with and participate in the culture of the region to an even greater extent.
“The idea of figuring out the next chapter, to inject new energy with this amazing team – a team that had to be creative and agile in ways we never could have imagined [because of the pandemic] – is exciting to me,” Coleman said.
“We are perfectly primed for that moment.”
Originally Appeared On: http://www.stlamerican.com/business/business_news/a-perfect-fit-for-the-muny-s-next-chapter/article_573c556e-a570-11eb-bc7f-af0b30c84517.html