Cook Foundation Names Elizabeth Blackney as Executive Director

Gloucester, Virginia — Elizabeth Blackney has been named the Executive Director of the Cook Foundation, the nonprofit with a mission to grow and sponsor the arts in Gloucester.

Blackney took over the role previously held by Jenny Crittenden, who also served as Executive Director of the Gloucester Main Street Preservation Trust. When Crittenden left to become Senior Vice President of Retail Alliance in Norfolk, the decision was made to split her two roles into separate positions.

Blackney has spent two decades as a Strategic Media and Crisis Communication Advisor focusing on human rights, geopolitics and philanthropy. She served as the Senior Media Adviser to Dr. Denis Mukwege, 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Co-Laureate, whose book “The Power of Women: A Doctor’s Journey of Hope and Healing,” was released this month.

Blackney worked with Mukwege as Media and Communications Director at the Panzi Foundation, which provides holistic services to help survivors heal from sexual violence. One of those services is art therapy.

“What I loved the most about my favorite job so far — working with Dr. Mukwege at the Panzi Foundation — was seeing the tangible changes made by just having access to art,” Blackney said. “The Panzi Foundation has incredible art and music programs that serve as therapy, and I loved visiting and talking to the people who benefitted from them. Access to art for all really resonates with me as a person.”

Adrianne Ryder-Cook Joseph founded The Cook Foundation in 1999 with a mission to nurture the arts in Gloucester.

Among other initiatives that enrich, benefit and diversify the art experience for everyone in Gloucester, The Cook Foundation created the Gloucester Arts Festival, a month-long celebration held every June, and gifted four murals located in the Gloucester Village area on Main Street that celebrate the region’s culture and heritage.

Ryder-Cook Joseph’s mission speaks to Blackney, who grew up in Atlanta surrounded by oil and watercolor paintings created by her mother, Marilyn Wheeler.

“I was really excited to meet Adrianne and the team and eventually join the team,” Blackney said. “I’m really honored to be here to further her vision.”

Blackney said she is inspired by Gloucester’s storied history of female leaders, including Mary Bush Shipko, the first female from the United States to pilot a commercial airliner; Irene Morgan, whose refusal to give up a seat on a bus led to a Supreme Court ruling that desegregation of interstate travel was unconstitutional; and Margaret Ann Hamilton Tunner, a WASP pilot during World War II. Blackney adds Ryder-Cook Joseph to that list of pioneers.

“Adrianne is another of these incredible women, and female leadership is so important in the arts,” said Blackney, who is also grateful to her predecessor, Crittenden, whose “Why not Gloucester?” mindset is one she also embraces.

Blackney is already buried planning for the 2022 Gloucester Arts Festival and continuing to work with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra to expand youth access to arts. She expects to begin work in the coming months on a strategic plan to commemorate the Cook Foundation’s 25th anniversary in 2024.

“I am honored to be here, in the place where Pocahontas was from, where so much cultural history began,” Blackney said. “I really want to spend the next 25 years giving back to the communities where I live, work and play.”