For Shelley Cohn, the past board chair of the Arizona Community Foundation, being inducted into the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame was quite a shock.
“I have been a regular attender of AZWHF’s celebration event for years and all of my heroes have been the living award winners,” Cohn said. “I was just stunned and honored and pleased to hear the news that I would be a part of this great organization.”
Cohn was inducted into the Hall of Fame for her decades-long commitment to Arizona’s arts community. She was formally honored on Wednesday, May 1, at the Arizona Heritage Center in Tempe at Papago Park. Cohn was one of eight women honored at the event. Four of this year’s inductees were in the Living Legacies category and the other four were in the posthumous category of Historical Legacies.
The awards are presented to women who “have left a lasting legacy in their fields and contributed to the history and diversity of Arizona,” according to the organization. Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs served as the honorary chair of this year’s event.
Cohn is originally from a small town in New Mexico, where hers was the only Jewish family. The Cohns moved to El Paso, Texas, to find a larger Jewish community. It was in El Paso that Cohn discovered her lifelong commitment to philanthropic endeavors.
A longtime Arizona resident, Cohn served as the executive director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts from 1985 to 2005. She began working at the Commission in 1976.
“For 29 years, I was in state government and my job was to connect artists and arts organizations with communities,” Cohn said. “In doing that, I was able to work with many artists whose careers started with the work that they did with the Arizona Commission on the Arts.”
The commission, Cohn said, was an innovative and creative workplace. “We could articulate a vision and move forward to make sure that the broadest public could have access to the arts. That was very motivating for me and it’s a powerful idea.”
After she retired from the commission, Cohn acted as a consultant for multiple organizations’ arts and culture programs, including the Flinn Foundation, the Tucson Pima Arts Council, the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture, the Rhode Island Arts Council, the South Carolina Arts Council, the Washington State Arts Council, the Minnesota Arts Board, KAET Channel 8, the Kentucky Arts Council and the Tennessee Arts Commission.
Cohn also served as interim CEO for the Scottsdale Cultural Council from 2006 to 2008. She taught classes in arts entrepreneurship and arts and public policy at Arizona State University between 2006 and 2010.
Cohn was chosen one of the Jewish News’ “Best of Jewish Phoenix: Women” in 2016.
She served on the board of directors for ACF since 2008 and was then elected to be the foundation’s chair in 2017. Currently, Cohn works as president of the board of trustees for the Desert Botanical Garden, is the chair of Hillel at ASU’s Life & Legacy giving program, and is a current board member of Childsplay, where she previously served as president.
Cohn was proud she was able to mentor emerging leaders and helped foster their commitment to the larger community.
Her term as chair of the ACF has ended. Her time as president of the board of trustees for the Desert Botanical Garden is also ending. Although she is a little sad that she’ll be leaving, she said that there is great leadership ready to take charge at both organizations.
She plans on taking time to herself before choosing her next project.
“I am in a very enviable place now about thinking what’s next on the horizon for me,” Cohn said. “But right now I am taking a break. There are some things I want to do for myself and then I will see what emerges that captures my imagination and commitment.” JN