Kahilu Theatre announces new executive director

  • Nealy

  • Kahilu Theatre. (Courtesy photo/Special to West Hawaii Today)

The board of directors of the Kahilu Theatre Foundation recently announced the appointment of Sara Nealy as executive director of Kahilu Theatre in Waimea following a nationwide search.

“On behalf of the board, our staff and our search committee, I am excited to welcome Sara Nealy to the Kahilu Theatre ohana as our Executive Director. Her background in arts administration, her imagination, her knowledge of our community and her respect for Hawaiian culture guided our deliberations as we chose Sara to be our co-leader,” said board president Sherm Warner. “In partnership with Artistic Director Chuck Gessert, Sara will lead Kahilu Theatre as it meets the challenges of the present and embarks on a future that offers broader access to our rich offerings in performing arts, visual arts and arts educational programming.”


During Nealy’s leadership of two San Francisco Bay area arts organizations, she implemented critical financial management, expanded engagement with diverse cultural communities, developed strategic artistic collaborations and partnerships, and introduced an increasingly ambitious program of productions, according to the Waimea-based nonprofit theater. She was also selected by Musical America for their “MA:30 Profiles in Courage” roster for her cogent leadership.

Before moving to San Francisco, Nealy resided with her family in North Kohala. Her children attended Parker School, and she danced with Halau o Ha’alelea under the direction of the late-Kumu Hula Raylene Ha’alelea Kawaiae’a Lancaster.

Nearly’s work in Hawaii includes marketing communications and film production for a variety of cultural organizations and corporate clients, particularly for the Earl and Doris Bakken Foundation, North Hawaii Community Hospital, Na Kalai Wa’a, The Kohala Center, Friends of the Future, Five Mountains Hawaii, and Cyanotech. In 2009, she was the director of sales and marketing at Kona Village Resort.

“I feel tremendously honored to join the board of directors, staff, and stakeholders to sustain and nourish this jewel, especially at this time of challenge. The Kahilu Theatre serves as a cultural hub and the artistic heart of the community,” said Nealy, adding she is looking to increase access to the arts for the community.

Nealy assumes a position vacated when Deborah Goodwin stepped down from the role of executive director at the end of June. Goodwin had been with the theater since 2015.


During the search for a new executive director, Mimi Kerley, the foundation’s former board president, assumed the role of executive director with Warner serving as the board’s president.

Kahilu Theatre is a nonprofit community arts and education center dedicated to serving the Hawaii Island community by presenting world-class artists from Hawaii and beyond, sustaining a youth arts education program, providing performance space for community-based productions, and showcasing local visual artists in its two galleries located in Waimea.

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