The Katherine Coffey Award

The Katherine Coffey Award is given each year by the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums to an individual in the Mid-Atlantic region to recognize distinguished achievement in the museum field. The Coffey Award ceremony is held annually at the MAAM Annual Meeting and is one of the pinnacle events of the conference.

Each year at the Annual Meeting, the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums (MAAM) gives the Katherine Coffey Award to an individual in the Mid-Atlantic region to recognize distinguished, lifetime achievement in the museum field.

Richard Piacentini, our 2017 Coffey Award Recipient, lead the charge in the green transformation of the facilities at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. He also initiated sustainability efforts at Phipps based on recognizing the vital connections between people, plants, health and the planet which influences all of the organization’s actions and programs, particularly those focused on awakening children to nature, and promoting human and environmental well-being.

The deadline for 2018 nominations is now closed.

The winner will be awarded at our Katherine Coffey Award Reception at the Annual Meeting on October 18, 2018.

About the Coffey Award

Reprinted from the Museologist, No.125

Awards for outstanding service are too seldom given by organizations of the museum profession. It is true that occasionally persons in the field receive certificates of merit, plaques and sometimes, although very rarely, honorary degrees. As a rule, such awards when given are presented by chambers of commerce, service clubs, and once in a while, by colleagues and universities.

Unfortunately, however, our own profession has rarely regarded the contribution of its own notables.

Therefore, it was somewhat unusual that the Board of Governors of the Northeast Museums Conference (now MAAM) in May, 1972 agreed that nominations from a broad area be solicited for recognition of distinctive and worthy projects within the museums field. It was also decided that occasionally, when opportunity offered, a professional museum staff member should be cited for outstanding service to museology. The award, set up by the Conference, took the name of the late Katherine Coffey (1900-1972). She was one of the outstanding museum leaders and administrators of the nation.

A graduate of Barnard College in the class of 1922, she first joined the Newark Museum staff in 1923, left and returned in 1925 to remain on permanent basis until her retirement in 1968. She was in charge of all exhibitions and educational programs and directed an apprentice-training program from 1929 to 1942. During that period the course graduated 110 young people who later became associated with the staffs of museums all over the country. Many became prominent in their profession. In 1949, Miss Coffey became the Newark Museums fourth director, serving in that post 19 years. She had devoted 43 years of service to the museum when she retired in 1968. On her retirement the Newark Museum established the $100,000 Katherine Coffey Endowment Fund in her honor.

With this background of the honor as a basis it is more clearly evident why the action of the Conference was most appropriate when it conferred the first Katherine Coffey Award upon Hanna Toby Rose in 1972, who had just retired from the Brooklyn Museum.

Eligibility and Qualifications

Nominees should have worked as a paid museum professional for at least 10 years in a principal position. In addition, the nominee should have been employed in the Mid-Atlantic region during the period of principal contribution for which the award is being given. Nominees should demonstrate accomplishment in their role and a record of service to the profession on state, regional, national, and/or international levels. Nominees should also have a proven record of service to the community in which the museum is located.

Gretchen Sorin, 2009, Coffey Award recipient

Past Award Winners

The Katherine Coffey Award is MAAM’s highest  honor. The following individuals have been recognized for distinguished achievement in the museum field.


Richard Piacentini- 2017 Coffey Award Recipient

“Richard thinks differently. He sees the risk in not taking risks.” – Sarah Sutton, Consultant at Sustainable Museums

“A true game-changer… Richard’s innovative vision has furnished a new path for museums, one in which collections, research and education become part of an expansive platform to investigate the intersection of human and environmental health.” – Jason F. McLennan, CEO and Partner, McLennan Design, LLC

The Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums is proud to announce Richard V. Piacentini, Executive Director of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens as the winner of this year’s Katherine Coffey Award in recognition of his distinguished achievements in the field and lifetime achievements.

Since his appointment as Executive Director in 1994, Piacentini recognized that to serve a community in a lasting way, Phipps had to expand beyond classic plant display in the conservatory’s Victorian 1893 glasshouse and encompass issues relating to sustainability, worldwise biodiversity, and environmental health into the organization. He lead the charge in the green transformation of Phipp’s facilities and operations which included the construction of the first LEED® certified visitor center in a public garden; the first LEED certified greenhouses (LEED Platinum EBOM); the Tropical Forest Conservatory, one of the most energy-efficient in the world; and the Center for Sustainable Landscapes, a net-zero energy and water building and the only building to meet the Living Building Challenge, LEED Platinum, 4 Stars Sustainable SITES™, and Platinum WELL® Building certifications.

The sustainability efforts Piacentini initiated at Phipps are based on recognizing the vital connections between people, plants, health and the planet. This systems-based way of thinking influences all of the organization’s actions and programs, particularly those focused on awakening children to nature, and promoting human and environmental well-being. Additionally, Piacentini cofounded Let’s Move Pittsburgh, a program based on First Lady Michelle Obama’s national Let’s Move! Campaign, to improve children’s health in the region.

Piacentini serves on numerous boards of organizations including the International Living Future Institute, the Biophilic Cities Advisory Board, the Biophilic Design Initiative Advisory Committee, and the Mission and Community Needs Committee for Magee-Womens Hospital. He is a Past President, Treasurer and Green Buildings and Landscapes Committee founding chair of the American Public Gardens Association (APGA). Piacentini has received numerous awards including but not limited to: 2017 CEO of the Year Award, Pittsburgh Business Times; 2015 University of Rhode Island Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award; 2014 Catalyst Award, 18th Annual Carnegie Science Awards; 2014 and 2013 Who’s Who in Energy, Pittsburgh Business Times; and 2011 Service Award, American Public Gardens Association (APGA).

Piacentini holds a Master of Science degree in Botany from the University of Connecticut, a Master of Business Administration degree from Virginia Commonwealth University, and a Bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy from the University of Rhode Island. He is a registered Pharmacist in Washington, D.C. and is a WELL Accredited Professional.

  • 2017 Richard Piacentini
  • 2016 Pamela Green
  • 2013 Courtney Wilson
  • 2012 Sally Roesch Wagner
  • 2011 Rebecca Alban Hoffberger
  • 2010 Mary Sue Sweeney Price
  • 2009 Gretchen Sorin
  • 2008 Martha Morris
  • 2007 Richard Burkert
  • 2006 Nicholas Westbrook
  • 2005 Mary Case
  • 2004 Pauline Eversmann
  • 2003 Jim Gold
  • 1996 Lynne Poirer-Wilson
  • 1995 Michael J. Ripton
  • 1994 Joel N. Bloom
  • 1993 Mary Alexander
  • 1992 James H. Duff
  • 1991 Samuel C. Miller
  • 1990 Stephen E. Weil
  • 1989 Charles F. Hummel
  • 1988 William T. Alderson
  • 1987 Susan Stitt
  • 1986 Paul N. Perrot
  • 1985 Joseph Veach Noble
  • 1984 Caroline & Sheldon Keck
  • 1983 William C. Steere
  • 1982 Holman J. Swinney
  • 1981 Frank A. Taylor
  • 1980 Louis Clark Jones
  • 1979 Eva Ingersoll Gatling
  • 1978 Dorothy Dudley
  • 1977 Edward P. Alexander
  • 1976 Adelyn Dohme Breeskin
  • 1975 W. Stephen Thomas
  • 1974 Gordon M. Smith
  • 1973 Ralph Lewis
  • 1972 Hanna Toby Rose
PO Box 4 Cooperstown, NY 13326


Click here to subscribe to our Newsletter!