Cover Story

Bigger, Better: COCA

A local arts and culture treasure, COCA has announced plans to double in size. The news comes two years into the ‘quiet phase’ of a Create Our Future capital campaign, launched to raise $40 million before the close of 2018. Thanks to lead gifts from individuals and corporations, the nonprofit already has secured $25 million. After reaching the $15 million mark for the rest, which it plans to raise from a broad swath of the St. Louis community, COCA will double its physical space and ensure a healthy endowment reserve. “This will help feed our operation and secure our long-term future,” says executive director Kelly Pollock. “The added space will allow us to become even more of a community hub than we already are.”

As the fourth-largest community arts center in the entire country, COCA offers programs for a wide range of St. Louisans, from toddlers to adults. Over 30 years, it has successfully reached across socioeconomic, geographic and other boundaries to enrich lives through the arts.

OBC-COCA-2The campaign, spearheaded by a 12-member steering committee that includes chair Cheryl Holman and honorary chairs Alison and John Ferring, received a $5 million lead gift from the Ferrings and a $3 million lead corporate gift from Centene Corporation. The expansion of its U. City campus will include five additional performance studios; a new, state-of-the-art, 450-seat theater; a performance lab; and new art and design lab that will cost around $27 million. The remaining $13 million will be applied to COCA’s endowment, raising it to more than $15 million.

The idea for COCA was conceived three decades ago by a group of community leaders who wanted to use the arts to connect people divided by income, race, ideas and geography. The empty B’nai Amoona Synagogue, built by architect Eric Mendelsohn, was renovated, and COCA opened its doors to the St. Louis community in 1986. “The arts have shown their power as ‘connective tissue,’ creating opportunities to bring people together for conversation, innovation and expression,” says Jesse Hunter, COCA board president and executive vice president at Centene Corporation. “By strengthening COCA’s role as a vital cultural and educational resource, this project is an investment in future generations of all St. Louisans.”

The new construction will swallow up the entire parking lot at the center’s site in University City. “We’ve partnered with Christner and Axi:Ome architecture firms to design a beautiful space that meets all of our needs” says Pollock, who adds that COCA will work with Washington University’s 560 Music Center across the street to build a new 200-space parking garage.

“Each year, we serve thousands of young people and see the life-changing results that an arts education has on them,” Pollock says. “As demand for COCA’s programs continues to grow, we want to provide these transformative opportunities for even more kids.” COCA annually serves 50,000 people of all ages and skill levels from more than 200 zip codes. “As we expand and renovate our building, we remain focused on providing equitable access to our programs for everyone,” Pollock says.

Pictured: Kelly Pollock, Cheryl Holman, Jesse Hunter
Photo: Amanda Lansche

In January, COCA, the fourth-largest multidisciplinary cmomunity arts center in the country, announced Create Our Fture: A Campaign for COCA, a $0 million fundraising effort to expand COCA’s site and build its endowment. Pictured on the cover: COCA’s co-artistic directors of dance Antonio Douthit-Boyd and Kirven Douthit-Boyd with executive director Kelly Pollock and students. For more information, call 314.725.6555 or visit

Cover courtesy of COCA | Cover photo by Amanda Lansche