Art has the power to speak to the whole range of human experiences—the highs and the lows, the good and the bad. That power is something COCA is dedicated to sharing with the St. Louis community. On April 19 and 20 it will present The Kid at the Edge of Everything, a play about an overly scheduled and stressed boy who escapes to a world within his imagination where nothing happens. “It’s a beautiful show that explores mental health in a way that is appropriate for children,” president and CEO Indigo K. Sams says. “We’re excited to share the story with local families.”

The Kid at the Edge of Everything is sponsored by Mercy—just one example of how COCA uses community partnerships to broaden the impact of the creative arts. The support of partner organizations also plays an important role in COCAcabana, the nonprofit’s largest annual fundraiser. This year’s event is April 26 and is presented by Kwame Building Group with leading sponsorships from more than 45 other local companies. The evening’s theme will be centered on kaleidoscopes. “Looking through a kaleidoscope is all about perspective—everyone sees something different,” notes Virginia Howell, director of individual and corporate engagement. “Inside COCA, we bring together the community, culture and the arts and mix them up so everyone emerges with their own perspective to share with the world.”

The kaleidoscope will be brought to life within the walls of COCA through decorations and special festivities, including student performances and unique ways to support the nonprofit. Cooper’s Hawk is sponsoring a bubbly bar and champagne raffle for both patrons and VIP guests, and there also will be a raffle for an Elleard Heffern diamond bracelet. Both will benefit COCA’s Say Yes appeal. The evening’s live auction, sponsored by Bayer, will offer even more ways to give back by bidding on one-of-a-kind items. “There are opportunities to travel across Europe,” Howell says. “We’ve got tickets to see Taylor Swift in London, and, perhaps most excitingly, a luxury getaway to Ted Turner Reserves in New Mexico.”

COCAcabana plays a critical role in funding the creative arts center. It represents around 20% of the nonprofit’s annual contributed revenue and supports outreach initiatives, including scholarships. “COCAcabana gives us the opportunity to really show St. Louis all that we do—it is as much a ‘friendraiser’ as it is a fundraiser,” Sams explains. “The student performances are always a highlight, showcasing what we do to not only develop artists but community members who go on to make a difference locally, nationally and internationally.”

The importance of COCA’s mission is evident in this year’s alumni chair, Bahja Johnson. A leader in diversity and inclusion in the fashion industry, she started at COCA as a dance student of Lee Nolting in 1998 and went on to join the center’s Pre-Professional Division. “I’m honored to be selected as this year’s alumni chair even though I did not pursue dance or the arts professionally,” she says. “The people at COCA and what I experienced there shaped my approach to diversity and inclusion. It defines what it means to be in the arts, serving not just a homogenous group but the entire community.”

COCA’s mission is to enrich lives and build community through the arts. Its COCAcabana 2024: Kaleidoscope fundraiser is April 26. Pictured on the cover, clockwise from left: Melissa and Rob Merlin, Daffney Moore, Sean and Laurie Lock, Aisling and David Leonard, Indigo Sams, Karen and Mark Grudzien. For tickets and more information, visit or email Virginia Howell at

Cover courtesy of Cannonball
Cover styling by Neiman Marcus and Dry Bar – St. Louis

Pictured at top: COCA alumni chair Bahja Johnson
Photo courtesy of COCA