Cover Stories

Getting Creative: COCA

Last year marked a milestone for COCA. The creative arts organization, which has served St. Louis for more than three decades, completed a $45 million Create Our Future campaign, which included renovations and an expansion of its facilities. The entire team was ready to share the new space with the public when the pandemic hit in March. “Like all arts and cultures organizations, COVID-19 had a devastating impact on us, but we’ve been very adaptive and resilient,” says executive director Kelly Pollock. “We started with online learning, and since last fall, we’ve been able to offer a hybrid model, with students also attending classes in person.”

That adaptability and creativity will be on display at the nonprofit’s signature fundraiser, COCAcabana, which will be held April 23. The event is themed Taking It to the Streets to reflect its two main venues: the COCA campus and local neighborhoods for people who opt to participate virtually. “People can bring the party anywhere,” Pollock says. “We love the idea of arts education being about finding your own voice and way to express yourself wherever you are. In these challenging times, it’s a way for the community to gather, celebrate and create safely.”

For the 11th year in a row, COCAcabana’s presenting sponsor is Anheuser-Busch. Major gifts officer Virigina Howell notes that is just one example of how strong community partnerships have helped the organization thrive during these challenging times. Thanks to help from corporate sponsors, individual donors and vendors, the event was able to successfully transition to a completely virtual format with very little notice last spring. “We have a lot of local ties and strong relationships who have offered support in our mission of bringing people together and forming connections through the arts,” she says.

Building off of the lessons learned from 2020’s fundraiser, Taking It to the Streets will offer more opportunities to virtually engage. The at-home experience is sponsored by Edward Jones. Guests who opt to celebrate remotely will get to choose from three different ticket levels, and each one comes with a unique party box curated by Butler’s Pantry. “We’ve come up with several ways to make everyone at home feel connected,” Howell says. “They’ll feel like they are a part of everything and get the opportunity to bring all that’s happening at COCA into their homes.”

Virtual guests at all levels will be able to enjoy the evening’s entire schedule of performances via livestream. They also will have the opportunity to participate in the raffle and live auction. The latter will include items specially selected with pandemic safety in mind that also celebrate St. Louis, including a Gerard Craft dining experience, dinner with Joe and Michelle Buck, and a stay at a beautiful home in Innsbrook.

On-site guests can choose from VIP or patron ticket options. VIPs will be invited to a special reception before heading inside the renovated headquarters to watch the evening’s program, which includes a hip hop dance performance choreographed by Red Williams and a piece choreographed by honorary alumni chair Christopher Page-Sanders. Patrons will get to watch the performances via livestream, as well as participate in the auction. This year’s format allows for even more creativity. The evening will include several performances and a large, interactive mural by artist Brock Seals. “There will be a variety of creative experience throughout the entire evening, from tap to musical theater to art demonstrations,” Pollock says. “It will be a sampling of all that COCA does.” 

COCA’s mission is to enrich lives and build community through the arts. Its COCAcabana 2021: Taking it to the Streets fundraiser will be a hybrid event April 23. Pictured on the cover: Executive Director Kelly Pollock with event and honorary chairs Tedd Trabert, Justin Trabert, Stephanie Williams, Keith Williamson, Brooke Meek, Brian Meek, P.K. Johnson, Christopher E. Page-Sanders, Kristin Johnson, Carolyn Gold. For tickets and more information, call 314.725.6555 or email Virignia Howell at

Cover Provided by COCA

Pictured at top: COCA executive director Kelly Pollock and Julio Suarez, Anheuser-Busch head of U.S. community affairs and foundation
Photo: Bill Barrett