COCA Expansion Bulks Up Local Arts And Community Outreach

For three decades, COCA (Center of Creative Arts) has been expanding minds with classes and programming designed to enrich lives and build community through the arts. Its ongoing dedication to community outreach and education has brought it accolades as the fourth-largest community arts center in the country. Housed in University City’s former B’nai Amoona Synagogue—built by renowned architect Eric Mendelsohn—COCA has entrenched itself as a community hub for St. Louis’s artistic expression and education. The organization served more than 50,000 people over the last year with performing- and visual-arts classes, programming and touring productions.

On Jan. 27, COCA’s board announced that their 30th anniversary would be headlined by the “Create Our Future” campaign, a robust $40-million multi-year fundraising campaign geared towards raising $27 million for the capital renovation and expansion of its historic facility, with an additional $13 million to subsidize the organization’s endowment and reserves.

COCA Create Our Future Campaign_TheaterView_WC

Taking nothing for granted, COCA quietly began planning in 2015 with the formation of a Steering Committee to oversee the project. Undaunted, they secured $5 million in lead gifts and an additional $3-million corporate gift from Centene Corporation. An additional $25 million was raised from private sources, including gifts from 100% of its board of directors, associate board and staff members.

COCA’s Executive Director Kelly Pollock commented on why their efforts are so vital for the organization. “It means that we can extend our reach to serve more students. It will stabilize our ability to generate revenue and improve our ability to provide access and opportunity to kids in low-income communities who would not be able to experience the arts otherwise.”

COCA Create Our Future Campaign_StreetView_WC

The “Create Our Future” plan also features a facility partnership with Washington University in St. Louis, who will take the lead on building a new parking garage and share one of the new studios being built in the development.

Pollack further commented on how their venture will enable COCA to better serve the arts. “One of the challenges we have had over the years is that we are working out of an adapted synagogue—and it has served our needs up to this point—but as the programs have grown and the quality of what we’re doing has increased, there are a lot of challenges that come with a historic building. So one of the big opportunities we will have is a state-of-the-art performance theater, which we’ve never had. That will be a big moment for both our theater and dance departments. So that we can have the appropriate space for a stage, backstage, orchestra pit and all of the technical capabilities that we will need to be a world-class professional program.”

Pollack says the new space will also help COCA to further commit to its mission as an organization centered around a creative community. “The other part of this that we are excited about is that this will build our community space as an arts center that focuses on community as part of its mission. This expansion will give us a community commons area and event space where we can be a creative hub for the community.”

COCA Create Our Future Campaign_DanceStudio_WC

For this endeavor, two architectural firms, Axi:Ome and Christner Inc., were enlisted to preserve the architectural integrity of Mendelsohn’s building while simultaneously adding a central studio, rehearsal hall and a modernized instructional area to the complex for art and design. Plans also include the construction of a new state-of-the-art theater for the performing arts.

The start date for construction is scheduled for early 2018, with the finished product slated for completion by late 2019.

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