How COCA’s Mission Connects Community and Business to the Arts

By Mackenzie Taylor
In Culture

The Center of Creative Arts, better known as COCA, debuted in 1986 in the heart of University City, founded on the idea that everyone in St. Louis deserves equal opportunity access to the arts. Appropriately enough, COCA’s building was originally a synagogue, designed by renowned architect Erich Mendelsohn, so it already had a rich history as a community space. That first building underwent a renovation and a new structure was added in 2005, but that spirit of community remains at the core of what COCA is all about.

COCA began with a focus on performance, especially dance, and at first many of the learning opportunities were available only at the main COCA location. But before long the organization reached out and began working out in the community at large.


Over the years COCA has greatly expanded its programming, and increased its reach into the community with partnerships with area schools, a necessity when arts programming is all to often the first item on the budgetary chopping block. COCA has also teamed up with other arts groups like Third Degree Glass Factory, The Shakespeare Festival St. Louis and business entities like T-REX, Cortex, Nestle and BJC.

One of COCA’s priorities these days is arts integration, that is, getting the arts involved across curriculum, using artists’ methods to enhance the way other disciplines are taught. This idea helped to develop one of COCA’s recent initiatives, COCAbiz, which takes arts-based training into the business world. The program utilizes the techniques of professional artists, from visual to performance, and uses them to teach business people new ways of thinking. From looking at how a theater director gives feedback to his actors to help with conducting performance reviews to incorporating the techniques visual artists use to convey emotion and ideas to enhance a presentation.

While COCA offers professional-level instruction in a multitude of disciplines, what really makes the organization special and keeps it relevant is the way it brings people together. COCA serves a diverse cross section of the St. Louis populace, and gives people who might otherwise never cross paths a chance to connect and develop relationships. And the community has acknowledged COCA’s importance and then some: out of the organization’s more than $5 million annual operating budget, almost $3.5 million comes from individual, corporate and foundation donors in St. Louis.

Top-tier arts education along with a sense of warmth, belonging and home. COCA offers it all.

Get your copy of the Good Vibes issue at COCA today.

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