“From pennies to $5 million, we want this to be a real house of the people,” said Kelly Pollock, executive director of Center of Creative Arts (COCA). “We want everyone in the community to feel like when they walk in COCA’s new building it belongs to them.”
On June 8, COCA announced a $5 million gift to its Create Our Future Campaign from Kim Kuehner, a St. Louis philanthropist and retired business owner. This gift brings the total raised to $41 million (of a goal of $45 million) to fund COCA’s plans to grow its University City campus and build its endowment and reserves.
This marks the third gift of $5 million that COCA’s received for the campaign. A new east wing will be named in honor of John and Alison Ferring, who led the campaign with a $5 million initial gift. Kuehner’s name will adorn the historic west wing of COCA’s building, and a new theatre will be named in honor of the Berges Family Foundation, which issued a challenge and matched $5 million in gifts made to the campaign last summer. The new central gathering space, Centene Commons, will be named in recognition of a $3 million lead corporate gift from the Centene Charitable Foundation.
“All of COCA’s effort is really about investing in the potential of all of the young people in our community,” Pollock said. “COCA serves kids from 221 different ZIP codes. It's an extremely diverse cross section of St. Louis. This is about investing in their future and allowing more kids to access the possibilities here.”
COCA also unveiled significant renovations of and broke ground on a 44,000 square-foot-expansion to its historic Erich Mendelsohn-designed University City building, which once was the B’nai Amoona Synagogue. It's on the National Register of Historic places. Create Our Future has raised $29 million for the capital renovation and expansion of COCA’s historic building at 524 Trinity Ave. in University City.
“I think people will see that we’ve really transformed that space back to some of its original glory, and I think that’s going to be a beautiful signature space in the building,” Pollock said.
The Community Open House held on June 9 celebrated the completion of the first phase of the ambitious project. Opening is the Original Mendelsohn Sanctuary, used by COCA as a theatre for 30 years, now transformed into the Staenberg Performance Lab, a sunlit central studio, rehearsal hall, and performance space. Also opening are new dance studios – Peacock Studio and Emerson Studio; the Gold Art & Design Studio, a flexible space for artists, makers and creators; and the Dierbergs Kitchen at COCA, to be used for culinary programs in addition to hosting and serving events.
“We’ve already put our dance studios to work with dance intensives this week as well as our art and design lab and kitchen,” Pollock said. “We haven’t wasted any time getting the spaces dirty, and that's really what this is about.”
Designed by a partnership between Christner Inc. and Axi:Ome, the expansion will allow COCA to serve more students in multidisciplinary classrooms and studios and deliver innovative dance and theatre performances, while substantially growing the organization’s endowment.
“It’s really all about the students which is why we are making this major expansion – it’s to increase our impact overall,” Pollock said. “We will be able to serve about 20,000 more students and patrons with the expansion. With increased endowment we will be able to maintain our commitment to scholarships and accessibility for all of our programs, and also just to make sure that our commitment for those programs that were serving students out in the community through schools and other community centers can be maintained and built upon.”
Work will begin this summer on Phase 2 of the Create Our Future project, which will extend COCA’s current building to the east, nearly doubling its campus, and will include a state-of-the-art, 450-seat theater, a community commons room, and a safe and accessible location for families to drop off and pick up students. It is set to open in early 2020.
“As we think about the expansion we are just elated that we are going to be able to build a state-of-the-art theatre for the first time ever,” Pollock said. “We’re grateful for that space, and right outside of that will sit a community common space. As a community art center, we’ve never had a real space for the community to gather, and it's going to be a wonderful addition to be able to have a gathering space for the whole community, and we hope to make this a real creative hub for St. Louis.”
Pollock said there will be more to see and participate in as the campaign continues.
“We will soon be kicking off a community phase of the effort,” Pollock said. “We’re going to have all sorts of fun and interesting opportunities for the entire community to engage in this effort, from a dance marathon and efforts for students to contribute.”
For more information on COCA, visit http://www.cocastl.org/ and follow it on social media @cocastl.