Hammering and drilling will soon join the chorus of tap dancing and singing at the COCA arts center in University City.
The institution will launch an expansion and renovation in early 2018. It includes a 450-seat theater, more than 8,000 square feet of studio space, a community area and a 200-car parking garage. COCA expects to complete the work in late 2019.
Executive Director Kelly Pollock said the endeavor is the keystone of a long-range plan.
“We want to be the creative epicenter,” Pollock said. “[We] hope we can provide to the community the tools and programs and really be a gathering space to help meet the needs of St. Louis, and to be a model for what’s possible when we really bring diverse people and programs together.”
Project responds to growing demand
COCA needs $40 million to complete the project, and to fund its endowment and reserves. It has $25 million already, from private donations.
“We still have a ways to go to get to the finish line,” Pollock said.
The undertaking is designed to accommodate the institution’s growing popularity.
Many performances are selling out. Classes and summer camps also area a hot ticket.
“Some of our programs are over-subscribed; classes are too full,” Pollock said.
One reason for increased interest in COCA is the return, two years ago, of Antonio Douthit-Boyd, along with his husband, Kirven Douthit-Boyd, both former dancers at the famed Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York.
The pair now work at COCA as co-artistic directors of dance. Antonio Douthit-Boyd’s story is part of St. Louis’ performing arts lore: As a young man spending much of his time in homeless shelters, he followed the beat of a drum into a dance class on Washington Avenue. COCA nurtured his talents free of charge until he graduated from St. Louis' Central Visual and Performing Arts High School. He then attended North Carolina School of the Arts for a short time before joining Dance Theater of Harlem and then the Ailey company.
“No doubt, bringing them on board helped to fuel the interest and demand and quality of what we’re doing here at COCA,” Pollock said.
Antonio Douthit-Boyd’s passion is helping other young students like himself. Pollack said the money that’s being raised will bring in more scholarship students as well as more paying pupils.
“We want to maintain our commitment to the students we’re already serving and also to provide opportunities for even more students,” Pollock said.
Follow Nancy on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL