Kelly Pollock Headshot

A Farewell Message from Kelly Pollock

Dear COCA family and friends,

I can’t believe this moment has arrived. After the most fulfilling 24+ years anyone could hope for, I’m signing out from COCA. My heart is full, and my head is spinning with a million thoughts. It is impossible to sum up my reflections succinctly, but since the tears started flowing as soon as my fingers touched the keyboard, I’ll do my best.   

As I was cleaning out my office, I found some images and note cards from a design-thinking project we did with IDEO a few years back. A group of stakeholders had been asked to brainstorm words/ideas that describe the essence of COCA. As I read the note cards, they took my breath away. Energy. Courageous. Colorful. Connected People. Soulful. Acceptance. Familiar (like a family). Community (St. Louis).

What I have loved about my time at COCA is that it has been a massive collective endeavor. It has always been about all of us. COCA is too big, too complex, and too important to be cared for by any one individual.

I still remember my first days as if they were yesterday. I think there were 12 staff members, and we didn’t yet have email! I was asked to help coordinate the details of an upcoming fundraiser, called COCAcabana, which had an ambitious goal of $100K. Clearly, we’ve come a long way since that time!     

I want to express my gratitude to Stephanie Riven, COCA’s founding Executive Director, for taking a chance on an inexperienced, aspirational young woman for the role of Development Coordinator back in 1997. Who could have predicted all that would follow?! I have always stood on the shoulders of Stephanie, Richard Baron, and so many others who did some exceptionally heavy lifting in COCA’s formative years. Thank you for bringing me into the COCA family.    

To all the COCA board members who have guided our work throughout my tenure, thank you for your confidence in my judgement, vision, and instincts. Your collective wisdom and countless contributions have helped shape COCA into the organization we all know and love, a place that is a second home for so many. And, a special note of appreciation to the extraordinary Board Presidents with whom I’ve had the privilege to partner. Cheryl Holman, Kory Mathews, Jesse Hunter, and Bill Carson—thank you for your leadership, counsel, time, and personal support of me. Your leadership brought us to new heights. 

I think the hardest goodbye is to the COCA staff and faculty. Every single day I’ve had the great pleasure to work side by side with the most amazingly talented staff and community of artists and educators. You are our mission in action, the heart and soul of our work. I don’t know that I can adequately express how much I am in awe of the commitment, passion, and brilliance that you have demonstrated through the years. Together, we’ve pulled off quite a few “miracles on Trinity” and now “wonders on Washington.” I’ve learned so much from each of you. It has truly been an honor, and I am so grateful for our time together.  

And then there is that big, beautiful, diverse group of people we affectionately refer to as the “COCA family.” Our students, audiences, volunteers, committee members, school and community partners, families, supporters, and evangelists—you are the definition of what it means to be a community arts center. You are why we exist. Thank you for playing, learning, performing, taking risks, expressing, observing, collaborating, engaging, and making the work so inspiring.  

I’ve thought a lot about the idea of what it means to be a community, especially in these last few years, and how it stands in contrast to the rugged individualism that is often elevated in our country. As a community, we share something in common. We align around a collective sense of purpose, and we care about and for each other. Communities are undoubtedly complicated and intertwined. They are very human, comprised of people who live, learn, and evolve over time. In a community, the sum is always bigger than the individual parts. Being a community is hard work, but it is why I have always believed that the world needs more of what COCA has to offer.

In parting, I encourage you to keep that belief of community at the forefront, remain relevant and connected to the people we serve, and reach out to those who are looking and longing for belonging. The beauty that is created and amplified here is powerful and special, and so desperately needed. 

Although I’m stepping down from my role as Executive Director as of July 13, know that I will always be COCA’s biggest fan (and still a COCAdance mom!) I look forward to welcoming COCA’s new leader with open arms and am genuinely excited for the new energy and ideas they will bring to the organization. I am confident that COCA’s best days and brightest moments are still ahead!   

Now to answer the question that so many of you have been asking… What’s next for me? Well, first and foremost, I’m taking a couple of months to relax, renew, and play. Then, as of September 14, I am extremely excited to step into the role of CEO of the Berges Family Foundation. I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with Jim and Elizabeth Mannen Berges during my time at COCA, and I’ve seen firsthand how deeply they care about St. Louis and how thoughtful, smart, and ambitious they are about their philanthropic investments. I’m honored to be able to build upon that work, supporting organizations and leaders who are advancing the St. Louis region.   

In closing, I am humbled by and look forward to the Standing innOVATION celebration that the team is hosting in my honor on August 31 at COCA, and I hope to see many of you there so we can share some laughs, memories, and good cheer. I look forward to staying in touch, cheering you on, and supporting COCA in new ways. 

With profound gratitude,

Kelly Pollock Executive Director

Kelly Pollock

COCA Executive Director