Leading Ladies Program participants

Hear from COCAbiz Teaching Artists About the Leading Ladies Leadership Program

COCAbiz’s Leading Ladies, a program to empower female-identifying leaders, is now registering for the Fall 2022 cohort (SEP 7–NOV 16). Featuring experiential professional development workshops, the Leading Ladies leadership training program utilizes the arts to encourage participants to expand their creativity and develop effective leadership skills.

We have an incredible team of COCAbiz teaching artists who lead Leading Ladies sessions. We sat down with two of our passionate leaders to discuss the Fall cohort and what participants can gain from the experience. Hear from them below!


Lee Anne Mathews

COCAbiz Teaching Artist

Lee Anne is a life-long teaching artist who has been with COCA from nearly 15 years, teaching theatre and improv. With her co-facilitator, Kathryn Bentley, Lee Anne is part of the entire program. Together, Kathryn and Lee Anne dreamed up the idea of the Leading Ladies program, and they are very proud of how far the program has come!

For the Fall 2022 program, Lee Anne is most excited for circus, a new module which hopefully will be a lesson in humility, agility, and hilarity!

How is Leading Ladies different from other leadership programs?

Lee Anne: Our program is uniquely COCA. Because we approach leadership through the lens of the artist, this experience invites you to rely on more than just your intellect. We play games, we move our bodies, we connect to our feelings, and hopefully, we have a lot of fun as we get in touch with ourselves in a very holistic kind of way.

How can the arts help a female-identifying person find personal empowerment?

Lee Anne: Women often face different professional challenges then men do. Finding the right balance between compassion and assertiveness is so tricky. If we are too nice, we aren’t deemed capable of leading, and if we are too assertive, we are deemed a battle-ax. And sadly, even women are guilty of making these judgements. The arts (and our activities) allow us to tap into our true authentic selves, communicate effectively, and most importantly, have faith in our own abilities and decisions.

What is a specific example from last year’s program of an artistic experience directly inspiring the growth of a participant?

Lee Anne: One of my favorite moments from last session was an exercise we used to explore works of visual art in our Millstone Gallery. The exhibition resonated deeply with our participants as they learned to slow down and connect to the artwork on an emotional and visceral level. They walked away from that activity not only understanding how to appreciate art, but how to open themselves up to people and situations in a more profound way.

As a teaching artist in the program, what have you learned about yourself? The work?

Lee Anne: I have been teaching in applied arts for over a decade, and the work is always evolving.  One of my favorite personal lessons is that each workshop experience is completely different based on who is in the room. I used to teach the exact same lesson plan each time, but as I have grown, I have been able to let each session flow organically, allowing participants to contribute to where the work goes. It’s pretty cool!

Maria Ojascastro Headshot

Maria Ojascastro

COCAbiz Teaching Artist

Maria has been a COCA teaching artist for almost 15 years—and associated with COCA for many more! Thirty-two years ago, she first came to COCA following graduate school and wore different administrative hats, such as Gallery Director and Box Office Manager. She left to become the Assistant Director of Opera Theatre of St. Louis and returned to COCA when her then five-year-old twins went to camp.

She joined the COCAbiz team in 2010, teaching a collaborative design challenge to a full performance studio during COCAbiz’s inception year. After engaging more than 75 business professionals in an innovative and creative problem-solving activity, she was hooked! Maria continues to serve as a teaching artist for COCAbiz and COCAedu programming.

How is Leading Ladies different from other leadership programs?

Maria: COCAbiz’s Leading Ladies is on the top of my list as one of my favorite COCA offerings because it brings thoughtful, social, and curious female-identifying individuals together in an engaging atmosphere. I teach participants how to exercise their creativity, sharpen their observation skills, and create a collage that helps participants envision and share a glimpse of important aspects of their lives.

What is a specific example from last year’s program of an artistic experience directly inspiring the growth of a participant?

Maria: Leading Ladies sessions are very relaxing, yet empowering. Cutting out words, images, and textures from magazines is a relaxing warm up. When I pulled out the mirrors to teach participants how to draw their own eyes to be included in a collage, all the participants groaned. But when I gave step-by-step instructions, both experienced and novice artists succeed. This really builds their confidence. A visual depiction gives abstract ideas a form. And then moves us to action. I love giving this skill to the Leading Ladies participants.

Leading Ladies Session Participants and testimonial from previous participant