Kelly Lamb Pollock

Before Kelly Lamb Pollock’s career began, she lived near the Center of Creative Arts in University City, Mo. She used to stroll past the renovated historic synagogue that houses COCA to hear music and see dancers in motion.

“The place exuded energy,” Pollock said.

And now the University of Missouri–St. Louis alumna (MPPA 2003) has become the second executive director in the 24-year history of the nationally recognized center.

Pollock, 36, has been in her new role since July 1, but she’s a 13-year veteran of COCA. After returning to St. Louis from San Francisco, where she managed the Continuing Education and Team Building programs at the California Culinary Academy, she stumbled upon an ad for an opening at COCA.

“I remembered that energy and wanted to know more,” said Pollock, who joined the nonprofit in 1997 as its director of development. “Once I started working in the organization, I knew I wanted to be there for a long time. The energy is contagious and you know the work that you are doing has a tremendous impact on people’s lives.”

As COCA’s director of development, she successfully managed COCA’s $10 million Access to Excellence capital and endowment campaign and secured millions of dollars in grants from the likes of the National Endowment for the Arts and Wallace Foundation. In 2006, Pollock began serving as COCA’s general manager, overseeing all business operations and programming. The organization offers 500 arts-related classes, camps and workshops annually at its headquarters and at 50 schools and community centers.

UMSL News caught up with Pollock recently to discuss her future plans for COCA, how she’s benefited from UMSL’s Masters in Public Policy Administration program and some upcoming events at COCA.

What attracted you to the nonprofit sector?

I’ve always thought it was important to try to leave the world a better place than you found it. My Aunt Jackie had a large influence in my life. She has always worked on issues related to education, poverty and social justice. I’ve always admired her tireless and humble approach to helping others. I’m also a person who needs challenging and interesting work. There is no shortage of either in the nonprofit sector. I’m attracted to the way the nonprofit sector measures success, not in dollars and cents, rather impact and outcomes.

What plans do you have for the future of COCA?

COCA has such an exciting future. COCA’s programs – in dance, vocal music, theater and visual arts – and community outreach are extensive and strong. There is a great foundation on which to build. At COCA, we believe that art is for everyone and I will be focusing on bringing arts experiences to new audiences. For instance, in the coming months we will be launching a new arts-based training program designed for the business community. It is called COCAbiz and our mission is to unlock, develop and nurture the creativity within each of us so that individuals, teams and organizations can better innovate. We hope to build a bridge between business and the arts. COCA also leads a collaborative arts integration program within the St. Louis Public Schools called Interchange. This program partners teaching artists with classroom teachers and utilizes the arts as a means to engage students in learning, while teaching core subjects and developing arts competencies. COCA is an innovative organization and I want to make sure we continue to take a fresh look at our programming models and to make connections between the arts and everyday life and learning, even for those who don’t see themselves as artistic or creative.

Do you foresee any changes to the organization under your leadership?

As I’m only the second executive director, I think some changes under my leadership are inevitable. Having said that, COCA’s mission and core values will be constant. I want to stay true to those values that built the organization’s brand – quality, accessibility, diversity, creativity. One of my goals is to put COCA on a pathway to greater sustainability. I want to ensure that future generations of St. Louisans have the benefit of having COCA in their community. COCA is a very adaptive and nimble organization, and that is part of the reason that we were able to grow into the fifth largest multidisciplinary community arts center in the country in just over two decades. I want to use those same adaptive capacities to develop and implement strategies for program growth and building endowment and operating reserves. The key is to try to stay ahead of the curve versus just playing defense.

How has your UMSL degree been beneficial to your career?

I made some great relationships through the program and still have several professional affiliations as a result of my MPPA degree. Additionally, the real-world applications of my UMSL degree are with me every day. (Pollock also earned a graduate certificate in nonprofit organization management and leadership from UMSL.) Coursework that I did in budgeting, analysis, evaluation, planning and fundraising, are now applied as part of my work environment on a daily basis. Ironically, the topic of my MPPA exit project was founder transitions and emerging leadership in the nonprofit sector. At the time I did not imagine that I would be taking the reins from a founding executive director of 20-plus years. I probably could not have picked a more relevant topic to prepare me for today.

Is there anything exciting coming up at COCA you want to mention?

To mark this milestone transition in COCA’s history, COCA will be hosting a major celebration on Oct. 1 and 2 called “COCA 360 – The Shape of Things to Come.” The first night will include a gala celebration to honor the legacy of founding Executive Director Stephanie Riven, as well as to mark my appointment as the second executive director. On Oct. 2, COCA will host a community day called “Come Play!” This will be a free, family-friendly event with an all-day dance party, visual arts activities, food and fun for everyone. We encourage the St. Louis community to join us for the celebration!

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Ryan Heinz

Ryan Heinz