Coronado School of the Arts (CoSA) is celebrating 20 years this February. It’s hard to overstate how much CoSA has contributed to the Coronado Schools, the individual students who have participated in CoSA, and the City of Coronado in general.
As Merridee Book, Vice-President of the San Diego Film Foundation and Gala Co-Chair, explains in promotional material, “[S]tarting with a vision and a grant, the CoSA program launched in 1996 with 60 students….The next two decades would see the success and talent of over 2000 graduates grace its halls, studios, dance floors, rehearsal rooms, stages, workshops and theaters.
Many [students] have moved on to careers in the professional art, entertainment and educational arenas creating a legacy far beyond the halls of the high school.”
But it isn’t just those who go on to careers in the arts that benefit. As Councilwoman Carrie Downey points out: “Many of the CoSA students go on to careers in the performing arts or in technical theater, but just as many use the training of practicing, preparing for and appearing in public to launch other careers too. CoSA requires and teaches how to work in small groups as well as a soloist.”
It should be noted that CoSA by “[p]ulling from the brightest and most talented student artists from all over San Diego, the program has continued to prove that creativity does not need to be hindered by academic, socio-economic or cultural challenges, but when given the platform to succeed the students have not only risen to the top, they have broken down stereotypes and rocked the status quo. They have proven that creative strategies can effect positive change in the world.”
To learn about CoSA’s beginnings, I interviewed the founder of CoSA, Kristine McClung. We met at Tartine, where it was clear that she was a well-loved regular.
Earlier in the day I had messaged Robert Coffey, a Coronado High School graduate who went on to earn a Bachelor in Fine Arts (acting) at New York University (NYU) and asked him about his memories of having Ms. McClung for a drama teacher. He messaged me back right away: “The most memorable thing about her is that [when I was in high school] and things in my house got really insane, she let me live with her [and her husband.] That likely saved my life in a way.” It was also because of Ms. McClung and the Coronado theater program that Mr. Coffey went on to meet his much loved, and now sadly recently deceased wife, Karen. Robert asked me to be sure and show Kris the message. He hadn’t seen his mentor in a couple of years.
Before the server could take my order, I rushed into the interview by showing Kris the message. It was an awkward first step, but I was touched by the authenticity of his feelings. Kris was moved as well.
As I continued to reach out to former students, the more I realized how many high school students benefited from her mentorship. Not all personal stories need to be said here, but I’ve gotten the impression, that for many high school kids, when life at home was tough, the Coronado Theater Program was a place of creativity, respect, friendship, and refuge.
CoSA has also been a place where individual talent can blossom and thrive. Ms. Downey said about her daughter’s experience at CoSA: ” The ability to perform in public live is a skill readily transferable to many opportunities. My eldest daughter is a classically trained pianist who went through CoSA and benefited from learning how to prioritize her many AP classes and practicing and performing with CoSA friends in a trio.”
Stephanie Kovac Anderson, also a CHS graduate said of Kris McClung: “Her energy was never ending. We’d be rehearsing and she’d be fixing this or that, running around us. It was a tremendous experience.”
The City of Coronado has benefited as well. We have the finest student performances that the county has to offer.
Councilwoman Downey enthused about the impact CoSA has had on our Coronado Community: “Since the Coronado School of the Arts was formed 20 years ago, the wonderful student run and performed productions have helped stoke our community’s already deep appreciation for the Arts. We can walk to classical instrument recitals, all forms of dance performances, theater, and jazz band performances in an informal relaxing setting.”
She went on to explain that, “CoSA has made all forms of the arts more approachable to fellow students and the community. Spreading the word about the CoSA performances, in addition to the Coronado Community theater and Coronado Band, helped bring about the creation of the Coronado Cultural Arts Commission. We want everyone to know about the community opportunities to appreciate performing arts.”
I asked Kris how the idea to form CoSA started. She explained that she and other faculty members asked themselves about twenty years ago essentially this: “How is it that most of the creative students are wearing black, smoking cigarettes in the park, and trying not to get caught by the local police?” Conclusion: “Not every young person is interested in academics for its own sake, and not every person wants to be an athlete.” Solution: “We need the arts to allow these creative students a challenging way to engage in the school experience.”
Kris emphasized time and time again, that CoSA was a group effort. It was in no way hers alone. With support and partnership of other faculty members, the administration, and parents, CoSA was brought before the Coronado School Board. The Board gave the green light. When an expected financial grant was delayed a year, the CoSA foundation was born.
Kris is busy as ever supporting youth and the fine arts. She explained to me that she is currently the Project Director for the annual Arts, Media, and Entertainment Leadership Institute sponsored by the California Department of Education. In addition, she is on the Leadership Council for California’s statewide arts education coalition, CREATE CA.
Kris will be honored at the 20th Year Celebration on February 20. The annual gala, dinner and auction “20 YEARS OF CREATING STARS“ will be held at the Coronado Island Marriott Resort and Spa. There will be amazing student entertainment – “unpredictable and often poignant moments” are to be expected. There will be an opportunity drawing limited to 500 tickets for an incredible trip to NYC that includes airfare for two, Broadway productions, plus hotel.