Arts
10:06 am
Thu September 6, 2012

Discussing The Future Of A Downtown Arts Campus

In September 2011, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce announced "the Big 5," ideas the city would champion, ranging from revitalizing the urban core to boosting medical research.

One idea: a proposed downtown arts campus.

On Wednesday night, arts officials - Peter Witte, Dean of UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance, Jacqueline Chanda, President of Kansas City Art Institute, and Jerry Allen, with the Cultural Planning Group and consultant for the Mayor's Task Force for the Arts - gathered for a panel discussion at the Kansas City Public Library's Central branch to explore relocating UMKC's performing and visual arts programs, including the Conservatory, downtown.

The potential sites were narrowed to three in July 2012:

  • Barney Allis Plaza, northwest of 13th and Wyandotte. This city-owned location is close to possible student venues: Folly Theater, Municipal Auditorium, Copaken Stage at H&R Block building. Campus: all new construction.
  • Crossroads Arts District/Kauffman Center East, two blocks between Wyandotte and Main, from 16th to 17th streets. Location would link to Kauffman Center and the Crossroads. Campus: blend of new construction and renovation of existing properties.
  • Crossroads Arts District/Kauffman Center West, blocks at northwest and southeast corners of 17th and Broadway. Location would link to Kauffman Center and the Crossroads. Campus: blend of new construction and renovation of existing properties.

Panel highlights:

Kansas City Art Institute's Jacqueline Chanda asked a question she thought the audience might have: "Why would KCAI want to be a part of it?" According to Chanda, an arts campus downtown is an opportunity for relationship building. She said she doesn't view "campus" as limited to one institution; for her, it's a "community of people."

Chanda gave three examples - in Durham, North Carolina, Cleveland, Ohio, and Paris, France - of interdisciplinary communities. She asked the audience to "consider the possibility of partnerships." 

During the question and answer session, Chanda also brought up the idea of a new graduate program for KCAI included in the downtown arts campus.

Consultant Jerry Allen was hired by the Mayor's Task Force on the Arts, chaired by Mike Burke. This marked Allen's first visit to Kansas City and he cited Seattle as an example of a city that's been transformed by the arts. He suggested that Kansas City was "where Seattle was 20 years ago."

Allen asserted that "every community has a right to cultural self-determination." In an effort to get the public involved, he said he expects to "engage hundreds, if not thousands" for their input.

"Our faculty and our students are exquisite. Our facilities are not," described UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance's Peter Witte. He asked, "When will we find our home?"

Witte was appointed dean in 2008. He said in researching the organization's history, he discovered "28 locations since 1908" when the Conservatory was founded. Students and faculty currently attend classes, practice, and perform in three buildings across the Volker campus.

A UMKC faculty member - with concerns about students not having the opportunity to attend concerts - asked if the Conservatory would consider a different location on campus; he suggested a new building in place of the large parking lot near 51st and Oak. (NOTE: In July, Whole Foods Market announced a plan to anchor a development in this location, which would also include apartments and office space for UMKC.) Witte replied, "We've been looking for a solution on the Volker campus for 20 years."

Witte added that "the city is our campus" and that students and faculty would continue to perform on the Volker campus, even if the Conservatory's programs are primarily based downtown. 

For an in-depth discussion about the "Big 5," listen to the 9/14/2011 edition of Up to Date.