It’s been two years since officials at the University of Missouri-Kansas City unveiled a plan for a downtown arts campus, which would relocate the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance. On Wednesday, the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation announced a pledge of $20 million to support the effort.
In 2011, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce chose the downtown arts campus as one of its Big 5, a list of regional priorities. The idea to bring the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance closer to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts is based on similar relationships between schools and venues, such as Juilliard and Lincoln Center in New York, or the New England Conservatory and Jordan Hall in Boston.
"Arts are not to be celebrated alone, but they’re part of the fabric of our community," says Russ Welsh, who chairs the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. "And building around the arts community and having economic development here in the center of Kansas City is really critical to development of a greater Kansas City and to our urban core."
Described as a $20 million challenge grant, the funds from Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation will support part of the first phase, which includes moving the Conservatory to the Crossroads Arts District. The cost is estimated at nearly $90 million. Two locations, close to the Kauffman Center, are under consideration. Later phases in the multi-decade plan would transfer other university-based arts programs to the site.
The Foundation’s chair and CEO Julia Irene Kauffman says the project has the potential to bring more economic development to downtown Kansas City.
"The concept of a downtown campus for the arts is important and attractive for the great promise it holds for so many," says Kauffman. "Great art and great artists are not born by achieving a passing grade in one or two courses, but rather it is the product of great talent, great effort, cultivated and nurtured to inspire and embolden young artists to reach higher and work harder."
The proposal would move the more than 700 Conservatory students and faculty downtown – but a synergy between the two campuses is anticipated. Performances would continue on the Volker campus, as well as at the Kauffman Center.
UMKC student Appie Peterson, who’s majoring in chemistry and dance performance, shared her experience dancing on the Muriel Kauffman stage in fall 2012.
"As I stood here with my arm raised in Serenade's opening pose and Tchaikovsky's score rising from the pit, my art changed me," Peterson says. "As artists, the greatest thing we can hope for is to continually change and grow. And I can really tell you from my heart that the best place to do that is right here on the stage in Kansas City, downtown."
The catch: the Conservatory must raise the additional funds - $70 million – within the next three years to be able to proceed with the first phase. UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton says he’s hopeful philanthropists and other foundations will step up now that there’s this leadership gift. Morton joked with the audience of mostly city and arts officials.
"I will be visiting with you," Morton says, to laughter from the audience."This is a significant challenge, and it takes all of us. But this city has demonstrated that it is willing to step up to challenges like this, because it is in the best interest of not only the university, not only our people, but of this great region."
"Their leadership dares us to dream – to dream big, and dream boldly," says Conservatory Dean Peter Witte of the challenge grant.
The Missouri General Assembly approved legislation to provide matching funds for capital projects at public colleges or universities. UMKC would need to raise 50 percent of the cost of the project through private donations or grants. So far, no funds have been distributed.