Why is the idea of a UMKC downtown arts campus gaining support now?
In September 2011, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce announced a Downtown Arts Campus as one of its “Big 5 Ideas” for boosting the Kansas City region. The idea calls for relocating UMKC’s arts programs – including the Conservatory of Music and Dance, UMKC Theatre and the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, among others – to a new downtown location. According to the Chamber, this would expose students to the city’s new world-class arts facilities including the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and the Kansas City Ballet’s Todd Bolender Center for Dance & Creativity. It also would create new synergies between the university and the city, bringing hundreds of students downtown to live, study and perform. UMKC’s presence downtown in an area that has seen $1.57 billion in cultural investment since 2005 would elevate its visibility as a cultural player in the region, as a contributing partner downtown and as a model university nationally.
How is UMKC exploring the idea of a Downtown Arts Campus?
UMKC is in the midst of conducting a feasibility study that should be completed by March. It has hired Helix Architecture + Design, Integra Realty Resources and HGA Architects and Engineers to develop a preliminary program and cost estimate for the project, look at potential downtown properties, develop site and concept plans and gather feedback from UMKC and the community over the next several months.
In addition, the university plans to conduct an economic impact study to investigate how a UMKC arts campus could complement investments in other arts facilities and help small businesses emerge.
UMKC also has enlisted the aid of Wellington “Duke” Reiter – who previously served as president of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and dean of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University – to foster campus and community discussions on how a Downtown Arts Campus could affect academic, campus and social life at Kansas City’s downtown/Crossroads areas and UMKC’s Volker and Hospital Hill campuses.
How does a Downtown Arts Campus fit with UMKC’s mission and strategic goals?
The arts campus concept supports UMKC’s mission and strategic goals to “advance urban engagement” and “excel in the visual and performing arts” – and provides an ideal platform for UMKC’s stated objective to “demonstrate the relationships between artistic creativity, entrepreneurial innovation and economic development.” In addition to creating innovative state-of-the-art educational and living facilities downtown – thus helping to use an abundance of commercial real estate in the downtown loop – the plan also frees up significant space on the UMKC Volker campus, which can be re-imagined to address the university’s critical need for physical expansion.
But does UMKC really need a downtown facility for the performing and visual arts?
UMKC’s performing and visual arts programs are bursting at the seams on the Volker campus and are housed in facilities in need of improvements to meet the latest academic standards. For example, the performing arts programs are currently housed in multiple buildings on campus – James C. Olson Performing Arts Center, Grant Hall and Fine Arts to name a few – and supplement their space needs with rented sites off campus.
Earlier this year during their site visit, the National Association of Schools of Music found that the facilities do not meet the standards for the Conservatory’s mission, size and scope. The National Association of Schools of Dance, expressed similar concerns, noting that the two dance studios’ insufficient size would limit UMKC’s ability to grow its dance enrollment.
Isn’t it unusual for a university to have more than one campus?
Actually, no. UMKC has had dual campuses for more than 40 years with its Volker Campus and its Health Sciences campus, commonly known as Hospital Hill. Just as the UMKC Health Sciences campus creates proximity and synergy between the university and prominent community medical facilities, a Downtown Arts Campus would enrich an already flourishing arts district.
A Downtown Arts Campus would emulate the programs, physical facilities and creativity of some of the country’s most prestigious arts education institutions. Juilliard is on the footprint of Lincoln Center. The New England Conservatory is across the street from Orchestra Hall in Boston. The Colburn School Conservatory of Music is across from Disney Hall in Los Angeles.
Public universities in Cincinnati, Atlanta, Columbus, Ohio and Houston nest their arts programs in urban centers, too. A similar campus here in Kansas City would differentiate UMKC from its regional peers, elevate its already nationally recognized performing arts programs to an even higher level of excellence and create unprecedented opportunities and visibility for UMKC.
What would be the impact on Volker campus?
UMKC is committed to careful study to see how a proposed Downtown Arts Campus would affect the Volker campus. A new arts campus could create new opportunities and potential for growth on the Volker campus. For example, student housing on Volker is currently at capacity, so the potential of some students moving downtown actually could create room for more students. Chancellor Leo E. Morton has stated that the proposal for an arts campus won’t go forward unless it benefits the entire university.
How would a Downtown Arts Campus be funded?
Possible funding sources will be recommended once the feasibility/economic studies have been completed. However, it is anticipated that significant private funding will be required. The proposal is attracting interest among people who not only want to see UMKC arts thrive but also those who see the positive benefits of an influx of young, educated residents who could further energize the downtown.
How would the arts campus fit in with other art-related developments in Downtown Kansas City?
The arts campus would continue decades-worth of improvements and energy downtown around creative endeavor. In fact, this year the Kansas City Area Development Council declared the downtown “America’s Creative Crossroads.” That project is a collaborative effort of civic and community organizations, celebrating and branding Kansas City’s growing reputation as the melting pot of American creativity. The Kansas City Area Development Council and the Convention and Visitors Association launched a coordinated national branding campaign for Kansas City as America’s Creative Crossroads.
What UMKC schools or departments would the arts campus include?
Schools, departments or university affiliates that might be housed in the new building include the Conservatory of Music and Dance, the UMKC Theatre Department, the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, visual arts, KCUR public radio station and others. But no firm decisions have been made – or will be made – until feasibility and economic studies are completed and until campus and community input has been weighed.
How many students and faculty would there be on the Downtown Arts Campus?
A conservative estimate would be 750-1,000 students, faculty and staff, depending on which schools move to the Downtown Arts Campus.
Would the campus include student housing and/or dining services?
It is not expected that a Downtown Arts Campus would include student housing or dining services provided by the university. However, third party developers could create housing similar to the student housing adjacent to UMKC on Oak Street.