The $20 million challenge grant was approved at the recent meeting of the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation Board of Directors and represents a leadership gift toward funding of the first phase of the proposed Downtown Campus for the Arts. That phase of the expansive multi-decade plan involves moving the university’s renowned Conservatory of Music and Dance to a location in the Crossroads District. Subsequent phases would move other university-based arts programs to the site.
The grant award is contingent upon the Conservatory raising the additional $70 million of funding needed to proceed with the project’s first phase within a period of three years. The $20 million gift is the second-largest in UMKC history, and believed to be one of the largest gifts to a public university conservatory in the past 10 years.
“The Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation is pleased to take the lead in supporting the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance in this exciting project. The Conservatory is a vibrant community resource and we believe the Downtown Arts Campus project has the potential to bring excitement and broad revitalized economic development to downtown, to the Kauffman Center, and to other arts groups located downtown,” said Julia Irene Kauffman, Chairman and CEO of the foundation. “We recognize and appreciate the support of the Chamber of Commerce as it earmarked the Downtown Arts Campus as one of the metropolitan area’s “Big 5” ideas. The support of Mayor Sly James has been immeasurable in moving to this point.
“We are proud to be a catalyst for progress to help drive the Conservatory to new heights with a new, cutting-edge facility and, at the same time, relieve overcrowding on the congested UMKC Volker Campus,” Kauffman added. “This project will bring great synergy among existing arts organizations and initiatives, such as KC Creative Crossroads, an unprecedented regional collaboration among the area’s civic leadership and arts organizations.”
Peter Witte, Dean of the Conservatory, praised Kauffman and her foundation for both their generosity, and their vision.
“Through the leadership of Ms. Kauffman and David Lady, the Foundation has provided Kansas City with more than just great artistic experiences. They have provided unprecedented opportunities for the community’s growth and development. They have done so through philanthropy that is more than just generous. It is thoughtful and strategic,” Witte said. “Their leadership dares us to dream – to dream big, and dream boldly.”
Speakers at the event also included Kansas City Mayor Sly James; Russ Welsh, chair of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce; and UMKC Chancellor Leo E. Morton.
”Much has been said about the impact this project can have on our artistic community, on economic development, on our city’s reputation in the world,” Morton said. “But what this is really all about is creating the next generation of world-class artists right here in Kansas City.”
Morton added that UMKC would continue to be an artistic resource for the entire community on all of its campuses. White Recital Hall and the Spencer Theatre on the Volker campus, he said, would continue to host a rich array of UMKC student performances for the benefit of non-arts students and the community.
“Today’s announcement represents a significant step forward in the KC Chamber’s Big 5 goal for the arts. By creating the downtown arts campus, we create sustained energy around the arts,” Welsh said. “With this campus, the arts renaissance grows from economic spikes driven by event-focused activity, to one sustained by the daily activity of up to 1,000 students, faculty and staff. A vibrant downtown where people live, work and now study will contribute to the economic vitality of Kansas City.”
Several speakers focused on the Downtown Campus for the Arts as a benefit not just for the university and its art students, but also for the community as a whole. The campus concept is one of the “Big 5” ideas championed by the Kansas City Chamber as a critical priority for the region. The campus would address several highly significant needs and opportunities for both campus and community:
- the university’s need for increased space and improved facilities for its renowned visual and performing arts programs;
- the need for growth space on the landlocked Volker campus;
- the city’s need to boost employment, activity and residency in the urban core;
- and the wealth of opportunities for artistic and educational synergy, economic development and national attention being generated by the city’s burgeoning arts and cultural renaissance.
An economic impact study by the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) estimates that the economic activity associated with the construction of the arts campus and reuse of the Volker campus would average, at minimum, approximately 409 jobs, $30.8 million in real GDP, and $22.9 million in real disposable personal income per year over 25 years. Of these impacts, a little over half results from the construction itself, with the rest generated by the expansion of arts and other educational programs at UMKC.
The concept is based on successful performing arts school/performing arts center combinations such as Juilliard/Lincoln Center in New York, and the New England Conservatory/Jordan Hall in Boston. The concept of a Downtown Arts Campus clearly supports UMKC’s mission and strategic goals to “advance urban engagement” and “excel in the visual and performing arts”; addresses the 2005 “Time To Get It Right” report goal to “enhance UMKC’s stature as one of the top 20 universities in the arts;” and provides an opportunity to create innovative state-of-the-art educational and living facilities downtown for arts students.