Conservatory, Theatre Department Vote to Merge

Plans underway to re-envision new home for Conservatory to house all UMKC performing arts programs

Faculty in two nationally recognized performing arts programs at the University of Missouri-Kansas City have voted in support of a merger of the Conservatory of Music and Dance and the Department of Theatre.

The proposed merger is designed to strengthen both programs by opening up new and expanded opportunities for performance, composition and research at the university that for decades has been designated as Missouri’s Campus for the Visual and Performing Arts by the University of Missouri System.

The proposal will also impact plans for a new and expanded Conservatory facility, and empower both UMKC and the community to think even more creatively about solutions for the Conservatory’s need for adequate and appropriate space, as determined by accreditors.

The proposal would move the Department of Theatre from the university’s College of Arts and Sciences – where it is housed alongside programs ranging from Criminology to Chemistry – to one focused solely on the performing arts.

Interim Chancellor and Provost Barbara A. Bichelmeyer said the merger would provide opportunities for the new entity to mount new academic programs, exciting new performances, explore innovative partnerships and bring donors together to support performing arts programs.

“A unified performing arts school would enhance the scope of creative activity in the performing arts, allow the faculty to grow new cross-disciplinary programs and link existing programs, provide new opportunities for students, new research areas for faculty and enhance our productivity,” Bichelmeyer said. “It would also help both programs become more efficient by sharing production costs and developing economies of scale.”

Bichelmeyer pointed out that the two programs share a proud history of leadership in the arts and a profound impact on the cultural life of Kansas City and the state of Missouri. UMKC arts programs, faculty and alumni have provided the foundation of almost all of the Kansas City community’s premier performing arts organizations, including the Kansas City Symphony, Kansas City Ballet, Lyric Opera, Kansas City Repertory Theatre, Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, Unicorn Theatre, New Theatre Restaurant, Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company and many more.

The merger also will require a different building configuration than had been previously planned for the new Conservatory home. Later this month, UMKC will introduce a Request for Interest (RFI) to the philanthropic and developer community to identify opportunities for off-campus land and existing buildings. UMKC also will be pursuing on-campus public-private development options to complete this project.

“There are strong opinions and passionate support in the Kansas City community and beyond about whether the Conservatory should be located downtown or on campus. The RFI process will help us determine where the new facility should be located,” Bichelmeyer said. “If we find strong academic reasons and the resources to cover the majority cost for building and operating a downtown campus, that may be our best solution. If there is an existing building in a viable location that can be re-purposed at a much lower cost than new construction, then that may be our most viable option. Otherwise, academic interests and resources warrant that we will locate the facility on campus.

“We are heartened that there continues to be strong support for the Conservatory and for UMKC, in the Missouri Legislature and across the state,” Bichelmeyer added. “We hope that when we are ready with a new plan, this support will continue to be available.”

Bichelmeyer also announced that she has appointed Diane Helfers Petrella, DMA, as dean of the Conservatory, at the request of Conservatory faculty and with the support of the arts community in Kansas City.

“Completing the merger process and developing a solution to the Conservatory’s facility needs requires significant time and attention from a dedicated leader who has the trust and respect of the faculty and the community,” Bichelmeyer said.

Leaders of both departments applauded the concept of a merger and said they are looking forward to the work that lies ahead in bringing the idea to fruition.

“This is a bold step that will empower us to confront the challenges we face with renewed confidence and resolve. We will strengthen our position as a recognized national force in the performing arts,” Petrella said.

“With this merger, we will become exponentially more attractive to the world-class students we recruit, because it reaffirms our commitment to leadership in the performing arts,” said Carla Noack, associate professor and chair of the Department of Theatre.

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