“As an historian, Jim valued the arts as a bridge to humanity, culture and understanding. He believed in the integrative and unifying power of the performing and visual arts.”
With these few words, Vera Olson gave voice to the reasons why UMKC’s Performing Arts Center was renamed in memory of her late husband, James C. Olson., former UMKC Chancellor (1968-1976) and President of the University of Missouri (1977-1984).
The James Olson Performing Arts Center was rededicated on June 12, 2008, thanks to encouragement from Olson’s friends and Conservatory supporters.
One of Olson’s first challenges as UMKC’s Chancellor was to find the funds necessary to complete the Performing Arts Center. The project had early support but actual expenses increased, convincing some of the first contributors that the project could not be done and to withdraw their pledges. Olson felt that openness required him to inform the remaining backers so they might do the same.
However, many remained faithful to the new building, which was needed for Conservatory offices and classes and a home for the Missouri Repertory Theater. The building was completed in 1979.
When Olson retired as President of the UM System, Mel George, Vice President for Academic Affairs, came up with a way to honor Olson’s contributions. George’s plan would utilize the Conservatory which was a source of pride for Olson.
“Mel did not want to give Jim the typical gold watch or plaque,” said Vera Olson. “He put an idea before the Curators, and they agreed to set up the James and Vera Olson Fund for the Arts. The fund provides for performances on all four UM campuses.”
Olson’s family credits him with stimulating their cultural interests through a variety of arts and travels. Olson repaid the compliment in a book dedication when he thanked his wife and two daughters, “for cheerfully accepting the fact that vacations are times for visiting libraries, Indian reservations and abandoned forts.”
Olson died in 2005 at age 88.