words by ROBERT HELLWEG
Downtown’s “Fountain of Youth” will be built on a prized plot of land immediately south of the iconic Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in the heart of the Crossroads Arts District.
That is where the University of Missouri- Kansas City will build a new home for its world- renowned Conservatory of Music and Dance. The Conservatory, founded in 1906, has been praised by The New York Times as “one of the country’s liveliest academies.” It has a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and four Guggenheim Fellows among its faculty.
The Conservatory has outgrown its existing home on UMKC’s Volker Campus, just south and east of the Country Club Plaza. So the university
will build a new, state-of-the-art $96-million facility downtown where the next generations of world-class musicians, dancers, choreographers, and composers will hone their artistic skills.
Building the new Conservatory directly across from the Kauffman Center is a strategic decision designed to benefit the community as much as it does the university and its students. That’s why it was included in the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce Big 5 list of top civic priorities.
“This project is downtown’s fountain of youth, because it will perpetually forever bring 18 to 35 year olds to downtown,” said Warren Erdman, executive vice president, Administrative and Corporate Affairs for Kansas City Southern, and a former curator of the University of Missouri system.
THE IMPACT OF ARTS
The new Conservatory will stimulate economic activity by bringing approximately 700 students, faculty, and staff to the district as a daily, daytime presence, complementing the event-driven and largely evening-based activity at the Kauffman Center. The site – a full city block, bounded by Broadway, 17th, 18th and Central streets – is a two-block walk from Kansas City’s streetcar line, Bartle Hall, and the planned new Loews convention hotel.
The arts have much more economic impact than many people realize. Americans for the Arts notes that arts and cultural activities in Missouri create 33,000 full-time jobs and annually contribute $743 million in household income and $110 million in state government revenue to the economy. The UMKC Conservatory is an intrinsic component in making the Kansas City region one of U.S. News and World Report’s “Best Places to Live in the U.S.” The region has 8,346 jobs in the arts sector, contributing $273 million in annual economic activity, $9 million for local governments, and $12.8 million in state revenue.
A RENOWNED CONSERVATORY
At the downtown arts campus, Conservatory students will have increased opportunities to work alongside professionals in the Kauffman Center, Kansas City Symphony, Kansas City Lyric Opera, Kansas City Ballet, American Jazz Museum, and the Crossroads Arts District. This will strengthen student-professional collaborations and emulate successful urban arts education programs like that of Juilliard and the Lincoln Center in New York.
The new campus also will satisfy accrediting organizations by almost tripling the square footage of the Conservatory, making room for additional students to study there, and freeing up much-needed space on the landlocked Volker campus for other academic disciplines. The campuses will remain connected; Conservatory students will continue to take non-music classes at Volker and will continue to perform there.
For more than a century, the UMKC Conservatory and other performing arts programs have been foundational drivers of the city’s artistic heritage. The Kansas City Symphony, Lyric Opera, Kansas City Ballet, Bach Aria Soloists, Kansas City Chorale, newEar Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, and Wylliams/ Henry Contemporary Dance Company are among the many outstanding local artistic institutions founded by UMKC Conservatory faculty and/or alumni.
“As much as we appreciate our access to such talent on grand stages, that is not the primary place where the Conservatory’s impact is felt. Stages exist for the arts, but the arts do not exist for stages; they are for people,” said UMKC Chancellor Emeritus Leo E. Morton. “The arts are an essential component of our communities, and the Conservatory is a community builder through arts education.”
Generous local donors raised $48 million for the project, led by a $20-million gift from Julia Irene Kauffman on behalf of the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation. By raising half of the $96-million cost of the facility from private donors, the university sought matching funds from the state government — essentially delivering a permanent asset to the state’s university at half price. Both houses of the Missouri General Assembly approved a funding measure by wide margins.
When the legislation was stymied by an unexpected gubernatorial veto in June, civic and university officials vowed to forge ahead with the project. An alternative funding plan will be presented to the University of Missouri Board of Curators in December.
“This approach will allow construction to begin sooner and save money by avoiding construction cost inflation on a project that will benefit the students of UMKC, the people of Kansas City, and the state of Missouri,” UM System President Mun Choi said. “This is a strategic investment to support our key goals in academics and scholarship. That makes it a priority for the UM System and UMKC.”
UMKC has selected the design team of Helix Architecture + Design and HGA Architects and Engineers to proceed with the programming and concept-design process. Their renderings show the iconic Kauffman Center and the downtown skyline as its neighbors.
UMKC DOWNTOWN CAMPUS OF THE ARTS
Who and what: A much-needed new home for the Conservatory of Music and Dance, a world-renowned program of 700 students
Where: A city block bounded by Broadway, 17th, 18th, and Central streets next to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
How and when: Generous local donors raised $48 million for the project. A plan for the next steps will be presented in December to the University of Missouri Board of Curators.
Why: The Conservatory has outgrown its space and has the opportunity to contribute even more to the community. The arts deliver a major economic impact of $850 million in income and revenue annually in Missouri.
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