Downtown arts campus holds promise for UMKC, downtown, city arts scene

Chancellor Leo Morton says having a new downtown arts campus for the UMKC Conservatory will attract great artists and great faculty members from around the world. He spoke yesterday at the announcement that the Muriel O’Brien Kauffman Foundation will kick start the move with a $20 million grant.

Who stands to gain from the move of UMKC’s Conservatory of Music and Dance to the Crossroads district?

Almost everyone, according to speakers at a major press conference yesterday.

The speakers were there to reveal that the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation has pledged $20 million towards the plan to move the UMKC Conservatory of Music downtown. The conservatory must raise an additional $70 million to start on the first phase of the project within three years.

The idea for moving the arts programs and performance venues was one of the “five big ideas” selected as priorities by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce in 2011.

Two locations, both in the Crossroads near the new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, are being considered.

Julia Irene Kauffman told the group the move will bring excitement and development downtown. “The concept of a downtown campus for the arts is important for the promise it offers to many,” she said.

There’s evidence, from both speakers at the press conference and studies conducted around the idea of the move, that she’s right.

  • UMKC gains breathing room on the Volker campus and a big draw for arts students. “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,” UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton said. “But what this is really about is creating the next generation of world-class artists right here in Kansas City.”  Morton says a downtown arts campus would be a big draw for arts students, as well as free up space on the landlocked Volker campus for other programs to spread out. UMKC has a goal of increasing its enrollment by 5000 students to 20,000 by 2020, and the move would allow it to repurpose performance spaces like White Recital Hall, Spencer Theater and Grant Hall classrooms, for instance.
  • Kansas City gets a shot in the arm both downtown and at the UMKC campus. Mayor Sly James says the idea to move the performing arts programs is no longer “pie in the sky. This is a major tangible asset in the urban core of this city.” He says that eventually, a streetcar line will link the UMKC Volker campus to downtown. An economic impact study by the Mid-America Regional Council estimates the economic activity, both in the crossroads and the current UMKC campus, is worth more than 400 jobs and $30.8 million in real gross domestic product.
  • Young people move downtown to live, learn and perform. Speakers also speculated the move could add vibrancy to downtown by attracting the important 18-to-25-year-old age group to downtown. One current student, dancer Appie Peterson, said she came to Kansas City from her hometown of St. Louis, but she’s planning to stay, as are other students.The Kansas City Community Foundation said in a 2005 report, “Excellence in the arts sends a powerful message of academic and civic vitality. The arts will be of increasing importance in attracting and keeping in Kansas City the young talented professionals the city needs to flourish.”