To awkwardly paraphrase Field of Dreams, "If you move it, they will come." That's the logic behind a proposal from the University of Missouri's Conservatory of Music and Dance to move its operations downtown, bringing 700 students and staff with it. And the Conservatory received a critical first gift in the amount of a $20 million challenge grant from the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation.
The award was announced by Julie Irene Kauffman at the foundation's Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. And it's Ms. Kauffman—chairwoman and chief executive of the foundation and daughter of Muriel McBrien Kauffman—who, for all intents and purposes, is the one individual most instrumental in championing Kansas City's downtown arts revitalization. For starters, the Kauffman Center—an "anchor" arts establishment, if you will—opened in downtown Kansas City in September 2011. Since then, her foundation has committed $105 million to the center, bringing world-class music, art, and dance to the area.
In fact, we'd venture to say that this news is a "best practices" example of how the arts can revitalize an American city. And here are some of its main ingredients:
A high-profile advocate. Ms. Kauffman's leadership transcends the financial component. For example, she was an early and vocal ally for moving the conservatory from its current location at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Volker Campus. And now, with the initial funding in place, she is expected to transition into advocacy mode, encouraging local donors to chip in. And she hasn't wasted any time. Many potential donors attended the announcement, including representatives from major companies such as Sprint and Burns & McDonnell, and philanthropic families like the Helzbergs, Copakens and Dunns.
"All politics is local." A who's-who of local political figures attended as well, including Mayor Sly James, who noted that Ms. Kauffman's “dedication to this city is not only remarkable, it’s impactful." (The foundation funds other projects in Kansas City, most notably its own charter school.) The foundation's gift—described as the second-largest ever received by UMKC—will be supplemented by public matching funds approved by the Missouri state legislature in 2011. The grant has a three-year time limit for raising the rest of the funding.
A vision beyond commerce. The conservatory's $90 million re-location serves two purposes. One, the move will to catalyze an ongoing artistic renaissance in downtown Kansas City, particularly in the Crossroads Arts District, which will see an influx of hundreds of students who will commute to the downtown campus for classes, instruction, and performances. Second, and most interestingly, the re-location aims to instill a kind of symbiotic relationship between music instruction and performance that can be found at the Juilliard School and Lincoln Center, and Boston's New England Conservatory and Symphony Hall.
It's safe to say that none of this would have been possible without the support of Ms. Kauffman, a conservatory alumni herself. That fact wasn't lost on attendees during the grant announcement, particularly jazz musician Bobby Watson, who serenaded Ms. Kauffman with a stirring rendition of “There Will Never Be Another You.”