Prediction: It’ll be standing room only at the Folly Theater on Saturday morning, when the 1,100-seat concert hall reverberates with the memory of Steve Metzler.
Metzler was a connector, a tidal force for the arts in Kansas City, an energetic catalyst for good times and making this a better place to live.
He died on March 24, sending a shockwave through overlapping circles in the community, all the various places where Metzler directed his business sense and his brainpower.
“He is irreplaceable,” Alan Gray told me this week.
Metzler spent 30 years supporting the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey, the trail-blazing, racial-divide bridging organization Gray helped found more than 30 years ago.
Gray also served with Metzler on the board of the Kansas City Art Institute, and then watched admiringly as Metzler stepped up to become interim president of the school for a few months last year as a search proceeded to fill the top job.
Metzler’s calling as an arts patron, champion and supreme volunteer might be a rare example in any community, but his kind of energy is essential to making a creative scene vital.
“I don’t know how he juggled so many things,” Gray said.
We were chatting during a break at a meeting Thursday morning devoted to “The Value of the Arts in Community Building.”
Although his name did not come up during the formal presentations, it occurred to me that Metzler’s spirit hovered in the room at the Kauffman Foundation session as the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s Julián Zugazagoitia noted how the arts not only help shape the local economy but define our quality of life. And, similarly, as Mary Kennedy of the Mid-America Arts Council helpfully reframed what has almost become a cliche in Kansas City.
“If we just talk about economic impact, we’re really underselling the arts,” she said. “The most important thing about community building is the power of art to make life meaningful.”
Metzler knew that, and all of the members of a panel discussion found a way to reinforce the point, especially as each of them recalled growing up in households with musical parents or having unexpected encounters with art.
This was a particularly notable week for the arts and outreach in Kansas City.
The Kansas City Symphony made a return engagement to the ballpark, playing the national anthem for another sold-out Royals crowd on the drizzly opening day of the baseball season. The cross-fertilization can’t hurt the Symphony’s audience-building effort, and at the least it boosts the band’s image in the collective consciousness of sports fans.
And philanthropist Henry Bloch and his family foundation announced another game-changing initiative for the Nelson-Atkins. A gift of $11.7 million will fund the reconstruction of first-floor galleries to house the Blochs’ previously promised collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings.
Conversing more often with the likes of Monet, Gauguin and Matisse will add yet another top-shelf method for “connecting through experiences” and “engaging constituents,” two planks of the museum’s strategic plan, as Zugazagoitia outlined it Thursday. (Cool fact to chew on: While museum attendance now reaches a half million annually, he said, “Today we have more visitors online than in person.”)
Kansas City increasingly is being recognized for its creative bones. Harlan Brownlee, of ArtsKC, reminded the panel audience that the Kansas City Area Development Council, which works to lure companies here, markets the city across the nation as “America’s Creative Crossroads,” the place where arts and technology together are making things happen.
That’s an attractive story line. But it takes people like Steve Metzler — and those who will aim to carry on his work — to make it true.