Arts consumers judge the vitality of the local arts by what they see — paintings on exhibition, musical performances, live theater.
Less visible to the public are the arts advocates who donate money, time and expertise. They, perhaps more than the artists, are responsible for what we’ve seen in Kansas City in recent years — dramatic growth in all the arts.
Few did more than Steve Metzler, who died Tuesday after a stroke. He was 66. The sudden loss of such a dynamic figure sent shock waves through the community. As an arts advocate and LGBT leader, Metzler left his mark on Kansas City.
He supported a range of arts organizations in various roles through the years. He served on the board of the Kansas City Art Institute and even became the school’s interim president for a period; he supported the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and the Heartland Men’s Chorus and Kansas City Young Audiences. He also supported the AIDS Service Foundation and the annual AIDS walk as well as the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
Among other roles, Metzler was a founding board member of the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey when the organization was born in 1984.
“He was known as just a pure spirit and had an incredible passion for the arts and for people,” said the group’s founder, Allan S. Gray. “I believe Steve saw the arts as a way of changing and improving the community and sharing the power and beauty of the arts with our community in a very special way. As a patron and philanthropist, Steve was always prepared to say yes to projects, whether they were big or small.”
Gray also served with Metzler on the Kansas City Art Institute board of trustees.
“Steve was multitalented,” Gray said. “He was an astute business person and he had a creative mind.”
Metzler was a second-generation co-owner of Metzler Brothers Insurance, an independent agency until it was sold in 2013 to Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.
Like others who knew him, Gray said Metzler always brought a generosity of spirit to his many roles.
“Steve was just full of life,” he said. “He was an open book. He was willing to embrace people from all parts of our community, all economic brackets. He just saw people for who they were.
“I don’t believe Steve ever looked at people just in terms of their race or their religious backgrounds or anything else.… Steve had a sense of honesty about him. Steve would always give you his opinion and tell you clearly how he saw things, whether he was in agreement with you or not. But he was always a fair individual.”
Harlan Brownlee, president and chief executive officer of ArtsKC, said Metzler was such a major contributor and supporter to so many arts organizations that he was seen as more than an arts advocate and more than an arts lover.
“I don’t have words to express how surprised we were and shocked,” Brownlee said. “It’s the last thing you expect from someone so charismatic and so big.
“He was really a tour de force. He also worked with us (ArtsKC) in terms of introducing us to a lot of people in the community. He was so well connected.”
Brownlee said Metzler was unusual in the way he actively supported so many organizations. ArtsKC honored Metzler and his partner, Brian Williams, for their volunteerism and dedication to the arts with the Virtuoso Award in 2011.
“He’s going to be missed,” Brownlee said. “If you look at his work, you’ll see he supported a wide range of different things. In that regard, he was very generous with his time and resources.”
Metzler also seemed to stay informed about all arts organizations, even those he was not directly involved in, such as the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival.
“You wouldn’t expect him to know what I was up to, but he always seemed to be up to date,” said Sidonie Garrett, the festival’s artistic director. “He knew a lot about what I was doing.”
Beyond that, Garrett said, he seemed to generate an omnipresent positive vibe.
“He was one of the warmest people I’ve ever known,” she said. “I’ve never seen him without a smile and a warm greeting. He was one of the most amiable people I’ve ever met. And he had the ability to deflect off himself.
“I never had a conversation with him that wasn’t about me. He was very much about other people and their contributions, more than his own.”
R. Crosby Kemper III, director of the Kansas City Public Library, said that although he wasn’t as close to Metzler as others, he had known him for 35 years. Like Metzler, Kemper is a longstanding arts advocate and supporter.
“Every encounter with Steve was positive,” Kemper said. “He always had a smile, always had a good word. He had a huge impact on the community in a quiet, steady, always-there kind of way. He’s one of those people about whom you could say, ‘If only we all lived our lives like that, the world would be a better place.’”
Tony Jones, interim president of the Kansas City Art Institute since December, said in a statement that Metzler loved the community and the community loved him back.
“Hardly a day has gone by since I joined the college when Steve hasn’t been physically on our campus,” Jones said. “He was a thoughtful, kindly presence among us, and he is quite simply irreplaceable.”
The rosary will be recited at 5:30 p.m. Friday, March 27, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 11 E. 40th St., followed by visitation until 9 p.m. Services are at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.