KC ‘arts corridor’: Here’s where UMKC will build its conservatory of music and dance

The University of Missouri-Kansas City is considering combining its music, dance and theater programs in a new conservatory on campus.
The University of Missouri-Kansas City is considering combining its music, dance and theater programs in a new conservatory on campus. UMKC

Any questions about whether the University of Missouri-Kansas City has lingering notions about building a Conservatory of Music and Dance downtown were officially answered on Thursday.

The university announced it is putting its conservatory on its Volker Campus, right next to the Olson Performing Arts Center, and facing Volker Boulevard. UMKC is also considering merging the conservatory with its theater department.

A conservatory on campus will “create a significant addition to an arts corridor that already includes the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Kansas City Art Institute campus and the newly expanded and remodeled Olson Center, home of the Kansas City Repertory Theatre,” a university release said.

“The heart of Kansas City’s vibrant and vital performing arts community has always been in UMKC’s performing arts programs, so it is fitting that those be located in the heart of our campus,” UMKC Chancellor Mauli Agrawal said in the statement.

Until last May, UMKC had for years been pushing for a new downtown conservatory near the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

Kansas City business, civic and philanthropic leaders were behind the idea, and it was named one of the area’s “Big Five” top priorities by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce in 2011.

The university raised half of the $96 million needed for the downtown plan and secured a promise from legislators to provide the other $48 million in state-issued bonds. But when Republican Gov. Eric Greitens vetoed the plan, the lead donor, the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation withdrew its $20 million pledge.

University officials vowed to keep looking for ways to pay for a new conservatory.

Last year, Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer said experts had told UMKC “that we have outgrown our conservatory facility and it is outdated.” She said the university “simply needs to have a facility that matches the quality of our faculty and our students.”

In May UMKC unveiled a plan to build a conservatory on campus or renovate an existing building on campus or downtown.

UMKC officials said Thursday that the on-campus plan “aligns well with the city’s plan to extend the popular Downtown Streetcar, which will provide a convenience for new audiences to engage with this facility.”

And Argrawal said, “The continuing approval of our accrediting bodies is dependent on bringing this project to fruition. The time has come to move from the talking and planning phases to the action phase.”

Next the university will review program needs for music, dance and theater, and determine the size and cost of the building.

In addition to choosing the architecture, design and construction teams for the project, the university plans to talk about funding with donors, civic leaders, the governor and state legislators.

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