Tony Jones came from Chicago to be interim president at the Kansas City Art Institute eight months ago and brought along dreams to renovate some buildings, beef up the school’s endowment and help more students afford to attend the private college.
On Tuesday afternoon, to a champagne toast, Jones announced that a generous benefactor has now given the school the means to make some of those dreams come true.
The 130-year-old college of art and design has received the largest single donation in the school’s history — $25 million from an anonymous donor.
“This gift to the Kansas City Art Institute means that someone believes very strongly in what this institution is trying to do,” Jones said in an interview before Tuesday’s announcement. “It is a vote of confidence. The gift is a pillow on which we can dream about the future of our college and know our dreams will become reality.”
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Jones called the gift “transformative” and said it will touch faculty, community and students. Students like Natalie Spicker, a junior double majoring in fiber and art history at KCAI.
Spicker, a native of Covington, Ky., said more than three-quarters of her college education is being paid through scholarships she received from the art institute.
Getting those scholarships, she said, meant she could attend the first school on her college hope list without having to take on a load of debt or lean heavily on her parents.
“I know a lot of students who if they hadn’t gotten scholarships would not have been able to come here to school,” Spicker said.
Tuition at KCAI is about $34,000 a year. Jones said that 95 percent of the 610 students attending the four-year institution are getting part of their education paid through grants and scholarships.
The record gift to KCAI is critical to increasing need-based and merit scholarship funds, Jones said. Six million dollars of the gift, in the form of a two-for-one challenge grant, will be used for student scholarships, endowed professorships and visiting professors.
Through Dec. 31, 2016, a fund established by the anonymous donor at the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation will match and double every dollar donation KCAI receives from outside sources up to a total of $6 million. To get the full $6 million, the institute will need to raise $3 million.
Jones said a two-to-one match is unusual.
“Most donation matches are a dollar for dollar. I have never seen anything like this in the arts education industry,” he said.
The spring 2016 applicants will likely be first to reap the benefits of the new gift, in the form of hefty scholarship offers, Jones said.
Under the school’s plan, $14 million will go into a general endowment and $5 million will go toward campus improvements, including deferred maintenance on buildings and landscaping projects.
In the last 20 years, the Kansas City Art Institute has completed campus improvements totaling more than $27 million, and right now it’s finishing one of the most important projects — a $750,000 renovation at its ceramics building. The new funds will help the school bring state-of-the art equipment and technology into that building.
Jones said there’s more to be done on the campus on Warwick Boulevard, and KCAI administrators, faculty and students will begin meeting once classes get underway in a few weeks to brainstorm ideas for improving the campus using the big gift of money.
He said that what happens at the art institute complements other recent investments in Kansas City’s arts culture, including the construction of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and the $30 million already donated toward construction of a $96 million University of Missouri-Kansas City downtown campus for the performing arts.
“It will take a while to realize what a gift of this scale can do to transform student lives and the physical look of the campus,” Jones said.
But it certainly has him dreaming again.