Effort begins to move UMKC Conservatory to downtown Kansas City

Thursday, June 27, 2013 | 5:47 p.m. CDT; updated 8:22 p.m. CDT, Thursday, June 27, 2013

KANSAS CITY — The Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation is pledging $20 million toward a project that would move the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservancy of Music and Dance to downtown Kansas City as part of an effort to create a Downtown Arts Campus.

The challenge grant announced Wednesday would help move the conservancy and its 700 students and staff to a site near the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. However, supporters will need to raise an additional $70 million to fund the move. Other programs would be moved in later phases, The Kansas City Star reported.

"The conservatory is a vibrant community resource and we believe the Downtown Arts Campus project has the potential to bring excitement and broad revitalized economic development to downtown, to the Kauffman Center and to other arts groups located downtown," Julia Irene Kauffman, the chairwoman and chief executive of the foundation, said.

The conservatory offers dance; instrumental, jazz, keyboard and vocal studies; composition; music theory and musicology; and music education/music therapy.

"I think it will breathe more life into our buildings," Kauffman said. "Sitting in the great halls and listening is a great lesson for students. They'll be able to get closer to the great artists who visit."

Kauffman said the $20 million challenge grant has a three-year time limit to raise the rest of the money.

Two years ago, the Missouri General Assembly approved a fund to cover 50 percent of universities' capital construction project costs if the money was matched by private donations. The legislature has not yet allocated the funding for that plan.

Missouri,Kansas City Chancellor Leo Morton said Kauffman's donation should send a message to other philanthropists that the conservatory was worthy of their support.

"She's giving us the spark we need to make this happen and have the kind of impact in our region's future that we know this project can have," Morton said. "I'm comfortable there are people out there, both public and private, who'll support it."

Julia Kauffman studied piano at the conservatory in the mid-1960s and returned a few years ago for more instruction. The school awarded her an honorary doctorate in 2012.

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