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Juilliard's President On Downtown Arts Campus: 'Go For It'

The headline of a recent editorialin The Kansas City Star about downtown Kansas City, Missouri declared: "A decade later, downtown has stronger heartbeat."

Some neighborhood leaders, university and elected officials are hoping that heartbeat will only become more regular if the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance moves downtown.

Downtown arts campus one of "five big ideas"

In September 2011, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commercerevealed its five big ideas for the region, including a downtown arts campus. UMKC officials explored possible locations and, in July, narrowed it to three sites: two near the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and one at Barney Allis Plaza (this site is reportedly no longer under consideration).

It's anticipated the first phase of the proposed downtown arts campus, including a 171,000-square foot Conservatory would cost $88.2 million. The 20-year plan to move other university programs, including the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, the UMKC Theatre Department, College of Arts and Sciencesarts programs, and KCUR, would cost more than $150 million (not including the cost of land). Funds are expected to come from the state, and private donors. University officials say a funding update is coming soon.

On Friday, a panel of arts and civic leaders at the Downtown Council of Kansas City's annual luncheon discussed the "vision" for a downtown arts campus. Panelists included Joseph Polisi, President, The Juilliard School, New York, NY; Peter Witte, Dean, UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance; Sly James, Mayor, City of Kansas City, MO; and moderator R. Crosby Kemper III, Executive Director, Kansas City Public Library.

Panel discussion highlights

On the arts as a boost to downtown traffic

Sly James: "There's a reason why CVS and Walgreens always manage to be within a block of each other. Because they know that by being within a block of each other they're going to increase their traffic...we have a tremendous bounty, blessing of art, artists, creative people in this area. The only thing we can do by adding more is to make it even greater."

On taking advantage of timing

Peter Witte: "When you see what's happening here in Kansas City - and I'm not certain that I'm going to see something like again in my lifetime - you have to seize this moment. This is a transitional moment the likes of which we might not see again. And I would place the Conservatory on a national and international stage, at just the right time."'

On the impact of Lincoln Center

Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR
Joseph Polisi, President of The Juilliard School in New York.

Joseph Polisi: "The creation of Lincoln Center, that concept began at around 1955, it's a long time ago. And the first building that was open was 1962...now, it's called Avery Fisher Hall, it's the home of the New York Philharmonic. That was based on the Upper West Side in an area that was a pretty tough area...but now, of course, it's one of the most sought-after areas in the entire island of Manhattan."

On taking the long view

Sly James: "75 years ago, the people of this city took the long view, and built Municipal Auditorium and City Hall. Those buildings still stand, still serve the citizens, and are paying dividends...we're not here talking about something that will immediately inure to our benefit. We're talking about building a city that will last for a hundred years and making those hard and exciting decisions necessary to do it right."

On the arts as a multiplier effect

Joseph Polisi: "You're taking some chances, but they're chances that are going to pay off...I keep going back to the fact that there will be a multiplier of occurrences, activities that you don't even anticipate right now. That will happen by just making it exist. It's the old story of if you build it, they will come. And I think this is really the case here."

On parting words

Moderator R. Crosby Kemper asked, "President Polisi, do you have a last word of advice...?" Juilliard President Joseph Polisi responded,"I have three last words: Go for it."

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
Julie Denesha is the arts reporter for KCUR. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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