Arts News: KC Symphony Makes Final Push to Create $55 Million Endowment

The new year brought a major announcement by the Kansas City Symphony: The organization is launching the final phase of its Masterpiece Campaign, an ambitious fundraising effort to create a $55 million endowment.

Gathered to hear the Jan. 4 announcement, an audience of arts, business and civic leaders, interspersed with members of the orchestra, was seated on the stage of Helzberg Hall. Board chair William M. Lyons spoke about the economic as well as artistic impact of the organization and cited some of the impressive statistics that indicate its health, while Kansas City Symphony executive director Frank Byrne responded with the logistics of the fundraising efforts.

“Just as every note matters in a symphony, every dollar counts in this campaign,” Byrne said, “whether it’s $25 or $2,500.”

Over the last four years the Symphony has raised $51.9 million dollars towards that goal through longtime donors and internal resources. Now they’ve launched the public phase of the campaign, involving the community to secure the required funds. Even so, the internal support continues, with a $1.25 million pledge once the remaining $2 million is raised.

Considering that the population of Kansas City, Mo., and its area communities exceeds 1 million residents, that breaks down to an approximate $2 donation per capita.

Endowments are an essential component of the financial well-being of a large-scale not-for-profit organization, allowing security and growth. With an endowment of this size, the Kansas City Symphony can proceed as a leading factor in the arts regionally and nationally, with the financial stability and organizational confidence to attract and retain the best qualified performers of this and subsequent generations, positioning it to be one of the top-tier orchestras in the country.

Artistic director Michael Stern gave an impassioned speech about the organization’s influence on the cultural fabric of the region, not just as a leader, but as an entry point, creating a diverse offering of high-quality musical experiences free or low cost to audiences of all ages: “Music matters. It matters for us and it matters for our children.

“I am completely energized by the possibilities,” Stern said. The financial impact of the endowment would allow for more programming opportunities, more engagement with the community, and a broader ability to commission and promote new works, contributing to the vitality of the art form.

The Kansas City Symphony was founded in 1982 partly because of the belief by civic leaders that a nationally reputable urban center required the presence of an exceptional arts scene, with a professional orchestra as a chief component.

One of the issues the Symphony faces today is the loss of excellent players to similarly placed orchestras in similarly positioned demographics. This not only creates a strain on the organization by consistently requiring auditions for key roles, but it affects the cohesion and communication of the ensemble from season to season. With competitive financial packages and a positive institutional environment (this year indicated by their successful contract negotiations) the Symphony could attract the best qualified individuals and create an orchestra where artists forge a lifelong commitment to the Kansas City community.

Above: Frank Byrne, executive director of The Kansas City Symphony, addressed the audience at the symphony’s Masterpiece Launch Event on January 4 at Helzberg Hall. (Photo by Eric Williams)

Libby Hanssen

Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen covers the performing arts in Kansas City. She is the author of States of Swing: The History of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, 2003-2023. Along with degrees in trombone performance, Libby was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University. She maintains the culture bog "Proust Eats a Sandwich."

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