By Shannan Henderson
When Diane Helfers Petrella, D.M.A., was asked to step in as interim dean for the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance, she was thrilled to find a new way to serve the 105-year-old institution, one that has established a regional, national and global standard of excellence in the performing arts.
She knows, however, that In order to maintain and expand the conservatory’s strengths, the school must continue to move forward with better facilities and increased support. Central to that process is the ongoing effort to build a state of the art new home for the conservatory.
The University of Missouri Board of Curators and UM System officials recently announced they will develop a strategy for alternative funding for UMKC’s proposed Downtown Campus for the Arts (DTAC).
Petrella has been part of the conservatory for the past 11 years, functioning in various roles.
“I came in as an assistant professor, was promoted to associate and then full professor. I’ve been a division chair and I’ve been an associate dean, so I’m very familiar with the infrastructure of the conservatory,” Petrella said. She wants to continue to highlight the conservatory as the treasure it is, not just to UMKC, but to the Kansas City community as a whole.
One of Petrella’s primary goals is to build the number of endowed scholarship funds and endowed faculty positions for the conservatory, as she believes they have the most direct impact on recruiting and retaining world-class students and faculty. Endowed funds also benefit the university by providing funding in perpetuity, helping relieve the university’s dependence on diminishing public revenues. Most importantly, they give opportunities to students to reach their goals as they pursue higher education.
Petrella knows this first-hand, as she relied heavily on scholarships when she was in school.
“I was a self-supported student all the way through college. I never would have made it through 12 years of higher education without scholarships and assistantships. Education was not accessible to me without it. More importantly, scholarships have a personal impact on the life of each student. We’re giving them an opportunity to obtain the education they need to achieve their goals and dreams,” she said.
Many of the conservatory’s current scholarships come from established groups such as the UMKC Friends of the Conservatory, UMKC Jazz Friends, the Conservatory Alumni Board and the Women’s Committee for the Conservatory. Petrella said she finds the groups’ dedication unwavering and inspiring, and wants to develop “a sense of appreciation among faculty, staff and students and show the whole community what these groups are bringing to the table.”
“I’m overwhelmed by the level of support and commitment and just the genuine desire to help,” she said. “It is amazing that we have so many people dedicated to serving and supporting the conservatory.”