The Music/Arts Institute is a hidden gem in the former McCoy Elementary School building in Independence.

But sometimes, even hidden gems need a facelift.

That is why the community school of arts is spreading the word about its five-year Ensemble campaign. The goals are to raise $1.3 million for needed for needed work – heating and cooling ($650,00), elevator ($600,00) and updated bathrooms ($50,000) – as well as promote regular giving, which will go toward scholarships ($100,000 for five years) and staff ($75,000 for five years).

“I was the fine arts cheerleader for many years when I worked in the school district,” said MAI board member Beth Savidge, who recently retired as an assistant superintendent in the Independence School District, “and I am one of the Music/Arts Institute’s biggest fans.

“Words can’t begin to describe what MAI means to Eastern Jackson County and the students it serves. It has such an amazing outreach that goes beyond Eastern Jackson County into the Kansas City metro area – it helps youngsters make dreams come true.

“It is our hidden gem, and I am so proud of all the good it has done for youngsters throughout the metro area.”

Ron Clemons, a journalism teacher at Truman High School for 37 years, and his wife Molly, an administrator for 27 years in the Independence School District, are MAI’s volunteer executive directors.

They were asked to take over MAI in 2015 by former Independence School District Superintendent Bob Watkins, who was instrumental in MAI’s formation.

“We were asked to take over on an interim basis when Mark Lee left to take a teaching position at the University of Central Missouri, and we’re still here,” Molly said. “This is such a big part of our lives.”

Adds Ron, “The list of graduates from the Music/Arts Institute is like a who’s who of the best and brightest from Eastern Jackson County and throughout the metro area.”

Graduates include Ryan MacPherson, Christina Casey, Maria Milazzo, Melanie Mockobey and Rachel Sampson Sparrow, nationally recognized singers who have performed across the country.

MAI was founded by Millicent Daugherty, Wayne Smith, Evelyn Allen and William Todd Stewart. In 1985, the school district sold McCoy School, 1010 South Pearl Street, to the group for $1.

“It’s simply time to make necessary repairs,” Ron Clemons said. “Our bathrooms look like they came straight out of the 1930s – and they did. We are not doing anything extravagant, but we hope to be able to make much needed improvements.”

Clemons said 73 percent of the students who attend MAI are on some sort of scholarship.

“If at all possible, we like the families to pay some portion of the scholarship so they have some ownership,” he said. “The scholarships have turned a lot of sad stares into happy smiles.”