On October 28, classical radio station KMFA announced its goal of completing a $13.5 million campaign to fund its new headquarters, a brand new building at a growing development called The Hatchery, just east of I-35, and add to its permanent endowment fund. The $10 million facility is likely the first of its kind for a classical radio station in that it incorporates sound studios viewable to the public and a performance hall. Though initial plans were more modest and called for the nonprofit to take over an old warehouse, an anonymous gift of $3 million and the path of Austin’s other public media organizations inspired KMFA to adopt a much bigger vision.
Included in that vision is a 135-seat performance hall, the centerpiece of the building, to be named for the late Draylen Mason, the 17-year-old musician who was the victim of the 2018 package bombings in Austin. Mason was a talented bassist who performed with Austin Soundwaves, the Austin Youth Orchestra, and a number of other orchestras. He had been admitted to music schools at UT-Austin, the University of North Texas, and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and had ambitions for fame, according to his mother who spoke at the October 28 news conference.
“His story did not end the day he left this earth,” said Shamika Wilson of her son, Mason, at the news conference. After her son’s death, Wilson was befriended by local arts philanthropist and daughter of Whataburger founders, Lynne Dobson, who, along with her husband Greg Wooldridge, will fund the performance hall. “I didn’t know how to help,” said Dobson at the news conference, “and I just thought she could use the kindness of a stranger.” As the friendship developed, Dobson said, she was inspired to honor Mason by funding the performance hall in his name. “His musical ambition was his legacy and will live on forever,” said Dobson.
According to Ann Hume Wilson, KMFA president and general manager, the path toward the new facility began with the simple fact that KMFA had outgrown its current location on N. Lamar. “We’ve been a tenant here for 42 years, and it’s just not meeting the needs of a modern media and tech organization,” said Hume Wilson. But a surprising, anonymous bequest of $3 million from a long-time listener kickstarted a more ambitious campaign. “It was absolutely amazing to us,” said Hume Wilson. “It provided the seed money that completely changed the way we were thinking about the project.”
Hume Wilson says the planning team was inspired by the direction of other local public media organizations like KUT, which opened its new studios and public performance space in 2012, and KLRU, which will move its headquarters and studios to the expansion space at ACC Highland in 2020. Those facilities include broadcast and recording studios as well as performance spaces open to the public.
KMFA’s new headquarters will include the Draylen Mason Music Hall along with broadcasting studios, hands-on learning areas, and viewing areas where visitors can peruse the station’s classical music libraries, one of the largest in the state. KMFA is currently $7.3 million into its $13.5 million goal.