It’s a Wrap…for the Kauffman Center’s Inaugural Year

Julia Irene Kauffman and Jane Chu share the ambiance and success of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in the Muriel Kauffman Theatre. Photo by Brad Austin.

With 292 performances under its belt, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts has taken a few moments to reflect on its inaugural year. But only a few, as the 2012-13 season revved back up in early August when Starlight Theatre brought 12 performances of Aida to Muriel Kauffman Theatre.

WOW! That’s the one most often uttered by inaugural year patrons according to volunteers working in the Kauffman Center lobby. “Exceeds my expectations” comes in a close second.

Resident companies (the Kansas City Ballet, the Lyric Opera of Kansas City and the Kansas City Symphony) say that the Kauffman Center has “raised their game” and provided a rich setting for making great art. “We can do anything technically or artistically that the Metropolitan Opera in New York can do,” says Ward Holmquist, artistic director for the Lyric Opera of Kansas City. The Kansas City Ballet has been able to fulfill a longtime dream of performing two weekends of repertory shows, plus stage a world premiere of Tom Sawyer. Kansas City Symphony Music Director Michael Sterns adds, “In performance on the miraculous Helzberg Hall stage, music is revealed as never before.”

Others become animated when talking about success in achieving diversity. “Rounding out Kansas City’s already great range of artistic offerings was an important goal for us,” says Jane Chu, president and CEO of the Kauffman Center. “Our Kauffman Center Presents series was specifically designed to complement the programming offered by other arts organizations so that audiences, artistic options and even ticket prices were diverse. “Tomlin to Turandot. Philip Glass to Alvin Ailey. The Red Star Army Chorus to the Heartland Men’s Chorus. The delicate tones of the Kansas City Chorale to the African rhythms of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Kansas City audiences enjoyed a remarkable array of artistic choices.”

The Kauffman Center has also achieved Chairman Julia Irene Kauffman’s goal to offer broad access to the community. More than 29,000 students attended a performance this year, many from urban schools. Funds were also raised to underwrite tickets for disadvantaged individuals, distributed through local nonprofit organizations. The first season has seen a bat mitzvah, many wedding receptions, cocktail parties and a Major League Baseball event hosted by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

Even ticket prices have been diverse, with many free events and performances including open dress rehearsals, Kansas City Library programs and master classes. Quite a few tickets have been priced a in the $15 to $35 range (including the popular National Geographic series, part of Kauffman Center Presents). Another measure of success is the national attention that the Kauffman Center brought to Kansas City. In addition to strong local coverage, 100 national and international media stories appeared in New York and Los Angeles, China and Russia, Paris and Rome.

“The reviews were glowing and that is satisfying,” says Kauffman, “but what I liked best was how proud our community feels. People tell me they feel part of this place and they should. It is been a joint effort every step along the way.”

–Dalene Bradford


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