Five Years On, What Does The Kauffman Center Mean To Kansas City?

Sep 2, 2016

More than 20 years ago, in 1994, philanthropist Muriel McBrien Kauffman started talking about a vision for a performing arts center in Kansas City. After years of planning, selecting architect Moshe Safdie, fundraising, and finally building —the $326 million Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts opened to the public in September 2011. 

Described by The New York Times as a "concrete-and-glass clamshell overlooking downtown," the Kauffman Center hosted blockbuster performances on opening weekend with classical stars, such as Placido Domingo and violinist Itzhak Perlman, as well as Broadway legends, like Patty Lupone and Tommy Tune. 

Also in the spotlight: the three resident companies, Kansas City Ballet, Kansas City Symphony, and Lyric Opera of Kansas City, in the building's two performance halls. 

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

The Kauffman Center has been open now for five years. When we asked: "What does the Kauffman Center mean to you?" about two dozen metro area listeners told us their stories. 

Rachelle Gardner-Roe, of Kansas City, Missouri, shared a memorable experience when she and her mother attended Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater — and sat in front row seats. 

"During a vigorous and demanding performance of 'The Hunt,' you could literally see the sweat fling off of the dancers bodies," Gardner-Roe wrote us via an online survey through our Tell KCUR source network. After the performance ended, she said, "I jumped out of my seat to give the performers a standing ovation and clap wildly." 

John Spell of Overland Park, Kansas, told us the Kansas City Symphony is the draw for his family. "We started taking our kid to the symphony when she turned 3," Spell said. "It's one of our favorite things to do as a family ... We look forward to it for months in advance."

"I would have to say that the performance that most astounded me was the Lyric Opera's production of Turandot," wrote Randy Heitmeier, who was one of three people who told us they'd visited more than 50 times. "When the curtain went up, it took my breath away and the whole production was sublime."

The Kauffman Center has put a spotlight on the arts, and raised the bar for other arts organizations, according to most of our respondents. And, for some area residents, the appeal is both inside and out.

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

The venue is "easy to find, easy to park, just easy all around," according to Rebecca Welch, of Kansas City, Kansas. She added: "Additionally, it's glamorous and imposing without being intimidating. It's just a place you want to go." Mark McDowell, of Kansas City, Missouri, wrote: "It's a great place to hang out, have a drink and watch the passing crowd or the sunset, before a performance."

Bess Hayles of Lee's Summit, Missouri, simply told us, "The architecture is amazingly gorgeous." 

The venue has also helped boost civic pride, said Steve Kidwell, of Kansas City, Missouri. It makes "KC feel like a major U.S. city," he wrote.

Michele Foster, of Kansas City, Missouri, told us she's "seen too many memorable performances to single out one." And that, she says, is what makes an upcoming move to another city most difficult: "One of the main things I will miss about Kansas City is the Kauffman Center."

Tell KCUR is part of an initiative to engage the community and shine a light on your experiences and opinions. Become a part of our Tell KCUR source network and help inform our reporting. 

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter, @lauraspencer.