While opening night of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts may have been a night for Kansas City’s well to do, donors, out-of-town dignitaries and others with connections, on Sunday the Center belonged to the people of Kansas City.
During the public open house of the $414 million facility, more than 60 local acts performed, but perhaps the show that upstaged all others was the show of Kansas City pride. Officials had expected a crowd of 20,000 on Sunday. Late that night, the center’s Facebook page boasted 50,000. Later reports noted that as many as 55,000 people from around the region, undeterred by intermittent rain, formed lines that snaked for blocks through downtown to get a glimpse of the center’s two halls. Some waited in line for up to two hours.
If the visionaries behind the Kauffman Performing Arts Center have it their way, it will remain the “people’s palace.” When I served on the small business seat naming committee for the center last year, the message we heard over and over was it would be a world-class facility for the people of Kansas City, designed to enrich the lives of everyone in the community through extraordinary and diverse performing arts experiences. The arts would belong to the average citizen, not just the affluent. Organizers envisioned school field trips, for example, that would both educate and allow children to experience the performing arts firsthand.
The facility is a gem that has been given to the city by Julia Irene Kauffman and other donors. And where the Kauffman Center sits atop the hill at 16th and Broadway is the precise junction where the arts and the community intersect. Opening day and its crowds are history. Let’s make sure we continue to bring the community to the center. I would love to see an annual open house and other public activities that use the center’s gorgeous grounds as well as its exquisite interior.