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Banking on KC – Paul Schofer

Banking on KC – Paul Schofer

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Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking On KC. I'm your host, Kelly Scanlon, thank you for joining us. With us on this episode is Paul Schofer, the president of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Welcome Paul.

Paul Schofer:

Kelly, it's great to be here. Thank you for having me on with you.

Kelly Scanlon:

One of the things that the Kauffman Center has been compared to is the Sydney Opera House. So tell us about the features that have earned that kind of a claim. I'm not sure that people who drive by that on the highway every day really understand what a jewel we have here.

Paul Schofer:

Well, you are right. A jewel is definitely an appropriate description of the Kauffman Center. And I've heard the comparisons to the Sydney Opera House before, and certainly they're different architects, and there are many similar architectural features. But really, I think the similarity is in their profound presence of each venue that it has within its respective community.

Paul Schofer:

In the Kauffman Center's situation, almost overnight the center's become an iconic Kansas City landmark. It's featured nightly on television in the background of every major local newscast. It's highlighted nationally and internationally in just about every major event coming to our city. When Monday night football is in Kansas City, the network calls us directly to get shots of the center lit up and Chief's red. In fact, the center's magnificence has truly been recognized around the world. It was in 2014 that it was named as one of only two American venues included in Forbes rankings of the world's 15 most beautiful concert halls. And the only other one in the United States was Disney Hall in Los Angeles.

Paul Schofer:

So really, quite honestly as you mentioned, no matter how you look at it, and oftentimes that is from your car on I-35 driving into downtown, or it could be sitting inside one of its two really breathtakingly beautiful performance venues, or simply anticipating the performance while waiting in Brandmeier Great Hall, which many people have referred to as effectively being transformative for them. It really is a sight to behold, and it's an iconic landmark in our skyline. Much like the Sydney Opera House is.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yes. And in addition to its beauty, the sound quality is so pristine. Talk to us about the way in which it's constructed so that we get that pureness of sound that creates such a wonderful experience for people who are in the audience.

Paul Schofer:

Our acoustician was a gentleman by the name of Yasu Toyota, and it was just a few years after we opened our doors, where I believe it was in the Wall Street Journal where Yasu Toyota was named as the go-to acoustician in the world for performing arts centers. Certainly, ours met the benchmark for one of the great venues in the world for the acoustics. And we hear that from virtually every artist that comes to the Kauffman Center. I'll never forget, I believe it was Kenny G who came out on stage. And after his first song he said, "I've been all over the world, and this may be one of the top 10 venues I've ever performed in for the acoustics."

Paul Schofer:

And about halfway through, he said, "This is definitely in the top five." And at the end he said, "You know what? This may be the best acoustics of anywhere I've ever performed in the world."

Kelly Scanlon:

Just got better and better for him, huh?

Paul Schofer:

It did, it did. And I've had artists go in for their sound checks, and usually that's about a five minute process. And there was one gentleman who was out there and he continued. And it was about 30 or 40 minutes and finally we went and said, "I'm afraid we have to open the doors to let the audiences in."

Paul Schofer:

And he responded. He said, "Oh, I was fine after two minutes. I've just never played anywhere that's quite as remarkable as the acoustics are here." And he just couldn't wait to get back out on stage and perform for the audience in that case.

Paul Schofer:

But no, as far as the construction or that goes, nothing was held back in ensuring that the acoustics in the center, in both venues, were perfect for the artists that were performing there. In the case of Helzberg Hall, it's the venue where the Kansas City Symphony performs, and it's very much geared towards unamplified sound. And conversely, Muriel Kauffman's Theater is the performance home for the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, and the Kansas City Ballet. And it allows for amplified sound and they're both perfect for the artistic work that it performs in each respective hall.

Kelly Scanlon:

What was the impetus in the first place for building a venue like the Kauffman Center? Something so state-of-the-art.

Paul Schofer:

Muriel met Brian Kauffman, who was Mr. K's wife, and Julie Irene's mother. She passed away in 1995, but it was shortly before she passed away that she shared with her daughter, Julie Irene, who is our current chairman of our board, that she had a dream that Kansas City should have a world-class performing arts center. And she believed it would be a place that would elevate the arts in our community, and be a place to feature the many wonderful performing arts organizations in our community, including our three resident organizations, the Kansas City Symphony, the Kansas City Ballet, and the lyric opera.

Paul Schofer:

It was then, after Mrs. K passed away and a few years past, that Julie Irene, who with her leadership, and really the incredible support of literally thousands of people in our community, that that vision and dream of Mrs. K became a reality. And as you noted, it was a process that spanned more than a decade, with construction taking around five years prior to the center's grand opening in 2011.

Kelly Scanlon:

One of the things that really always impressed me was that it was always envisioned to belong to the people of Kansas City. And has always strived to be open, engaging, welcoming to all. I remember when it first opened, the lines that snaked around the downtown streets, people waiting to get in to see this new marvel. Tell us about those efforts to make it a center, a venue, a facility that everyone in Kansas City, the surrounding region, can enjoy.

Paul Schofer:

Well that's a great question. Because that's what guides us in about every action we take. Our vision at the center is to provide diverse and extraordinary performing arts experiences that enrich the lives of everyone in our community. And we take this vision seriously, with really a constant focus on the word everyone. We want to make sure that our lineup of performances not only has great diversity ethnically, but also age diversity. A range of lesser known artists combined with legends.

Paul Schofer:

And as important, diversity of artistic genre. In which we have a mixture of classical, country, soul, jazz, folk, old rock, even a few speakers thrown in here and there. In total, we have more than 300 on-stage performances annually at the Kauffman Center that we believe provide something for just about everyone. And in doing this, we try to do everything possible to break down barriers to access to the Kauffman Center and world-class performing arts.

Paul Schofer:

This includes providing a variety of programs at low or no cost. And it also includes making the center more accessible to individuals through an array of inclusive amenities. And that's been a focus of our partnership with Variety KC. Now in addition to that, the Kauffman Center's open doors program provides a variety of avenues for youth and families in our community to experience performing arts, often for the very first time at a world-class level.

Paul Schofer:

We have a transportation fund that subsidizes the cost of bringing as many as 50,000 school children annually to the Kauffman Center for matinee performances by the Symphony Opera Ballet and several other arts organizations. And I will tell you, there is nothing quite like seeing these students' faces as they're taking in a world-class performing arts experience for the first time.

Paul Schofer:

We also have a community tickets fund that provides free or low-cost tickets to nonprofit organizations in our community for use by their clients. And something that's really fun is our annual Future Stages Festival. This is held in June each year, puts more than 700 talented young artists from our community on stage at the Kauffman Center. And that's a free, community-wide event that has historically had nearly 5,000 friends, family members and supporters in attendance.

Paul Schofer:

Even during this last year, during this pandemic, the festival connected hundreds of performers, partners, and families through virtual programs, videos, and interactive arts activities. All in our effort to reach the greater Kansas City community and connect with everyone. As you said, it is our community's home for performing arts.

Kelly Scanlon:

What are some of the other uses of the facility? And some of the programs that go on that perhaps don't involve live performances?

Paul Schofer:

Yeah, well certainly a significant number of our programs are by our three resident art organizations. But we have an abundance of programming from other terrific community partners. Herrmann Jewel series brings some of the world's greatest performing artists to our stages, including Yo-Yo Ma and the Moscow Ballets. The American Theater Guild brings us a spectacular Broadway lineup every year. There's always the wonderful Kansas City Jazz Orchestra.

Paul Schofer:

We also have our own Kauffman Center Presents productions. These are intended to compliment the programming that's not met through the performance of our residents or community arts organizations. Now the range of this program is quite wide, as it goes from Patty LaBelle and the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, we've had John Legend. To Willie Nelson, or Boyz || Men. We even have an upcoming performance by Martina McBride.

Paul Schofer:

But beyond the typical and traditional performance, there's many other events and programs at the center. One of our most popular programs is our wildly successful National Geographic Live series.

Paul Schofer:

This brings adventuring photo-journalists, filmmakers, and explorers to the center, and they share their images along with the stories behind them. And interestingly, our community has embraced these presentations to the point where they are all at, or near sell-out capacity for all five events that are offered in the season.

Paul Schofer:

In addition to what goes on-stage, the popularity of the Kauffman Center as a place for celebrations, receptions, galas, and corporate events seems to grow every year. That is certainly based in part on our reputation for providing truly memorable experiences. Now, this can range from galas and fundraising events for more than a thousand guests to weddings and wedding receptions. And those take place on what turns out to be just the few weekend dates we have available every year.

Paul Schofer:

We have corporate events, in which annual meetings and celebrations really tap into the wide range of unique uses of the building that ended up creating an environment that could never be replicated anywhere in the region. And they unarguably leave a lasting impression on all of those in attendance. So as you mentioned, it goes well beyond just musical performances on stage. Something for everyone in our community.

Kelly Scanlon:

You talked with us about some of the virtual programming that you did during the pandemic. And obviously for a venue that showcases live performances, you had to do something in order to continue to bring those. What are your plans for the future with virtual? Is it something that you think you'll continue?

Paul Schofer:

Well, from the start we looked for interesting and creative ways to connect with our community and our patrons during the shutdown. And like everyone else in, certainly in the performing arts industry, everything on our stage came to a screeching halt in March of 2020. We took this as an opportunity to connect with our patrons and partners in new and different ways. And I think what we're taking away from that going forward are that there are unique, and really just fun ways to stay connected with our patrons and with our community. And I think we'll see versions of what we've done in the past 18 months carry forward.

Paul Schofer:

I mentioned our Future Stages Festival. That is something where, historically, our first six years of having that festival, it was an onsite program. But we realized through the virtual experiences that people were participating that were certainly well beyond the metro area, across the country, that would be online and participating with us.

Paul Schofer:

In fact, we saw that with our poetry competition as well. So I think that we're going to see more of that going forward, where we have an outreach that connects well beyond the metro area.

Paul Schofer:

But I will share with you at the end of the day, there is nothing quite like a live performing arts experience. With the beautiful venue that we have, that makes it even more special. So at this point, I think we see a return to live performing arts experiences in the not too distant futures. And we believe our stages are going to be very active not too long from now. And I certainly know that both artists and audiences are ready to return to the center.

Kelly Scanlon:

Let's talk a little bit about you, Paul. You come to the Kauffman Center having actually worked for Mr. Kauffman himself back when you were with Marian Laboratory. So talk with us about your experience working with him. And then I believe you did a stint too at the Kauffman Foundation, before and now coming to your third situation where you're working within a Kauffman venue, a Kauffman organization. Tell us about how you got involved with that.

Paul Schofer:

As you mentioned, I've worked with three Kauffman entities. Early in my career, I worked at Marion Laboratories, when Mr. K was leading that effort. And I was with the company when it finally sold. And out of that, he took a significant portion of his wealth and started up, or endowed, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. So after I left Marion Laboratories for a couple of years, I really, really was interested in getting into the nonprofit sector. And certainly was interested in the idea of working for Mr. Kauffman again.

Paul Schofer:

So I took on a role, a financial role, which is my background at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. And spent 15 years there. And Mr. K's philosophy was always at Marion Laboratories, and certainly at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, based on the golden rule; treat others as you would want to be treated with respect and dignity.

Paul Schofer:

And that carried through, and it was not just words. It was actions and everything that was done at Marion and at Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. After 15 years there I always had just an itch to do something a little different. So I did take a few years off, and worked for a sports multimedia company. Spent about five years doing that, but really had an interest in returning to the nonprofit sector, and just timing was right.

Paul Schofer:

And I came back to Kansas City in 2012, about six months after the Kauffman Center opened its doors, as CFO working with Jane Chu, our first CEO. I was working on the financial and operational aspects of this new entity. And a couple of years later, Jane Chu went on to be designated by president Obama as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. And I moved from a role of financial, that had been the basis of my career, into the president and CEO role at the Kauffman Center.

Paul Schofer:

And it's been the perfect job for me. And I've never been happier in my life. It's a wonderful venue. Even though my background has been financial, my real passion has always been community development. And I can't imagine a better venue and organization to be associated with to support community development than the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

Kelly Scanlon:

Well, and your enthusiasm certainly comes through. No question about that. You mentioned Mr. Kauffman's golden rule. And so many of his business philosophies, his influence, continues. I mean, I've worked in the entrepreneurial community here in Kansas City for more than 30 years now. And you talk to entrepreneurs, you talk to different people, and you hear them spouting. It's almost part of the DNA of Kansas City anymore.

Kelly Scanlon:

So talk to us about that influence, and why you think that it has been so lasting.

Paul Schofer:

I had the opportunity to meet with him a couple times when I was at Marion Laboratories, and a little more so when I worked with Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. He passed away in 1993, but I had the privilege of being there a couple years before he passed away. And I think, as much as anything, Mr. K was just genuine, he was humble. In every interaction there was a lesson learned. In fact, I shared that with Julie Irene once. That I said, "Every time I met with Mr. K, I walked away feeling like I'd learned something that was significant in my life."

Paul Schofer:

And she laughed and she said, "I grew up with that, and that was exactly how it was growing up with him." He was just an amazing individual. And consistent. There was never a time where he wavered from that approach of treating people with respect and dignity.

Paul Schofer:

And that consistency is, I think, what has carried through and had tentacles throughout our community in so many areas where people understand how that consistency is really the right way to approach all interactions with people, and certainly in running a business. If people know that you will always be treated respectfully, and the right thing will take place regardless of the bottom line, they want to do business with you. And Mr. K learned that that was very profitable, treating people with respect. Because they wanted to do repeat business with him, and partner with him.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yes.

Paul Schofer:

I think that lesson was learned by many people, and it's had a significant, to say the least, impact on our overall community.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yes, definitely. Just that appeal to basic human goodness and kindness. I mean, it goes a long, long way.

Kelly Scanlon:

What has the opening of the Kauffman Center done for Kansas City? In terms of raising the city's profile, the quality of life, economic impact, revitalizing the downtown area. I mean, you can just tick them off. So kind of sum that up for us.

Paul Schofer:

I think from an economic perspective, I think one only has to look at the crossroads arts district to understand the remarkable impact the center has had on our communities. Prior to the Kauffman Center's opening in 2011, the arts district was certainly an area that had little, very low commercial business activity, and was certainly not a place where people would go for dining, entertainment, and shopping.

Paul Schofer:

Well now it is a thriving neighborhood that attracts thousands of visitors on a regular basis. It's certainly a desirable place to live and work, as anyone that is down there will tell you, as the rents keep rising and there's a strong interest in being located in that area. And I think what has happened is, it's just really nicely complemented the overall revitalization of the downtown community in the last decade.

Paul Schofer:

And so doing, in that same spirit essentially, it's raised the bar on the quality of performing arts in our entire community. And that has helped to establish Kansas City's reputation nationally.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yes.

Paul Schofer:

As a city that is passionate about and appreciates the arts, and is a place where people want to come visit and live.

Kelly Scanlon:

You've had such success with the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. What does the future hold? What do you see on the horizon?

Paul Schofer:

Well, we've learned so much in the last 18 months. Certainly about the performing arts, but maybe more significantly about our community's passion and support for the performing arts. And the unwavering support. Even during a time where our stages were quiet, we continued to thrive in the support from our community. Financially and kind of spiritual support through what's been a tough period of time.

Paul Schofer:

What I really think is going to happen in the next few years is that that passion and interest in the performing arts is going to become something that takes us beyond where we were when this pandemic started. That people have really come to realize and appreciate how much they enjoy the live performing arts experiences. And particularly in Kansas City, how much there is, the breadth of opportunities. Not just at the Kauffman Center but beyond.

Paul Schofer:

And how much we should really, really feel special in Kansas City, to have this type of environment. And to have a venue like the Kauffman Center that communities around the world are envious of. And artists that have come here have asked, how is it that this community is so passionate about the arts, and selling out so many performances that, as artists who are across the country, they may be struggling in other communities, but they come here and it's a packed house.

Paul Schofer:

Our staff, our patrons, our artists certainly are all very, very excited about getting back to the Kauffman Center. It's certainly in their DNA and they can't help themselves. So they're ready to provide live performing arts experiences once again. And I think our community has a lot to look forward to in the next several years.

Kelly Scanlon:

Paul, thank you so much for joining us today to talk about the history of the center, some of the new programs that you have, some of the traditional programs that you have, and just what it means to our community to have such a wonderful venue within our reach here. And you can go out to kauffmancenter.org, see a full lineup of the programming that you have coming up. Right?

Paul Schofer:

That's exactly right.

Kelly Scanlon:

Thank you so much. We really appreciate your time today.

Paul Schofer:

Kelly, thank you so much. It's been great being with you.

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, president of Country Club Bank. Thank you to Paul Schofer for being our guest on this episode of Banking On KC. When we think about the world's greatest cities, their distinctive architecture and landmarks often come to mind. Certainly, the architectural masterpiece that is the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts is a defining element of Kansas City's skyline, but it is much more than an aesthetic Marvel.

Joe Close:

The center's presence has helped foster investment and economic development downtown, near the crossroads arts district. And it has raised Kansas City's profile nationally and globally. And from its initial planning stages, the Kauffman Center was imagined as a place that belongs to the people of Kansas City. It has strived to be open, engaging, and welcoming to all, with the goal of enriching the lives of everyone in our community through extraordinary and diverse performing arts experiences.

Joe Close:

As such, the center stands as a benchmark for values that, like the artistic performances themselves, enrich us as a community. Thanks for tuning in this week. We're banking on you, Kansas City. Country Club Bank, member FDIC.