KANSAS CITY, Mo. - No detail gets past Julia Irene Kauffman.
As she walks through the lobby of the performing arts center that bears her family's name, she points out details like how the blue carpet on a walkway reflects on the white walls and ceiling above it, or text on a sign that she thinks is just a little bit too small.
That passion for getting things right drove her to lead the development of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. The center houses two separate performance spaces: the 1,600 seat Helzberg Hall, which houses symphony and organ concerts, and the 1,800-seat Muriel Kauffman Theatre, for opera, ballet and other stage performances.
Kauffman has had some time to bask in the glow of what was by most measures a very successful year. For one, the Kauffman Center's first year tallied nearly half a million people attending more than 300 performances.
"It's overwhelming, and sometimes I really can't believe I did it," Kauffman said. "But I must say at this point I didn't do it. There were so many others that helped and we wouldn't be here without their help."
Those others include the donors who gave more than $300 million, the board who made it happen, and the legions of volunteers who work with staff to make sure things run smoothly.
It was during last year's gala opening night and public open house that Kauffman said the impact of what they had done together first hit her.
"It was the people lining up in the rain coming through that thanked me, and so many mentioned my parents. That was my big wow," she said.
There are still some challenges, but most of the big things have worked well, and some kinks have been fixed. One, for example, was a change to signs to clarify directing ticket holders to the right entrance to the right hall. The fundraising also continues, since the center is still only mostly paid for.
Kauffman said one triumph is that operations are in the black. She's also proud that patrons can take in all kinds of music here.
The center has had symphonies, operas and ballets, and stars like Willie Nelson and Aretha Franklin. They have also hosted meetings, lectures, presentations, dinners and other kinds of gatherings.
While several world-famous musicians, including cellist Yo-Yo Ma and tenor Placido Domingo, have performed at the center, Kauffman noted it's not all about the stars.
"We've also been thrilled that the public seems to welcome us," Kauffman said "At every turn I hear how much people love the place."
She said the most special visitors are students. Her father took her to the opera when she was a girl in Canada, and now Kansas City students can do that in the theater that bears her mother's name.
"He took me to see 'Madame Butterfly,' and now to be hearing 'Madame Butterfly' in my mother's theater really takes you full-circle in life," Kauffman said. "I feel so thrilled. And it's really emotional and touching and thrilling."
After a great first year, she's looking forward to more success.
Find out more about the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, including hall availability and event schedules, at www.kauffmancenter.org .
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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