Kauffman leader takes nothing for granted at successful performing arts center

06/28/2014 7:01 PM

06/28/2014 7:31 PM

At a time when arts organizations around the country are facing financial challenges, the Kauffman Center’s board of directors has turned to a person with a solid business background to be its new president.

Paul J. Schofer will succeed Jane Chu, who recently was appointed chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Schofer was formerly the Kauffman Center’s vice president of operations and chief financial officer.

“It’s a dream come true,” Schofer said. “I’m very excited about it.”

Schofer is becoming president of an unqualified success story. The Kauffman Center is financially sound and enjoys tremendous community support.

But Kansas City should take nothing for granted. A cursory glance at other cities can give one pause.

The Minnesota Orchestra, a well-established orchestra with an illustrious history, recently went through a traumatic upheaval that threatened its existence. The teetering San Diego Opera also just dodged a bullet.

The New York City Opera was not so lucky. Founded in 1943, the venerable company went bankrupt in October and was forced to shut down.

“As we’ve seen in Minnesota and other areas, things can quickly head south,” Schofer said, “but we’re looking at everything we do as creating viability for generations to come, not just for the next five years. Frank Byrne (executive director of the Kansas City Symphony) and I have coffee regularly to discuss how we can ensure that the Symphony and the center can both be successful going forward.

“The financial sustainability of these organizations is critical. We have such a supportive arts community in Kansas City and you add to that this beautiful building that I have the privilege to be affiliated with, and it all works together. We’re on the right path to long-term financial sustainability.”

With a master’s degree in business administration and experience as chief financial officer of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation from 2004 to 2007, Schofer has the skills to guide the Kauffman Center through treacherous financial waters. But he is no mere bean counter.

Schofer is passionate about the arts and speaks with enthusiasm about the Kauffman Center Presents series, which he sees as filling in the gaps of the other art series in town with programs such as organ recitals and presentations by National Geographic photographers.

“We’ve had four of those National Geographic programs in each of the past few years, and we’re going to have five next year,” he said. “It’s a different type of presentation in which you have speakers and photographers and journalists that are telling first-hand stories in a visual and engaging manner. I saw one recently about a guy that was scuba diving with polar bears in the water. Now that’s not something you normally hear about or see.”

Schofer said one of the perks of his job is his ability to take his two young children to performances at the Kauffman Center. They especially enjoyed a concert by ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro last November.

Schofer knows that the future of the arts depends on today’s younger generation, and he wants to introduce more and more young people to music and dance and increase community involvement in the Kauffman Center’s programs.

“I definitely want to support our deepening community engagement through things like our transportation fund,” he said. “In the first three years we’ve brought something like 60,000 kids to see matinee performances at the center. Those types of connections and experiences with the community are what we plan to do on a deeper level.”

Shofer’s “dream come true” has its challenges, but he has an honest optimism about the Kauffman Center’s future.

“Between what Jane and the board and Julia Irene Kauffman have established and the spectacular job they’ve done in building and launching the center, they’ve kind of set the stage for our next steps,” he said.

“We have a spectacular leadership team in place. We are at a juncture right now where we’ve got a lot to do, but we have a lot of opportunities and we’re very excited about building on the successes we’ve had in these first three years.”

Patrick Neas is program director for RadioBach.com and a freelance writer. You can reach him at pneas@jccc.edu.

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