Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts leader soars high - KCTV5

Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts leader soars high

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Jane Chu is now President Barack Obama's latest nominee to head up the National Endowment for the Arts.


What started as a sketch drawn on a napkin eventually changed the skyline in downtown Kansas City.

Julia Irene Kauffman had a vision and Jane Chu was in charge of executing the creation of that vision. The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts opened in 2011 but it was almost 20 years in the making.

Chu was hired in 2006 to serve as president and chief executive officer for the center, which opened in 2011.

"My journey has involved weaving together a lot of different aspects, from the arts and the creative element, as well as business and philanthropy," Chu said.

The nearly 285,000-square-foot facility houses two main performance halls and a rare frameless wall of glass held in place by tension cables outside and inside the building. Many visitors are left in awe the first time they enter the building.

"And we love that because we want people to feel engaged at any moment, at any time, even down the road," she said.

Chu brings to the Kauffman Center a wealth of knowledge about the arts and the business it takes to run it.

"Many artists will perform anywhere, but to be able to be in a building with sophisticated technology that was really hand crafted, so much that when you walk into either of the performance halls, it's like walking into an instrument," she said.

Chu is an only child whose mother survived a terrifying train ride as a teen, escaping Communist China for a better life in Hong Kong.

Telling no one, Chu's grandparents put their daughter on the train with no travel papers, hoping officials would not check for them. If they did, she would have been imprisoned and her family would have possibly been hurt.

"And so she got on the train, as a teenager, left her parents and siblings, not knowing if she would ever see them again, and she never did," she said.

It's that same strength of character that drives Chu. One of her main priorities is finding great artists and performances for the center.

"There isn't any one single program that's liked by everyone, I can't just find one program and everybody will come to it. So that's a great opportunity to be able to find something for everyone," she said.

It's her goal. Finding excellence for everyone - a motto she works toward and lives by.

"My job is to make the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts successful, and my job is to get things done," Chu said.

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