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Ryan Center for the Musical Arts dedicated

New signature building for Evanston campus

  • Pick-Staiger Concert Hall nearly filled to celebrate stunning new music building
  • Generosity of Pat and Shirley Ryan is transformative, building named for them
  • Majesty of lakefront building symbolizes Northwestern’s storied reputation in the arts
  • Building is a crown jewel of Northwestern Arts Circle, gateway to stars in the arts

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Heralded by trumpets and featuring a performance by music students, Northwestern University dedicated the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts yesterday (Sept. 24).

The architecturally striking building, located on the shore of Lake Michigan on Northwestern’s Evanston campus, is the home of the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music and the theatre and performance studies departments and administrative offices of the School of Communication.

“The philanthropy and service that Pat and Shirley have given to Northwestern have touched nearly every aspect of the University,” said President Morton Schapiro. “From scholarships for undergraduates to graduate fellowships, to the highest level of support for our music, science, engineering, medicine and athletic programs, their generosity has transformed Northwestern. This recognition is especially appropriate because of the Ryans’ close friendship with President Emeritus Henry Bienen and his wife, Leigh.”

Designed by Chicago-based Goettsch Partners, the Ryan Center for the Musical Arts includes performance and rehearsal spaces, teaching studios, classrooms, practice rooms and faculty and administrative offices.

“As undergraduates, and as proud alums, Shirley and I have appreciated greatly the tremendous impact that the School of Music has had on the interdisciplinary education offered by our beloved University,” said Pat Ryan. “We are honored by this recognition.”

Approximately 800 people from the Northwestern community filled Pick-Staiger Concert Hall for the dedication ceremony, celebrating the latest addition to Northwestern’s Arts Circle.

Reflecting the virtuosity the Bienen School represents, the ceremony included an outstanding performance of “Crudel! perche finora” from Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” by Bienen students Madison Leonard (soprano) and Alexander York (baritone). They were accompanied by faculty member Alan Darling on piano. 

The ceremony also included tours of the new building, which now provides a visual anchor on the south end of Northwestern’s lakefront campus, with stunning views of Chicago’s skyline.

“The new building is beautiful, both inside and outside,” said Shirley Ryan. “We look forward to enjoying the outstanding music that will soon fill this wonderful new space.”

With the location adjoining Regenstein Hall, which houses music practice facilities, and Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, the move to the new building concentrates all of the Bienen School of Music activities in one area.

“The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts is an incomparable facility -- the very finest academic center for music training in the nation,” said Toni-Marie Montgomery, dean of the Bienen School of Music. “It is appropriate that institutions like ours support the study and making of music. In celebrating the new building, we are also celebrating the important role of music in society, in our lives and in the work of a research university like Northwestern.”

President Emeritus Henry Bienen said, “Leigh and I are so grateful for Shirley and Pat’s support and friendship over many years. We are thrilled that the Ryan and Bienen names will be linked through the music school at Northwestern.”

The new building’s top floor provides space for the theatre and performance studies departments and administrative offices of the School of Communication.

Barbara O’Keefe, dean of the School of Communication, said the Ryan Center has opened up space in other buildings. Renovations to the Wirtz Center, including rebuilding the Josephine Louis Theater, have helped transform it into a true performing arts center, she said. The new building reunites performance studies faculty with theater faculty, which will spark more collaboration across the two departments. It also will help expand the popular writing and sound programs, which build strong connections across the entire School of Communication and with other Northwestern schools.

“To say this is transformative is too much of an understatement,” O’Keefe said. “It is rocketing us forward, and we can’t wait to see where it will take us.”

Patrick G. Ryan is a 1959 Northwestern graduate. He received his undergraduate degree from what was then called the School of Business and now is named the Kellogg School of Management. Shirley Welsh Ryan is a 1961 Northwestern graduate. She received her undergraduate degree from what was then called the College of Arts and Sciences and is now named the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

Over the course of their long association with Northwestern, the Ryans have become the University’s most generous benefactors, having provided leadership and support for academic programs, scholarships, the construction of Northwestern’s nanotechnology center, support for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and renovation of Northwestern’s football and basketball stadiums. They also made the lead gift for Ryan Fieldhouse, a new multi-use athletics and recreational facility that will be located next to the shore of Lake Michigan at the north end of Northwestern’s Evanston campus.

An earlier leadership gift from the Ryans created scholarships for low-income students to attend Northwestern without taking out any student loans, which has enabled Northwestern to attract high-achieving low-income students with exceptional leadership potential. That gift also supported graduate fellowships and facilities on both the Evanston and Chicago campuses, as well as provided athletic scholarships for undergraduate students.

The Ryans are co-chairs for We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern, a $3.75 billion University-wide fundraising initiative designed to support Northwestern’s strategic ambitions.

Pat Ryan is distinguished as one of Chicago’s most successful entrepreneurs and prominent civic leaders. He founded and served for 41 years as CEO of Aon Corporation, the leading global provider of risk management, insurance and reinsurance brokerage. At the time of his retirement, Aon had $8 billion in annual revenue with more than 500 offices in 120 countries. He also founded Ryan Specialty Group where he currently serves as CEO. He is a member of the International Insurance Hall of Fame.

A member and immediate past chairman of Northwestern University’s Board of Trustees, Pat Ryan received the Northwestern Alumni Association Medal of Honor in 2013. The award is the highest award granted by the Northwestern Alumni Association to an alumnus/a who combines superior professional distinction and/or exemplary volunteer service to society, with an outstanding record of service to Northwestern. He also was elected that year to the Northwestern Athletic Hall of Fame. In 2008, Mr. Ryan was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious honor society, reflecting his many contributions to higher education.

Shirley Welsh Ryan also received the Northwestern Alumni Association Medal of Honor in 2013. She is Chair of, has been appointed by two presidents to the National Council on Disability, and serves on the Executive Committee or on the Board of Directors of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the University of Notre Dame, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. She founded and directs Northwestern University’s graduate-level Learning for Life series and has been a charter member of Northwestern’s Women's Board since 1978.

- Performance spaces in the Ryan Center for the Musical Arts include:

Mary B. Galvin Recital Hall

The 400-seat hall, with main floor and balcony seating, features a 50-foot glass wall offering views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline. Undulating walls of Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood, covered with a thin layer of African moabi wood, provide optimal acoustics, and the hall is equipped with state-of-the-art sound and video equipment for recording.

David and Carol McClintock Choral and Recital Room

A flexible space for choral rehearsals, small ensemble performances and student recitals, the room seats 120. The walls are paneled in the same moabi wood as Mary B. Galvin Recital Hall.

Shirley Welsh Ryan Opera Theater

Seating 150, the theater is a versatile space for intimate opera performances and recitals, with double-height ceilings and expansive windows showcasing views of Lake Michigan. Steel beams, catwalks and stairs are from Waukegan Steel. The retractable seating was designed and constructed in the United Kingdom.

The building’s primarily glass exterior takes maximum advantage of the lakefront location, yielding stunning views from the moment guests enter the Carol F. Rice Lobby.

Adjacent to the Galvin Recital Hall and Ryan Opera Theater is the Jean Gimbel Lane Reception Room.

A public concert celebrating the opening of the Ryan Center for the Musical Arts will be held Sept. 25 and 26 at 5 p.m. on the lawn just south of the new building. “Sila: The Breath of the World” by John Luther Adams will be performed by members of the Bienen Contemporary/Early Vocal Ensemble, Contemporary Music Ensemble and the Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra. The concerts will be the first in a year of musical events celebrating the new building.

The funds raised through the We Will Campaign will help realize the transformational vision set forth in Northwestern's strategic plan and solidify the University's position among the world's leading research universities. Learn more about We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern.