Steppenwolf Theatre Announces the Liz and Eric Lefkofsky Arts and Education Center

Oct 22, 2021
Liz and Eric Lefkofsky Arts and Education Center

Steppenwolf Theatre announced today the name of its trailblazing new 50,000 square foot theater building and education center: the Liz and Eric Lefkofsky Arts and Education Center. Designed by world-renowned architect Gordon Gill FAIA of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, with theater design and acoustics by Charcoalblue and construction by Norcon, the expanded Steppenwolf campus is a cultural nexus for Chicago-offering bold and ambitious opportunities for creative expression, social exchange, unparalleled accessibility, and arts-driven learning for Chicago youth in The Loft, Steppenwolf's first-ever dedicated education space.

Opening to the public next month, the Liz and Eric Lefkofsky Arts and Education Center is the largest new permanent cultural asset to open in the City of Chicago in 2021. The $54 million new building is part of Steppenwolf's multi-phase $73 million Building on Excellence expansion campaign, which has raised $56.1 million to date, thanks to robust civic support from individual donors, foundations, corporations and government funding.

As Steppenwolf prepares to invite audiences, artists and students to experience the next chapter of its extraordinary history, it celebrates the community of donors whose generosity has made this expansion possible, led by a $10 million gift pledged by Steppenwolf's Board Chairman Eric Lefkofsky and Liz Lefkofsky to establish the Liz and Eric Lefkofsky Arts and Education Center. Additionally, in honor of her lifetime of extraordinary partnership and support of Steppenwolf and its artists, and in recognition of a major gift from the Zell Family Foundation, the new theater in-the-round is named the Ensemble Theater in Honor of Helen Zell.

As we prepare to open our expanded home, Steppenwolf is thrilled to acknowledge two seminal partnerships that have made our historic capital project possible. The ensemble, board and leadership are truly humbled by Liz and Eric Lefkofsky's remarkable generosity and are honored to name our new building the Liz and Eric Lefkofsky Arts and Education Center in honor of their visionary leadership. Through word and deed, Liz and Eric embody the entrepreneurial spirit of this company and are true champions of programs that support and empower Chicago youth. As such, we can't imagine our building bearing any other name," says Executive Director E. Brooke Flanagan.

Flanagan continues, "Naming our new theater in-the-round the Ensemble Theater in Honor of Helen Zell appropriately recognizes the long-time partnership Helen has provided to the artists of Steppenwolf. Leading with an authentic generosity of self and spirit over the years, Helen has supported artistic risks that allowed the ensemble to break the mold on theatrical expression and launch an extraordinary collection of new American plays. Having the named support of these trailblazing Chicagoans at the heart of our company sets the stage for the next chapter in our history-and the promise of a continued legacy of bold productions and transformational programs for teens."

Steppenwolf's Building on Excellence campaign has received 15 gifts of more than $1 million to date, including major gifts from the Lefkofskys and Zell Family Foundation. Additional seven-figure gifts have been pledged by: Douglas R. Brown and Rachel E. Kraft, the Bluhm Family Foundation, the Crown Family, the Harris Family Foundation, the State of Illinois, the Pritzker Foundation, the Pritzker Traubert Foundation, the Rowe Family Foundation, Cari and Michael J. Sacks, Bruce Sagan and Bette Cerf Hill, Robert and Louise Sanborn, Matthew Shapiro, and an anonymous donation in memory of Steppenwolf's late Artistic Director Martha Lavey.

At the heart of Steppenwolf's new Liz and Eric Lefkofsky Arts and Education Center is an intimate and state-of-the-art 400-seat theater in the round, one of its kind in Chicago, with theater design and acoustics by Charcoalblue. Named the Ensemble Theater in Honor of Helen Zell, this new performance venue will open to audiences with the Steppenwolf for Young Adults world premiere adaptation of Eve L. Ewing's 1919 in February 2022, followed by a grand public opening of the theater with ensemble member Yasen Peyankov's adaptation of Anton Chekhov's Seagull featuring an all-ensemble cast, April-June 2022.

The expanded Steppenwolf campus also features bright new lobbies and two new full-service bars for socializing designed by fc STUDIO, inc. The transformed 1650 N. Halsted Street lobby space seamlessly connects Steppenwolf's existing building with the new Liz and Eric Lefkofsky Arts and Education Center, while the second-floor lobby of the Downstairs Theater has been renovated to house a stylish bar and gathering space. The new building's downstairs lobby features a second bar that connects to an outdoor patio area. These new bars join Steppenwolf's popular Front Bar (1700 N. Halsted Street) to offer audiences, artists and community welcoming spaces for socializing in the Halsted Corridor of Lincoln Park.

The Liz and Eric Lefkofsky Arts and Education Center is also home to Steppenwolf's first-ever dedicated education center, The Loft, encompassing the entire fourth floor of the new building. Steppenwolf was founded more than 45 years ago by a circle of students who craved a space to call their own. The Liz and Eric Lefkofsky Arts and Education Center continues and amplifies that vision, growing the reach of Steppenwolf's education programming from 20,000 to 30,000 students annually.

The Loft includes three dedicated learning spaces for young people to explore and create within, as well as gallery walls that will feature works by young visual artists selected via Steppenwolf's Loft Teen Arts Project. Inspired by the theme "The Future I See: Creating for Community," seven individual and group finalists were selected to receive art commissions by a jury panel including acclaimed artists Nick Cave, Liz Flores, Alex Garcia, Silvia I. Gonzalez and SANTIAGO X, in collaboration with Chicagoland youth and Steppenwolf Education staff.

"To the young people of Chicago, we want to give an especially big welcome back to Steppenwolf. To the teens of our city, we know the toll this forced closure has taken on you and we want you to feel, now more than ever, that this new theater is yours. Come and join us for shows on our stages; events, workshops and experiences created for you in The Loft; and opportunities to get back to the artistic and creative pursuits that serve as your lifeblood. When you come to Steppenwolf, you don't need to bring anything other than yourself. We can't wait to see you," said Director of Education Megan Shuchman.