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Northwestern University alums Patrick Ryan and Shirley Welsh Ryan have made a leadership gift to support the school’s new opera theater rehersal and performance space.

Ryan, a long-time NU board member and founder and former CEO of the AON Corporation, and his wife’s gift will lead to the opera space being named the Shirley Welsh Ryan Opera Theater when it opens as part of the new Bienen School of Music building next year.

“The Ryans are passionate supporters of the arts and of all things Northwestern, and Shirley and Pat’s love of opera will be reflected in this world-class theater,” said Northwestern President Morton Schapiro. “I look forward to attending performances in this special space as our students prepare for careers at the top opera houses in the world.”

The opera theater will provide an integral, flexible space for opera rehearsals as well as an intimate venue for small one-act operas and other performances by students and faculty. The theater will feature seating for approximately 150 people, dramatic double-height ceilings and expansive windows showcasing stunning views of Lake Michigan.

“Our family has a deep appreciation for music — especially opera — and it brings us great joy to watch Northwestern students develop and hone their crafts as young artists,” said Shirley Welsh Ryan. “Whether they perform on stage or are members of the audience, we encourage Northwestern students to embark on a lifelong relationship with music.”

The opera theater will be one of three music performance halls — including the Mary B. Galvin Recital Hall and the Carol and David McClintock Choral Rehearsal and Recital Room — located on the main floor of the building.

“Students will thrive in the state-of-the-art performance, rehearsal and academic spaces inside the new building,” said Pat Ryan. “The facilities now match the caliber of education Northwestern music students receive. Northwestern offers music students the finest music education, which can be integrated with a variety of educational opportunities.”

The new five-story Music and Communication Building, located at the south end of the University’s Evanston campus will include classrooms; teaching labs; academic faculty offices; teaching studios for choral, opera, piano and voice faculty; practice rooms; student lounges; and administrative offices.

The fifth floor of the new building will serve as a new south campus home for the School of Communication administration, providing the dean’s office and faculty members with new offices. Space in the new building will enable the School of Communication to unite the faculty in the department of theatre and the department of performance studies on one floor. The Goettsch Partners architectural firm designed the building.

“The Bienen School is extremely proud of our alumni who have participated as fellows in the Lyric Opera’s Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center,” said Toni-Marie Montgomery, dean of the Bienen School of Music. “The naming of this performance space in our new building will serve as a visible reminder of the many connections between the Bienen School and the Lyric Opera of Chicago. We are grateful to Shirley and Pat for their significant support of the Bienen School.”

Shirley Welch Ryan is a 1961 graduate of the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. She is chair of Pathways.org 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, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Alain Locke Charter Academy.

Patrick Ryan, a 1959 graduate of Northwestern, is 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.

A member and immediate past chairman for 14 years of the Northwestern University Board of Trustees, he also led Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympics and is a member of the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans.

The Ryans have been major donors to Northwestern for many years, providing leadership and support for academic programs, scholarships, the construction of Northwestern’s nanotechnology center and the Feinberg School of Medicine, and the renovation of Northwestern’s football and basketball stadiums. In honor of their lead gift in support of Northwestern’s athletics campaign, the University’s new multi-use athletics and recreational facility will be named the Ryan Fieldhouse.

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