21 Oct 21 | Chicago Tribune

Steppenwolf Theatre names its new theater and center after major donors

By Chris Jones

Steppenwolf Theatre Company announces Thursday that its new, in-the-round theater and education center will be named the Liz and Eric Lefkofsky Arts and Education Center. However, the actual theater will be named the “Ensemble Theater in Honor of Helen Zell.”

Eric Lefkofsky, the billionaire co-founder of Groupon and the technology company Tempus, among other enterprises, is one of Chicago’s wealthiest residents. He and his wife Liz are longtime Steppenwolf supporters and major donors. Eric Lefkofsky is chairman of the Steppenwolf board of trustees.

Helen Zell, a longtime arts benefactor in Chicago, is the wife of Sam Zell, a successful real estate investor. Sam Zell was, at one time, the owner of the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers.

The theater cost more than $54 million to construct, with the Lefkofskys giving $10 million toward that amount, according to Steppenwolf. The theater also said it had received more than 15 gifts to its capital campaign in excess of $1 million each.

“Steppenwolf is a key part of the cultural fabric of Chicago and should be supported as one of the great arts institutions,” said Eric Lefkofsky in a Tribune interview. “Every time the ensemble and the company has gotten to a certain place, we’ve been able to make investments in giving them new scope and new scale. That is what we are trying to do here.”

“The young adult and arts education space is especially important to us,” added Liz Lefkofsky, who directs the couple’s extensive philanthropic efforts, which long have emphasized young people.

“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,” said Steppenwolf executive director E. Brooke Flanagan, in a statement. “As such, we can’t imagine our building bearing any other name.”