Three arts leaders with UChicago ties to receive National Medal of Arts

President Barack Obama will present the National Medal of Arts to three arts leaders with University of Chicago ties, the National Endowment for the Arts announced today.

The honorees are longtime University supporter and arts patron Joan Harris and architects Billie Tsien and Tod Williams, who designed the University’s Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts. The ceremony will take place on Monday, July 28 at the White House.

Joan Harris has sustained the generosity of her late husband, Irving B. Harris, by providing grants through the Irving Harris Foundation to support multiple initiatives. A passion for child welfare, early education and public service prompted Irving Harris in 1988 to help launch the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, which was named in his honor in 1990. This legacy of support continues through the Irving Harris Foundation’s most recent $10 million commitment to support Chicago Harris fellowships, facility projects, and cultural and early childhood policy.


Joan Harris is also a member of the Chicago Harris Visiting Committee, the Division of the Humanities’ Visiting Committee and the University of Chicago Women’s Board.

As trustee of the Irving Harris Foundation, she has helped to strengthen such initiatives as the University’s Cultural Policy Center at Chicago Harris and MusicNow at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

She serves as president, chair, director or trustee of many Chicago and national cultural organizations, including the Aspen Music Festival and School, the Juilliard School and Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and is a member of the Library of Congress Trust Fund Board. Previously, she was commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs for the City of Chicago, and served as president of the Chicago Opera Theater and the Illinois Arts Alliance.

The medal citation praises Harris for “supporting creative expression in Chicago and across our country. Her decades of leadership and generosity have enriched our cultural life and helped countless artists, dancers, singers and musicians bring their talents to center stage.”

Billie Tsien and Tod Williams are known for their elegant modernist designs for museums, schools and nonprofit organizations.

According to the medal citation, “their deliberate and inspired designs have a profound effect on the lives of those who interact with them, and their teaching and spirit of service have inspired young people to pursue their passions.”

The Logan Center for the Arts, completed in 2012, offers an impressive 184,000 square feet and 11 stories of multi-use creative space for arts and scholarship. “I want the whole experience of this building to be an adventure,” Williams said of the Logan Center.

The building—Tsien and William’s first in Chicago—was designed to encourage spontaneous collaboration among the playwrights and painters, musicians and filmmakers, dancers and sculptors who use the center’s spaces for their creative work.

Along with the Logan Center, the husband and wife team designed Hereford College at the University of Virginia, the American Folk Art Museum in New York, two additions to the Phoenix Art Museum in Arizona and the David Rubenstein Atrium at New York’s Lincoln Center.