The Impact of the Deering McCormick Hall




By Judy Carmack Bross




Merrillyn Kosier, D. Carroll Jones, Abby McCormick O’Neil, Lori Dimun


“The Harris was built as a home for our resident music and dance companies who often did not have a permanent home for their performances.  We added our Harris Theater Presents series in 2006 and over the past 20 years we have presented exceptional music and dance performances from all over the world. We are unique in combining local with global presentations … a feast for eyes and ears,” Abby O’Neil who with her husband Carroll Joynes celebrated the 20th anniversary with a $5 million gift to the Joan W. and Irving B. Harris Theater for Music and Dance where she is a founding board member and a past president.


Ribbon Cutting – Lori Dimun, Merrillyn Kosier, Conor O’Neil, D. Carroll Joynes, Abby McCormick O’Neil, Bob Venable, Elizbeth Joynes, Darren Jordan


With a snip of outsized orange scissors Abby O’Neil cut the satin ribbon, also in her signature color, and invited guests into the newly named Deering McCormick Hall, the Harris’1,500-seat performance hall which now honors both sides of O’Neil’s family at the dedication ceremony nearly 20 years to the day of the theater’s opening in 2003.  Much more than a color, O’Neil’s signature is a boundless enthusiasm and purposeful action plan for the space unlike any in the country which she helped to define.


Pritzker Stage Deering McCormick Hall Celebration


Conor O’Neil


Lori Dimun, Alexandra C and John D. Nichols President and Chief Executive President and CEO of the Harris Theater, summed up the significance:


“As lifelong volunteers and philanthropists, Abby and Carroll possess an exceptional understanding of the importance and power of planning for the future. They have embraced the responsibility each generation holds, carrying the torch and stewarding the flame of support during their lifetime. Moreover, they are committed to educating the next generation of leaders and philanthropists on the value of this work in the community, and the significance of recognizing when it’s time to pass the torch to the next generation to make their own impactful contributions. 


“In embodying this value, Abby and Carroll have not only bestowed a generous gift upon the Harris Theater by naming the Deering McCormick Hall but have also prompted us to consider who among the next generation of donors might emerge in the future to make their mark by renaming the Hall. This reflects the spirit of evolution and a commitment to long-term sustainability that Abby and Carroll exemplify.”


Earlier in the evening their son Conor O’Neil spoke at an opening reception attended as well by their daughter Elizabeth Jordan and husband Darren Jordan, expressing the family’s gratitude to Harris Theater leaders.


The centerpiece of the Harris Theater, the Hall was designed by award-winning architect Thomas Beeby to fulfill the need for a modern, highly versatile performance venue in downtown Chicago that could serve as a shared home for previously itinerant midsized music and dance companies. It now hosts nearly 200 events and performances each year and has been a home to more than 55 local resident companies and thousands of Harris Theater Presents guest artists from the city and around the globe. 


Harris Theater President and CEO Lori Dimun


We asked Dimun to tell us more about the Harris’ role in our city that is unique and significant.


“The Harris provides a central location for companies across the city to present their work in a venue that is fully accessible, provides exceptional production services, and creates a welcoming home for audiences. In addition to the physical space, the theatre has centered the companies, our Resident Companies, at the heart of our mission by including them in our operating decision-making through our Resident Company committee, giving them seats at the table as members of the board of trustees, and convening the group for regular meetings, learning labs, and opportunities to collaborate with one another. The Theater has always underwritten a minimum of 55 percent of the daily operating usage cost for our nonprofit user groups while allowing the companies to retain 100 percent of their ticket revenue and 100 percent of their merchandise sales. 


“In addition to our championing of Resident Companies, the Harris Theater has become a recognized global presenter, oftentimes, bringing artists to Chicago that you will not see anywhere else in the US. The artists and companies the Harris Theater presents represent a complementary yet contrasting array of art forms to Resident Companies giving the Harris the most varied and diverse performing arts calendar you will find across the city.  


“Through our engagement programming we have the distinct opportunity to connect Chicago youth and members from our community across the entire city to artists from around the world when they are performing on the Harris stage through workshops, master classes, hosted conversations, and artist explorations. Through our access ticket program, each year, our 30 plus arts, health and human service, veteran service, and accessibility-focused partners enjoy free tickets to our programs and events.” 


Akram Khan Dance Company


We asked Dimun to tell us about scheduling for the 20th anniversary year.


“To kick off our two decades as Chicago’s home for music and dance, we hosted Harris Fest: Music and Dance in the Park. Harris Fest was a full-day takeover of Millennium Park that featured the Theater’s 30 Resident Companies plus our community partners in over 27 performances featuring over 400 artists, and included workshops and activities for visitors of all ages. This Festival was a celebration of the collaboration and brilliance of the local companies that call the Harris home. 


“The 2023-24 season is filled with nods to the past and our commitment to investing in the future of our Theater. In addition to Harris Fest celebrating our local companies, this spring we will celebrate our Harris Theater Presents series by bringing back New York City Ballet for the first time in 18 years. They were the first company the Theater presented, and now, in their 75th anniversary season, we are honored to share this world-renowned company with our Chicago audiences. 


Akram Khan Dance Company


“This winter, the LA Master Chorale will make it’s first visit to Chicago. Also in February, if folks are looking for a heart and hand-warming adventure with the family, we will showcase Jazzmeia Horn’s brand-new family program including the release of her new children’s book coupled with a soulful vocal performance. 


“We will also welcome New Zealand based contemporary dance company Black Grace in their first-ever performance in Chicago. 


“The final program on our Chamber Music Series is also the inaugural performance of Joseph Conyers and his newly formed Dubhe Ensemble. We are thrilled to be supporting Joseph in this exciting new initiative and support his championing of extending classical music to center on community connection and inclusivity.”


 What is your personal feeling when you are in the Hall during a program, what most excites you about this space?


Audience at Jungle Book Reimagined


“When I sit in Deering McCormick Hall there is a unique resonance to the space. It is a Theater built to serve the community, to be a home for artists to reach their potential, to share beauty and sounds, movement and stories of the past, present, and future. I feel a similar resonance in sacred places—where tradition is passed forward, and we sit in collective unison, sharing an experience. Despite where we came from or where we are going, we experience a singular moment together. It is magic.”


Abby McCormick O’Neil, Joan Harris, Sandy Guthman, Merrillyn Kosier


Franco La Marca


“I also have deep respect and awe for the founders of our theater and the earliest supporters. For more than a decade before the theater was built, they embarked on the journey to define the needs of the community in partnership with many local foundations, raised funds and awareness for the project, and, against the odds, showed resilience in building this mid-sized performing arts home. They ensured that companies from across Chicago can present their best work on our stage,” Dimun said.


Abby McCormick O’Neil, Séamas O’Driscoll, and Lori Dimu


James Kinoshita


“A tireless advocate for the Theater’s programmatic vision, Abby remains committed to supporting artistic excellence in Chicago, as well as bringing a global perspective to programming. Her contributions as a leader have been integral to the Theater’s growth and evolution throughout its first two decades,” Dimun said. “A historian of Early Modern Europe, Carroll Joynes co-founded the University of Chicago’s Cultural Policy Center in 2001 and held the directorship for the Center’s first decade. He previously served as Associate Dean of Humanities at the University of Chicago. He is currently a trustee and in a leadership role in several civic organizations, particularly the Newberry Library and the Better Government Association. 


“Together, Abby and Carroll are leaders in Chicago’s arts and culture community, as longstanding supporters of the Harris Theater and many other non-profit arts organizations in Chicago. They have also provided transformational leadership and support for three cultural institutions in New Zealand including Three Lakes Cultural Trust, Te Atamira, and Te Wahi Toi,”  Dimun said. 


The McCormick Family came to Chicago from Virginia in 1847 and soon after founded the McCormick Reaper Works. The company soon merged with Deering Farm Equipment, and ultimately became International Harvester. Deering McCormick Hall honors original company founders Cyrus and Leander McCormick, as well as subsequent generations including Chauncey McCormick and his wife Marion Deering McCormick. The merger of McCormick and Deering was not just a business alliance but also a family alliance when a McCormick and a Deering married.  The result of their union is a sustained philanthropic legacy that has impacted arts and culture over generations.


To learn more about the Harris Theater, Chicago’s home for music and dance in Millennium Park, visit 


All photos were taken by Kyle Flubacker.