A Face to a Name: the Nichols Bridgeway

The following is part of a Chicago Art Collector series: A Face to a Name: Exploring Chicago Patrons-of-the-arts. Carrie McGath looks into the story behind the Alexandra C. and John D. Nichols Bridgeway connecting The Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing to Millennium Park.

By Carrie McGath

Since 1879 when The Art Institute of Chicago was founded, many changes have taken place. The most recent of these changes has of course been the addition of The Modern Wing. Architect Renzo Piano was selected in 1999 by the museum under the Director, James N. Wood to design and implement The Modern Wing. The result is a light-infused and airy space, an ideal that Piano took from the existing wing of the Art Institute’s inclusion of skylights and courtyards.

But perhaps what is the most visually striking manifestation of Piano’s desire to bridge the outside and the inside with light and airy surfaces, would be the Nichols Bridgeway. Named after trustee and donors of the Art Institute, Alexandra C. and John D. Nichols, the walkway that hovers lightly over Monroe Street gracefully connects The Modern Wing and The Art Institute as a whole to Millennium Park. It is almost an ode to architecture and art, bridging those genres just as Piano desired to create a bridge of light between exteriors and interiors.

The Nichols are great patrons of the arts in Chicago, also funding and giving their name to the acoustically-captivating Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston. The Nichols Walkway was also funded by the Nichols, giving the Chicago community and visitors an opportunity to go from Millennium Park directly into The Modern Wing, while affording great views of the city.

John D. Nichols is a retired businessman turned philanthropist who received both his Bachelors and Masters degrees from Harvard University. His wife, Alexandra C. Nichols, is also a philanthropist who clearly possesses a great passion for the arts. For the Nichols Walkway, they gave The Art Institute $14 million dollars, and it was money well spent when one sees how many people are occupying it at any given time.

Alexandra is a Trustee of The Art Institute, as well as WTTW, the PBS member station in Chicago. John is active in many organizations around the city and beyond. He is a Board Member of the Chicago Community Trust, the Chicago Public Education Fund, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the Museum of Science and Industry. He is a member of the Commercial Club of Chicago, as well as the Economic Club of Chicago. He is also an Overseer at Harvard University where he is an alumni.

The Nichols’ generosity to the arts in Chicago is significant and profoundly important not only to the Chicago art world’s past and present, but also to its future. Next time you find yourself walking on the Nichols Walkway, or walking east on Monroe, notice how the generosity of Alexandra C. and John D. Nichols helped to make a bridge for the arts in the heart of Chicago.