And we’re sticking to this one: our fondest goal is to bring the arts to everyone, and we’ve been striving toward it since we opened in 1969. We can host 4,000 audience members in a single night and we handle over 300 performances each year, but we still try to make each person who comes through our doors feel like the arts are a part of their life.
We focus on innovation and community bonding, but our primary purpose is education in the broadest sense. Each season, Krannert Center features performances and productions by students and faculty in the School of Music, the Department of Theatre, and Dance at Illinois; activities for elementary and high school students through our Youth Series; special programs to bring young people to us or to bring the arts to them; and informational fairs for community members. Made possible by the generous gift of Herman and Ellnora Krannert, the Center continues their vision of “education through participation in culture.”
A native of Chicago, Herman Krannert was a 1912 graduate of the University of Illinois and the founder and chairman of the Inland Container Corporation. Ellnora Krannert was a native of Indiana and a graduate of Brenau College in Gainesville, Georgia.
In 1962, the Krannerts decided to make a major contribution to the University of Illinois and chose to build a performing arts center because they believed that to experience the arts was “one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences people can enjoy—and, in these complex times, a most needed one.”
In September 1963, after a student committee had investigated what such a facility could and should offer the campus, Max Abramovitz, an Illinois graduate, was chosen as the architect, Jo Mielziner was hired as the theatre consultant, and Cyril Harris served as acoustician for the project. It took almost two years for the university to acquire the two square blocks of land where Krannert Center stands, and groundbreaking took place in August 1966. During that time, additional funds for construction were raised from private donations through the University of Illinois Foundation. The final cost of the building was approximately $21 million.
Krannert Center opened in April 1969 to high praise during its month-long dedication. A critic for The New York Times called the facility “one of the most ingeniously worked out art complexes anywhere,” and a writer for the Christian Science Monitor noted that “the performing arts now have a home equal to the gilded science-palaces that adorn other campuses.”