Partner Spotlight: Ravinia Festival, Chicago's North Shore Musical Gem

Visitors have the convenience of taking Metra's North Line that stops right at Ravinia's Tyler Gate. (Photos courtesy of Ravinia.)

Tucked away in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, Ravinia Festival is the oldest outdoor music festival in North America, attracting nearly 600,000 visitors each summer concert season.

Ravinia presents music that spans all genres and ages. Throughout the years, the festival has hosted “the greats,” such as Louis Armstrong, Janis Joplin, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Pearlman, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, George Gershwin, and many more.

Meet Ravinia Festival Director of Communications Nick Pullia to learn more about the mission and passions that drive this beloved Chicagoland institution:

Ravinia: Nick Pullia

Make It Better: Briefly describe your business philosophy.

Nick Pullia: Once the summer concert season ends, Ravinia Festival goes back to school with the students of Cook and Lake Counties. Many people don’t realize that the not-for-profit festival‘s Reach*Teach*Play education programs reach 85,000 people in each year, bringing music into underserved communities. These education programs are actually one of the planks in Ravinia’s official mission statement: “Ravinia is an internationally renowned, not-for-profit music festival that presents outstanding performances by the world’s greatest artists.”

Ravinia’s principal objectives are:

  • To present performances of a full-range of classical music in its open-air Pavilion and enclosed recital halls, by the world’s greatest composers and musicians, along with a variety of other kinds of light classical, jazz and popular music.
  • To maintain a beautiful park that is welcoming to all and attractive to families in which the music experience is enhanced by a beautiful environment and excellent dining opportunities.
  • To enable gifted young performers to study under great teachers and perform in concert settings.
  • To develop broader and more diverse audiences for classical music through education and outreach programs and by maintaining affordable ticket prices.

Which product (or service) that you offer is your favorite, and why?

Nick Pullia: I personally love the Sistema Ravinia student orchestras. Based on the “El Sistema” model of music education, which skips classroom music theory, to instead, put instruments in the hands of children and have them playing on day one. We provide the instruments, the music, and the teachers for schools that do not have orchestra programs of their own. Our education director, Christine Taylor-Conda, was recently named chairman of the national board, El Sistema USA.

Ravinia: Sistema Ravinia student orchestras

The Sistema Ravinia student orchestras, inspired by the influential El Sistema model. Students are led by world-renowned Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel.

Tell us about how your business gives back to the community and which organizations or initiatives you’re most passionate about supporting. Why is that important to your organization?

Nick Pullia: Ravinia Festival gives back to the community in many ways — most notably, as an economic engine for the community. According to national statistics, for every dollar spent at a cultural institution such as ours, $7 more is spent in the community (gas, dining, picnic baskets, etc.). We also donate 5 percent of our gross ticket sales back to the City of Highland Park, more than $1 million a year. Local kids graduate high school from our stages and get their first jobs with us. Similarly, we supplement the salaries of first responders who can work here. We also run an on-campus conservatory for talented musicians, and, of course, the Reach Teach Play programs I just described.

How has your business adapted to support the demands of consumers for more sustainable and socially responsible products and services?

Nick Pullia: Ravinia’s food containers and disposable flatware are all corn-based and biodegradable.

We believe that we’re all better together. Tell us which businesses or individuals in the community you love to work with and support.

Nick Pullia: Highland Park High School band director Josh ChodoroffHighland Park Chamber of CommerceHighland Park Business SummitHighland Pop (vendor), Frost Gelato (vendor), Bluegrass (vendor), and Sally’s Nuts (vendor).