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In The Hot Seat Ravinia Festival's Jeffrey Haydon

By Elizabeth Harper | October 5, 2020 | People

As Jeffrey Haydon settles into his new role as president and CEO of the iconic Ravinia Festival, we get a peek at what to expect from his much-anticipated tenure. Haydon kicks off our conversation with a bang, declaring, “Music has inspired every step of my life.” Here are our five burning questions for the arts industry veteran.


Ravinia has a storied history. How will you respect its heritage while looking to the future?

Over its 116-year history, Ravinia has a strong reputation for quality, innovation and launching the careers of the most influential artists from many backgrounds. This includes continuing to serve as the summer home for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, building on the jazz legacy Ramsey Lewis created, featuring music from around the world and presenting popular music concerts.

Will you expand community involvement?

I’m impressed with Ravinia’s strong commitment to the Chicagoland community. In addition to the 500,000 audience members who come to concerts each year, Ravinia’s Reach Teach Play education program serves over 85,000 children and families annually. This includes free music lessons and Sistema Ravinia youth orchestras in area schools. In many cases, this is the only music education available to children in their communities. Ravinia serves as a strong example of an arts organization not just presenting great music concerts, but also as an advocate and educator demonstrating how music can inspire lives. Ravinia Festival 2020 was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

What can we expect in 2021?

All of us in the industry are cautiously proceeding with planning for the summer of 2021, knowing that we may need to be prepared to adjust our plans as new guidance rolls out. Fortunately, Ravinia is primarily an outdoor venue and has a lot of options for creatively adjusting its operations as needed. Like other arts organizations, digital media will also likely become an increasingly important strategy.

Name your top picks for arts institutions in the area.

I have long admired Ravinia’s neighbor, Chicago Botanic Garden. We can learn a lot from nature in how the ecosystem of plants, insects, weather, light and design interact. Of course, I also enjoy the beauty of the flowers and textures of the leaves— particularly in the Midwest prairies!

You and your family have roots here. What are you most looking forward to now that you’re back?

My wife, Kathryn, is a fourth-generation Chicagoan, and we were married in Chicago and lived for several years in Lincoln Park and Evanston, so this is a move back home for us with our son. We look forward to enjoying fresh Lou Malnati’s pizza, Long Grove chocolates and Oberweis ice cream without having to ship them halfway across the country!

Tags: profile music

Photography by: Gabe Palacio