Kim Varian, former HPO Director of Communications, was named Executive Director this past June! Kim recently spoke with Composer-in-Residence Abigail Richardson-Schulte about her new gig and how she got here.
Abigail Richardson-Shulte: Kim, congratulations on becoming the Executive Director of the HPO. We are thrilled to have you and know you well from your previous position with the organization. How did that position prepare you to become Executive Director?
Kim Varian: I joined the HPO almost four years ago as Director of Development and Communications when Diana Weir stepped into the Executive Director role. Diana, and Carol Kehoe before her, had done so much to invest in the orchestra and strengthen our relationship with our community. Gemma New was in her second year as Music Director and the HPO was going from strength to strength. It was an incredible time of organizational growth and an opportunity to learn so much about our art form and HPO’s role in the region.
Working closely with Diana, I was responsible for planning and managing all fundraising, marketing and educational programs. Building partnerships with the City of Hamilton and community organizations and increasing earned revenue were priorities. Over this period, our team doubled in size, mainstage concerts grew in reputation and stature and our community partnerships flourished. It was an exciting time. Creating new music programs with partners that brought the HPO through their doors, and seeing the elation on their faces as they left the concert hall was so rewarding, and my favourite part of the job.
ARS: Can you tell us a little about your background and training?
KV: My path to the HPO was certainly not a straight line. I have a background in corporate management across public and private sectors with positions in development, marketing and operations. My early career was focused on education and organizational development at multinational education firms and larger corporate software companies like Microsoft and Hewlett Packard.
More than 10 years ago, I made the decision to move into the not-for-profit sector and it has been extremely rewarding. Before joining the HPO I was Director of Enterprise at the Art Gallery of Burlington and a management consultant supporting arts organizations and educational institutions. I draw on my corporate experience every day and appreciate the grounding it has given me. While there are some differences between the goals and priorities of a corporate and not-for-profit organization the fundamentals of leadership and management are the same.
Throughout my career, I have also had the opportunity to travel and work abroad taking positions in South Korea, Ireland then back to Canada where we lived in B.C. before returning to Ontario with our young family. Travel really gave me a great perspective on different cultures and allowed me to explore my interest in the arts and its fundamental role in our lives. Everywhere I’ve traveled, music and visual and performing arts have been at the heart of community. It is a real privilege to marry my personal passions with my work.
ARS: We’re lucky you found your way to the not-for-profit world! I didn’t know you had that corporate background but it makes perfect sense. Having personally worked with you for years over our community outreach programs, I have seen your great communication skills at work with people from all backgrounds. Speaking of community, do you live locally with your family?
KV: Yes. We’ve lived in Burlington for 10 years now. We love to explore our region, hike the many conservation areas and enjoy the local arts and restaurant scene in Hamilton and Burlington. Our family of five with dog in-tow makes for a busy household but we feel so lucky to live and work in our community.
Watch Kim, Abigail and Music Director Gemma New in our 20-21 Season launch video!
ARS: Your leadership during this difficult time has been superb. Can you tell us about some of the challenges you and the organization face in the return to the concert hall?
KV: It has been an extraordinary time for everyone. Personally, I’ve drawn so much strength from our team, musicians, board and patrons. It really feels like we’re in this together and with that spirit and trust we are finding our way forward.
I can say that throughout this crisis, it was never “would we return?” but instead “when and how”. Over the past few months, we’ve had to reconsider how to continue to bring music to our community and how to move our music education and community programming forward, but we’re getting there with the launch of our re-envisioned 20-21 Season. Gemma, our musicians and staff have put so much passion and energy into this new season. We can’t wait to share it with everyone.
Returning to the concert hall with the audience size we’ve grown accustomed to will take time and it will be something we can enjoy again when it is safe. For now, we are focused on our new reality, one that brings us into patron’s living rooms, sees us perform live outdoors or beamed into classrooms. We’re really embracing the opportunity to engage with people in new formats. This is a challenge but one we know we’ll learn from and grow with.
ARS: Ironically, it seems like this time has made our team closer than ever. I know all of us musicians and staff are thrilled to be moving ahead and grateful to you, Gemma, and the board for finding this way forward. My last question is: Why are you excited to be Executive Director of the HPO?
KV: Without question, the people. Working with such a talented and committed organization assures me that our future is strong and bright. Our donor and patron community has been extraordinarily supportive as well, and knowing that the HPO is such an integral part of our community’s fabric is a responsibility that I consider a privilege, and it really drives me forward.
ARS: Thank you, Kim, for this conversation and for your ongoing dedication to the HPO.