Hillside Festival welcomes Kate Johnston as executive director

GUELPH/ERAMOSA – After 14 years, Marie Zimmerman departs the role of executive director of Hillside Festival this fall. 

Kate Johnston

Kate Johnston

After an almost three-month search that saw Hillside receiving over 70 applications and conducting 15 interviews, organizers are delighted to report that the next executive director will be Kate Johnston, the current Volunteer Program Manager. 

Johnston has over 20 years experience in arts and culture management. 

Her previous roles include: artistic director, theatre manager, manager of visitor services, and marketing manager.

Johnston has an honours degree in music from the University of Toronto and a graduate degree in arts administration from Western University. 

She has already shown herself to be a creative contributor to Hillside’s community engagement activities and artistic programming, a superb communicator with coordinators and volunteers, and a beloved member of Hillside’s staff team. 

That she is a singer and a musician makes her a natural for understanding artistic processes and for appreciating Hillside’s approach to the arts as a channel for building awareness and a better world. 

“We are so thrilled we were able to hire Kate!” Hillside organizers state in a press release. 

Johnston begins her new role the second week of September. 

Marie Zimmerman

Marie Zimmerman

In her 14-year tenure as executive director of the Hillside Festival, Marie Zimmerman has secured over 50 partners, initiated countless community engagement projects, such as Indigenous culture programs in schools and camps, multiple songwriting and music education courses, Girls & Guitars, the Youth Showcase, the Sound of Light for black artists, and Queers on Quebec Street.   

She helped found the Guelph Fab Five collective of arts organizations and she brought in four million dollars in grants, donations, and sponsorships. 

Zimmerman helped Hillside transition from a managerial board of directors to a policy governance one, which saw the development of 20 vigorous committees. 

She oversaw the fundraising and financing for the purchase of assets, such as the boat, the Hillside house, the accessible house renovations, multiple green initiatives, and the telecommunications tower and infrastructure for Guelph Lake island. 

With a consulting engineer, she created the Festival’s first full emergency plan.  

She also helped establish critical committees, such as risk management, human resources, and sustainability. 

The festival’s net zero carbon status, achieved first in 2019, was part of a long-term carbon measurement and reduction project Zimmerman managed. 

She represented the festival on the local, regional, and national stage at conferences and award programs, giving speeches in classrooms, at galas, at convocations, and career days. 

Zimmerman is a regular MC for five other local arts organizations. 

Her crowning achievement according to Samir Baijal, the artistic director, is “tolerating me.”  

Working collaboratively with staff has been one of her greatest strengths and pleasures. 

She is moving onto another not-for-profit organization, which helps develop the festivals and attractions in four Ontario counties.