Isabelle Holmes is the finance manager at BRIC, an arts and media community center in Brooklyn, N.Y., where she helps manage the organization’s money and performs accounting duties. Isabelle is an alumna of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA). She joined the campus after transferring as a non-traditional student from UMASS-Amherst in 2006. Since graduating in 2008 with a degree in arts management and a minor in business administration, she has worked in several arts organizations, including Williams College’s ’62 Center and Jacob’s Pillow in the Berkshires, and HERE and the World Music Institute in New York City.
While there are many accountants who absolutely love their line of work, you won’t meet too many individuals in the arts field who describe the position as extremely fun and fascinating. As the finance manager at BRIC, Isabelle Holmes managed to find a way to turn accounting practices into an interesting and creative aspect of doing business in the non-profit sector.
“It’s a really fun job. Everything’s a puzzle. It’s challenging. You also get to see an organization very intimately,” she noted.
Her passion for accounting reveals a fresh perspective on her position, especially when paired with her positive personality and creative background. Having been a dancer for 24 years, growing up with an artistic family, and working with numerous arts organizations in the Berkshires and New York City, Isabelle excels in a variety of areas within the field of arts management.
Isabelle finds enjoyment in many aspects of her work in her day-to-day tasks. Whether it’s doing payroll and making up stories about employees she has not yet met, or trying to guess who they are at company events, she always seems to find a way to make her job fun as she attempts to put together her financial puzzles.
“Me and my creative brain, I start making up stories about all the different transactions I have to code and process” she explained.
It seems only natural for an individual working in the arts world to always be conscious of making connections and imagining possibilities. Isabelle also expresses her fascination with the budgeting process, an opportunity she doesn’t have the pleasure of pursuing at her current position at BRIC. Within our last few moments together, she stressed the importance of including the significance behind this process.
“Budgeting is fun. It’s the ultimate crystal ball and you really need to take the time to figure out what you’re going to do within the next year. You have to predict the future. As that year goes by, all those figures and numbers you have projected become actual, and it is so much fun to see how you were right and how you were wrong. Then, year after year, you need to adjust everything based on what you see. I just find that so exciting.”
Isabelle notes that budgets are seen in all of an organization’s programs, not just those involved specifically with finance. She sees her financial work as a process, constantly learning and building upon past records or experiences. Her creative ways of thinking have proven to be major contributors to her success in the non-profit industry.
When asked what skills one would need when working with a non-profit versus a for-profit organization, she replied, “I think non-profit businesses are really inspiring. The big difference is that non-profits receive donated money so you are responsible for opening up your books to the public. We have to show we aren’t frivolously spending that money.”
Isabelle pointed out that many for-profits do not require an annual audit, which is an outside look on the business’s financial records, but for many non-profit organizations it is necessary in order to receive sufficient funding and maintain a positive reputation.
“The community needs to know what you’re spending your money on, so all the books and records are wide open. Your books need to be clean and organized so when the auditor comes, you’re ready.”
The external community’s financial support of the arts also is an important component for Isabelle as she navigates the arts industry. “The donated money – there’s just something about it that’s really incredible,” she professed.
While she sees her work in non-profit accounting as fun and fascinating, she strongly believes it also holds a significant purpose. I asked her to conjure up a personal mission statement. After much deliberation, she landed on what would thoroughly encompass the threads behind her thinking:
“To find opportunities that bring fulfillment, growth, and challenge, where my work can give back to the community and the organization I’m working for.”
This philosophy has fueled her career starting from her position at Jacob’s Pillow to her first New York City position at HERE. As an MCLA alumna, Isabelle strongly believes MCLA is the reason she has had such fulfilling opportunities in her career, and owes much of her appreciation to her experiences while attending the College. Isabelle participated in the MCLA arts management trip to the Association of Performing Arts Presenters in New York City, and the Berkshire Hills Internship Program (B-HIP). She urges others to take advantage of what the MCLA arts management program has to offer.
“This financial line of work doesn’t appeal to a lot of people, but whether it’s personal finances or budgeting for your professional program, no one can really escape it,” she said. “So, for those who dread it, maybe taking a different approach and seeing it as more of a game full of hidden stories, it can be something to look forward to doing. Responsibility is really fun, and if you’re really good at it, then there you go.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rebecca Waterhouse is an emerging arts manager with passions for the arts, activism, and the environment. She is a tennis player, dancer, radio DJ and program director, artist, and contributor to the new organization, Unitarians in Action. Originally from Rochester, N.Y., Rebecca is a sophomore at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA), studying arts management and Spanish.
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts: www.mlca.edu
Williams College 62 Center: http://62center.williams.edu/
Jacob’s Pillow: http://www.jacobspillow.org/
World Music Institute: http://www.worldmusic.net/