Monthly career interview with professionals in the not-for-profit sector
1. What is your current role and how long have you been working in it?
I am Chief Executive of Business to Arts, which is a membership-based charity that brokers, enables and supports partnerships between businesses, individuals and the arts. I have been in this role since September 2014 and I am proud to lead the Business to Arts team during our 30th Anniversary in 2018.
2. How did you get to where you are today and what influenced your decision to work in your chosen field?
I joined Business to Arts (as Project Director) in 2007 after I finished my Masters in Cultural Policy and Arts Management at UCD. Before that I worked for eight years in finance / corporate treasury with De Lage Landen, which is a subsidiary of Rabobank. In my spare time, I’ve always been interested in the arts. Originally in the visual arts, art history, design and performance. Now my eyes have been opened to so much more of the incredible artistic talent that exists in this country.
In recent years, I’ve often thought about how my parents lives and their approach to running their own business has influenced me. When my parents were my age they had five children and were about to set up their own business. As we grew up, my four siblings and I were all involved in working in the family business. We all have different interests, educational achievements and abilities. However, when work needed to be done it was all hands on deck. This helped make sure things were done on time and to the best possible finish. My Dad had the best eye for design, attention to detail and management. My Mum did most of the paperwork and kept all of us on course.
I think my parents approach to work and running a business has influenced how I work. My decision to be Chief Executive of Business to Arts has been influenced by all of the people I have encountered on my career journey so far.
3. What do you love/enjoy most about your job?
No two days are the same at Business to Arts. We work with such a wide variety of organisations and people from the corporate and cultural sectors, which is probably the best part of my job. I love when my mind is opened further by new ideas and ways of thinking. I love seeing my colleagues take pride in their work and doing amazing things with our members. I particularly love seeing emerging creative people get funding on fundit.ie, our crowdfunding website. Two recent highlights are the recent albums made by Shane Hennessy and Maire Carroll.
4. And what are the most challenging parts of your job?
Managing expectations! While Business to Arts has a large stakeholder base and well-established national programmes of activity, most people are surprised to find that we are quite a small team of six people. As a registered charity, we have a range of key performance indicators, which help us focus on achieving our impact. In the current climate one of our priorities is sustainable growth. Our impact on the corporate and cultural sectors is highly reliant on the commitment and experience of the Business to Arts team and board. As much as I would love to add many people to the Business to Arts executive, we can only increase our FTE head count and increase our impact when revenue streams are confirmed and long-term relationships are in place.
5. How do you relax?
Holidays with friends and family are always my favourite way to relax. I’ve recently come back from Tromsø in Norway, which is quite far into the Arctic Circle. The trip was part-work and part-holiday. It was so interesting to see the excellent cultural infrastructure in that part of Norway, get a master-class in film finance in Scandinavian countries and experience nature and wildlife in the dark Norwegian winter.
When I’m not on holidays you’ll regularly find me near the sea or close to water at the weekends. I love a walk down the South Bull Wall in Dublin Port and long walks on the amazing beaches, lakes and rivers around Ireland. Oh… and have I mentioned wine yet?
6. What skills and personality traits do you think are essential for a job like yours?
Strategic planning is one of the most important activities of a Chief Executive in the charity and cultural sectors. Having finished the first strategic plan I created and implemented with Business to Arts, I’m now moving onto a new five-year plan. This process allows us to take time to focus on the organisation’s priorities and work toward achieving them together.
7. What’s your advice to anyone who wants to pursue a career in the same field?
Learn as much as you can from the experts that are around you. Whether it is finance and budgeting, sales, marketing, writing or communications, there are people that are really good at their jobs all around you. Watch what they do and how they do it. Try to be (or at least aspire to be) as good as them. Ask them for their advice and their support. The worst thing they can say is no.
8. What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Well I wish I listened more to my Dad while he was alive. He died almost twenty years ago. I do remember him saying two things regularly… ‘work hard’ and that ‘if I was happy he was happy’. I try to stick to this philosophy as best as I can and apply it to the people that are in my life.
9. What has been the best moment of your career so far?
In the last couple of years I’ve been really proud to be a part of the team behind Women on Walls. Working with our friends at Accenture and the Royal Irish Academy we have commissioned twelve portraits of Irish women who are pioneers in the fields of arts and sciences. These portraits are currently in residence at the United Nations in New York and I’ll be joining them there for a special event in March 2018 for International Women’s Day. We’ll also soon be announcing the next historic phase of Women on Walls.
10. What are your career aspirations?
In the future I am keen to see greater philanthropic funding for the arts in Ireland (from individuals and companies) and a dedicated arts foundation in Ireland. With my team in Business to Arts, we are in the early stages of setting this type of structure up. We have an Arts Fund for Ireland and Docklands Arts Fund operating. In 2017, we saw over €300,000 committed to bursaries for artists, artist residencies and art commissions. While most of the funding is donor-advised funding, we have open call or limited call processes in places for much of the funds given on an annual basis. I’d love to see more of this happen.
If you’re a professional who works in the not-for-profit sector and you’re interested in taking part in the ‘My Charity Career’ interview series, please get in touch by emailing Laura at [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you!