Kate Barr: Teaching the Importance of Strategic Financial Management

Feb. 20, 2014

The members of the ArtsLab Curriculum Team have a deep commitment to the arts and many of them surprise us with stories of their personal artistic pursuits. Our financial strategy expert, Kate Barr, is no exception. Long before becoming executive director of Nonprofits Assistance Fund, she began her professional career as a dancer—studying dance in college, and working in a small dance companies in Colorado and Minneapolis. But to help pay the bills, Kate also worked as a receptionist for the company in Minneapolis. When sudden financial challenges fell upon the organization, she had to step into the daunting role of business manager. She credits her success in managing that transition to the mentorship of a board member.

Kate quickly realized that while she didn’t have the intense drive that was required to be a professional dancer, she was “really good at the business stuff.” She went back to school to get a business degree and spent 22 years in the banking industry. All the while she was still dancing and imagined that someday she would return to working in the arts.

Now committed to supporting the work of the nonprofit sector, Kate remains an avid arts supporter. You are likely to run into her at one of the dozens (if not hundreds) of performances and exhibitions she attends each year.

In this community I’ve found artists to be interesting and generous with their ideas and questions. I have also found them to be unbelievably smart with regard to problem solving.”

However, she fears that some arts organizations continue to believe that the business end and the art-making end of their work are separate. Kate contends that these organizations won’t be able to fulfill their missions until they see that those two things are related and supportive of each other. Additionally, Kate says that the sooner organizations understand that there is no such thing as a “set-in-stone” answer to business models, the better. The key to developing an effective and sustainable financial strategy is to continually adapt the model, it is always a process.

Kate Barr is able to help arts organizations bridge this divide through her work at Nonprofits Assistance Fund. An essential resource in our community, this organization provides essential business services to nonprofits including loans, financial advice, training, consulting, and a fantastic online library. Kate is also a frequent speaker at conferences, where you can catch her sharing her insights into budgeting, financial sustainability, and strategic planning. Catch Kate at her next scheduled event, Nonprofits Assistance Fund’s Financial Planning for Arts Organizations training series.