Margot Holmes - Artists' Manager
Supporter of the Arts
An interview article and photos by Rosemary Phillips, January 2008
(and still relevant in 2012)
“Fair, honest, wicked sense of humour, hard working, an appreciation of all things artistic, and a full loving heart are the qualities of a great artist manager. For me though, they are the qualities of an even better friend. I have found these qualities and more in the years I have known Margot. In my world, she is a gem.” Joelle Rabu, Nanaimo chanteuse.
I first met Margot Holmes in the spring of 1999. She was looking for a publicist for the Vancouver Island Symphony. I was looking for an outlet for my writing. I found Margot sitting in a tiny dark office in the old CIBC bank building on Commercial Street in Nanaimo. She was conducting a small staff while organizing a full operation of artistic management; musicians contracts, fundraising, mailings, promotions, databases, board meetings, budgets, concerts, season designs, education programs, and the many volunteers, while making sure that all the musicians were happy and paid. She didn't miss a beat; every detail was seemingly being taken care of effortlessly, right down to the choice and placement of coloured napkins at receptions. The only things she didn't do were: taking care of the music, which was handled by Marlin Wolfe, the artistic director; the sheet music which was organized by a librarian; professional musicians who were recruited by a personnel manager; and governance which came from the volunteer board.
On Mondays and Wednesdays Margot would head over to the Mainland to take care of the British Columbia Boys Choir. “That's my income,” she would say laughing, because at that time Margot still contributed most of her work on a volunteer basis. Recently she said, “I always tell people that if they want a job they should volunteer. When I first moved to Nanaimo I didn't know anybody. I wanted to get to know people so I volunteered with the symphony, and opened my mouth a few too many times!”
That was 1996, and in 1997 the VI Symphony hired her. “I was paid a small fee. The symphony had no money. It used to be just me in the office. We had administration staff who were hired through short-term government grants and because we couldn't pay them when the grants were through, they couldn't stay. Now we have a great team of arts administrators who all work on a variety of projects. They are not being paid a huge amount of money, but they are rewarded in other ways, and are part of the excitement. The goal is always that we are working to the same end, putting great artists on stage.”
|Margot Holmes with Maverick
in Nanaimo Harbour
That end goal is also about having a happy audience and happy performers. “We have a fabulous group of patrons who love their symphony and will support it,” added Margot. As the audience sits comfortably in their seats watching a performance, Margot is in the wings, invisible in her black outfits, making sure that everything is going smoothly.
While Margot has been a major player in the success of the VI Symphony over the last ten years, she has contributed so much more to the community - as a networker. She brings people of like mind together – be it at an informal bash in her home over delicious home-made nibblies, or at receptions, lunches or gala cocktail parties. Wherever Margot goes, she networks, naturally.
Twenty years ago she started Caline Artists International which took her across North America promoting talent. Now she has gone international. “Basically my thing is that I see someone who has great talent and should be sharing it with people. I try to build them a plan that will help get their art out there, either touring, performing or putting out a CD. Nobody can be all things to an artist. An artist requires a whole team. I'm just one of the players on that team.”
Margot is very caring about her artists – and her team. Said Joelle Rabu, “Margot has always been the battle leader, touting the worth of the artists she represents, never cheapening them or trying to simply get a gig out of them.”
Said Margot, “I'm not a hard-selling person. I'm a good promoter. And I only want that artist to be in that place and that community if it is going to work for that community. It is like when we bring artists to Nanaimo, we are very careful who we bring and why. Sometimes we bring an artist back to the symphony because we know that they are loved, and that Nanaimo patrons want to follow that person's career. Ian Parker is a good example. He was here two years ago and we just had him back. The audience just loved him, and they love to see his development.”
Because Margot is an artist herself she is better able to understand the artistic world. “I started out at the University of Western in Ontario, playing and teaching oboe. I took on a job in public relations. I got hooked. The London Youth Symphony needed a manager. This led to the Amable Youth Singers. Once you start doing that kind of work it just snowballs.”
It was while she was living on Bowen Island that she volunteered for the International Choral Symposium, and managed the front of house for one of the venues. “I got to meet so many people. And, a couple of months later I ended up promoting the 25th anniversary show for the British Columbia Boys Choir. They offered me a job.”
With the BC Boys Choir, Margot has travelled a number of times to Europe, China, Australia and New Zealand. “I feel so lucky. I've basically seen the world. And I have lots of fond memories. It has been 15 years. I'm a fixture but it was never my plan. I really like working with youth; it reminds me of what I used to do. I had wonderful influences when I was young; I sang in great choirs and played in youth orchestras. I believe the excellence that you can teach youth carries them on through a lifetime, whether it is in sport or performing arts. Many of the Boys Choir alumni members are professional performers, and there are 800 of them out there around the world.”
Working in the arts, as in the media, can often be crazy business. “That's the nature of it,” Margot reminds me when we head into hectic weeks before performances. “It is exciting. Everything you have planned for will hopefully come together.”
So, it is hard to believe, with all she accomplishes, that Margot does take down time. “I really like sitting and looking out over the ocean. I know that's really cliché but, in particular, I love the view from Qualicum Beach. That's where I go to hide out. It allows me to dream and regroup. I like to read, usually three books at a time. And I like to play with my dog Maverick. He sits in my office all day and tells me when it is time to go home.”
A visit to her more spacious and comfortable office of today will find Maverick in his bed under the table, and on the wall, evidence of how much artists appreciate what she does – a photo signed by the musicians of the VI Symphony. “When things are rough, that photo reminds me of why I am here – for the music, for the artists.”
For more information visit Caline Artists International.
Visit the Vancouver Island Symphony website for the latest on their concerts, programs, musicians and outreach.
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