Margot Holmes has been surrounded by the arts since she was a child. She’s even found a way to turn supporting arts and culture into a career, and now, she’s being recognized for her work.
On Nov. 14, Holmes, the executive director of the Vancouver Island Symphony, will be honoured by Business for the Arts (BFTA) at the Canadian Arts and Business Awards in Toronto. The BFTA announced last month that Holmes will be receiving the Cultural Champion Award for Arts Leadership.
The BFTA is a national organization of leading business CEOs in Canada who recognize that “any nation lives by its creative minds.” BFTA encourages strong relationships between business and arts to strengthen cultural assets in Canada, to support artists and improve quality of life for all. The Cultural Champion Awards for Arts Leadership is awarded to an individual in the arts who has shown exceptional leadership by engaging the business community in support of arts and culture.
Holmes, who lives in Chemainus, has been executive director of the VI Symphony for 16 years.
“She has been a driving force in elevating the symphony to new heights and in developing programs to showcase the orchestra and its members and to engage school children,” the symphony states in a press release. “She has worked tirelessly to increase the appreciation of live classical music among residents, politicians and business communities in the region.”
Letters of support for Holmes’ nomination came from businesses and artists associated with Holmes through the VI Symphony, through her 20 years working with the British Columbia Boys Choir and 27 years as owner-operator of Caline Artists International. Larry Rumming helped co-ordinate Holmes’ nomination on behalf of the VI Symphony board, and as he gathered those letters of support for the nomination, he says they reinforced everything he thought about Holmes.
“She’s got a huge following in the community,” he said. “When I went out there and solicited letters of support, I was blown away by what people said about her. It really solidified the fact she deserves this award. She really is the heart and soul of the symphony.”
Rumming has known Holmes for about 18 years or so and first met her when she was involved in the Malaspina Choir. Rumming was involved in economic development, and he recalls that any time the arts and culture came up in conversations, the name Margot Holmes always came up.
“You knew there was a huge connection with what she did in the community,” he said.
Rumming and his wife have been VI Symphony season ticket holders for many years and have seen Holmes at countless performances, and Rumming is now a member of the Symphony board.
In the summer, the BFTA phoned Rumming and told him he could call Holmes to share the exciting news that she’d won, even though it wouldn’t be made public yet.
“It was amazing,” he said. “She was blown away because she had no clue we had done this. She is the one who has really put [the symphony] out in the community, so the community has supported her in this. It was amazing to get that call and to be able to call her. I’m just so thrilled for her.”
Holmes says she was honoured to receive the award, and it was a lovely surprise.
“I think as somebody who’s behind the scenes — that’s where I live my life, in the wings and in an office — it’s lovely to be recognized for the work you do and for work you love to do,” said Holmes. “Not being in a big community, it’s a wonderful award to put arts on the map in this mid-Island region. That makes me happy. It just shows businesses in this region are supportive of the arts.”
Holmes has been involved in the arts since she was young.
“I was exposed to lots of performing arts in my childhood,” she said.
Holmes studied music in university and has a performance degree.
“I was going to be an oboist in an orchestra, but I got sidetracked by other opportunities that arose and realized I really liked the promotion side of it,” she said.
Holmes now owns her own arts management company, and her clients include Ken Lavigne and The Lion The Bear The Fox.
Holmes kind of fell into her work with the VI Symphony.
She used to live on Machleary Street in Nanaimo, and before the Port Theatre was built, the symphony would perform at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church on Machleary Street. Holmes remembers wondering why the church was so busy on a Saturday night, as she saw her street filled with cars and people walking towards the church. She decided to go find out what was happening, and then she started volunteering with the symphony. She was new to town, and she had a background working in the arts, but VI Symphony didn’t know that at first.
“I wanted to volunteer because it was a way to meet people in Nanaimo,” she said. “They found out I had a background in arts, and I became their first manager.”
That was 16 years ago, and Holmes still loves her job.
As executive director of VI Symphony, she works on all the non-artistic aspects, such as co-ordinating schedules, fundraising and publicity and promotion.
“While I’m responsible for these areas, I have a fabulous team who work with me to make it all happen,” she said. “I never have a boring day. They go very fast, and I work with great people. You really couldn’t ask for more when it comes to work.”