This is the fifth in a series of blog posts highlighting a variety of different positions within the Milwaukee Art Museum. Each day, hundreds of visitors enter the Milwaukee Art Museum to stare in awe at the incredible wealth of artworks within the museum’s collection. But what can too often go unrecognized is the equally awe-inspiring work of the many museum staff members, without whom the museum in its current state could not exist. “MAM Behind the Scenes” is a blog series written by Digital Learning intern Emma Fallone to showcase the wide range of positions that make up a museum, and to reveal just a few of the many people whose work makes the Milwaukee Art Museum a source of inspiration and education.
Can you give a brief description of your job, in thirty seconds or less?
My job is to maintain the financial assets of the Milwaukee Art Museum in a secure fashion. My primary role is to ensure that there are proper controls in place, so that the museum’s assets stay safe. “Proper controls” consist of management oversight and reviews of all of the documentation that we process – ticket receipts, store sales, café sales, and so on. We monitor all of their activity to make sure that they are generating revenue and to ensure that they are in compliance with all of the necessary regulations. So, we really control the financial assets of the museum.
Of course, I am responsible for the entire accounting staff, as well. As a team, we do everything from basic financial reports all the way up to final audits for the Board of Trustees. It’s a very all-inclusive job. We ensure that everything that transpires within the museum is acting according to the rules and laws of the United States, in terms of accounting. We then help to interpret those regulations to the supervisors and directors. It’s actually quite an interesting job, because in an organization like this, there is always so much activity. There are so many departments, covering a wide range of roles and responsibilities within the museum, and we track all of the financial activity of each of them.
What would be a “typical day” in the life of a comptroller?
My staff and I count all of the museum’s receipts and compare them to our databases, making sure that all of the numbers balance and everything is accounted for. Then, we process the payroll, making sure that all employees have turned in their timesheets and that their wages are calculated properly. I always review everything that the staff files, in terms of financial data – that way, everything within our accounting system has been thoroughly checked over before it was entered.
What is your favorite part of your job?
The interaction with administrators from all areas within the museum. I usually meet on a monthly basis with the supervisors, managers, and directors, to go over the inner financial workings of the museum at every level of detail. It’s our responsibility to go deep within the economic system of the museum and know exactly what is happening. We also produce specialized reports for the Director and Board of Trustees. Finally, as a nonprofit organization, the Milwaukee Art Museum doesn’t pay taxes, so in order to make sure that we are complying with all U.S. laws and regulations, we have to undergo audits. So, we need to make sure that there are no issues with our finances, when we prepare paperwork for these yearly examinations.
So, as you can see, there are a lot of different, varied responsibilities that make up my position, dealing directly with almost every aspect of the museum. I guess you could say that I truly always have my “finger on the pulse” in terms of knowing exactly what’s going on at the MAM, and that is what makes my job so interesting. We’re really tied in to so many different aspects of the inner workings of the museum. It’s a lot of fun to see how everything comes together – and it’s definitely a huge team effort!
What is one challenge that you have encountered in your work?
In past organizations that I have worked with, it has been a real challenge to constantly monitor the actions of so many different departments. But to be honest, this hasn’t been a problem at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Here, everybody is very willing to listen, and they really understand the importance of doing things the correct way. It’s quite refreshing – there are a lot of very intelligent people working here, who understand that not only do we need to make sure that our mission statement is being accomplished, by showing artwork to the public, but that the financial end of the organization also needs to be sound so that we can continue to operate.
Is there something unusual or unique about your position that most people may not know?
Definitely the compliance aspect. I don’t think people understand how imperative it is that the museum follows all of the financial laws and regulations entirely, down to every last detail. There are many different rules and laws, on every level of jurisdiction from local to national. So, I have to be knowledgeable and up-to-date with all of them, because there can be changes. Making sure that we follow the regulations exactly is important because it helps keep the museum safe, and allows it to remain in operation and continue to fulfill its mission of sharing art with the public.
Tell a bit about yourself – how did you come to have this position?
I actually began my career working in radio. I graduated from college with a degree in radio and TV/film communications, and then worked in the radio field for seven years. Unfortunately, the huge radio conglomerates kept buying out the smaller stations that I worked for – I think I ended up working for three different radio companies within those seven years. In the end, I just got tired of constantly having to search for a new radio job, so I opened up the newspaper one morning and took a look at all of the available accounting jobs – and I decided to go back to school and get an accounting degree! I started my accounting career working at a real estate firm, and then I was with the nonprofit AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, and now I’m here at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
My more unusual background in the arts and communications definitely had an impact on my decision to come and work for MAM. Accountants as a whole tend to be a bit more on the quiet side – communicative skills aren’t really taught within the profession itself, so accountants often aren’t very good at explaining basic financial functions in such a way that the other members of the organization can readily understand. So, I think my communications skills and previous experience help me connect with people on a personal level, and explain the complex numbers that make up the financial activity of the organization in a way that is accessible to everyone. The combination of these two degrees, communications and accounting, can seem a bit unconventional – but it really does work out very well in terms of preparing someone for a position as the comptroller of a large organization, as the two skill sets complement each other very nicely.
Why do you believe that art and art museums are important in today’s society?
Art is important in society because it brings beauty into everybody’s lives. And art should not be limited to the select few individuals who can afford such things – it should be open to the public and accessible to everyone. This is a large part of the fundamental mission of the museum, given its status as a nonprofit, which it is my job to help maintain.
What is your favorite work in the Museum’s collection?
Definitely the Cock of the Liberation – I’m a huge Picasso fan.
Read more “MAM Behind the Scenes” features here.
Emma Fallone was a summer digital learning intern, focusing on blogging. At the time, Emma was a junior at Yale University, majoring in history and art history. In June 2014, she moved to Washington, DC, to work at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.