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YOUR FUTURE IN THE ARTS


My future in the arts? What are we talking about...a course in The Art of Accruals...Cross-footing as a Form of Modern Dance? Actually, no. We're talking about accounting and its role in the enormous and fascinating arena that covers everything from theater to opera to museums and ballet.

Introduction

When most accountants think of the non-profit sector, they think of government and non-profit, with the emphasis on government. Even in the traditional Government and Non-Profit Accounting Course, the first two-thirds of the semester are generally occupied by government accounting followed by a breathtaking race through hospitals, universities, and finally, "other non-profits." Needless to say "other non-profits," the sector, which includes arts organizations (along with churches, voluntary health and welfare organizations, labor unions, and a great many other types of non-profits), receives little time and attention. Nevertheless, it is very likely that you will have a "close encounter" with an arts organization sometime in your career, either working for one directly, having one as a client, or serving as a member of the non-profit organization's board of directors.

Careers with Nonprofit Arts Organizations

Until recently, arts organizations did not hire professional financial managers. When donations from private individuals and grants from foundations and federal sources were plentiful, arts organizations did not need sophisticated financial management and most were, quite frankly, unwilling to pay the price to get it. That time has passed. Over the past 25 years, the volume of private donations to the arts has plummeted and government sources, such as the National Endowment for the Arts, have seriously limited the amount of money given to arts organizations.

Today, large arts organizations have separated their management staff into two segments: the creative/artistic side and the business/financial side. Large theaters, museums, operas, and ballets hire business professionals. Depending on the law in your state, a specialization in the arts may open a wonderful career opportunity while meeting your 150-hour requirement to sit for the CPA examination. There are educational options at both the graduate and the undergraduate level.

Masters programs in arts administration have been created to meet the need of arts organizations for trained business professionals. Most of these masters programs are housed in the college of fine arts, but require students to take approximately half of their courses in the business college -- courses you may already have. If you have an interest in the arts, a masters degree in arts administration can provide a ticket to a career with a large arts organization. Alternatively, selected undergraduate classes in the arts can provide a background in arts management and an opportunity to either work for an arts organization or offer a public accounting employer a new employee who has an unusual practice specialization.

Arts Organizations as Clients

If you work in public accounting, you may find yourself auditing non-profit organizations in your first year on the job. Many public accounting firms start new hires on non-profit jobs because most non-profits end their fiscal year in the summer when new hires arrive, and traditionally, the accounting for non-profits has been less complicated than accounting for corporations.

Non-profits need audits for some of the same reasons as for-profits -- to ensure the accuracy of their accounting records, and to evaluate their systems of internal control. But primarily, they need audited financial statements because such statements are demanded by granting organizations including the federal government, state governments, and private foundations.

Many non-profits also need tax advice. Although they do not generally pay taxes, non-profits must file an informational tax return each year. There are also certain activities of non-profit organizations, which may be taxable. The Unrelated Business Income Tax (abbreviated "UBIT" and pronounced "you-bit") applies to income producing activities which are not central to the non-profit organization's mission. For example, while a university does not pay tax on the earnings from its dormitories and bookstore (activities central to the university's mission), they will pay UBIT on income from the football program.

As important as taxes are simply because the Internal Revenue Service gets grouchy if they aren't paid, a more serious potential consequence involves an organization losing its tax-exempt status if too large a portion of its income comes from UBIT activities. It is the accountant's job to protect the non-profit organization from too much success in its for-profit activities.

Service on the Board of a Non-Profit Organization

All accountants, particularly CPAs, find themselves in demand for service on various non-profit boards of directors. It is unlikely that you will end your career without serving as the treasurer of your church, the business manager of your son's Boy Scout troop, or the board of some other non-profit organization. It is easy to see why accountants bring an important set of skills to the board; what is less clear, but equally important, is the value that board service has for the accountant. Volunteer service on the board of a non-profit organization is an integral part of the job description for accountants in most public accounting firm. Through such service, the accountant "networks" with other professionals, establishes relationships which may eventually bring business into the firm, and helps build name recognition for the accountant's employer. At the same time, of course, the accountant provides important services to the non-profit organization. While junior staff members may serve on the board of the Boy Scouts, partners will find themselves on the Board of the Symphony or the Ballet, serving side-by-side with powerful business leaders and the mayor or president of the city council.

Preparing Your Credentials

If you have an interest in the non-profit arts sector, start your planning now. Take your school or department's Government and Non-Profit Accounting course. This material accounts for approximately 30% of one part of the CPA exam and it will give you a background in non-profit accounting. If you have a particular interest in a specific art, for example ballet or theater, consider taking some courses in the dance or theater department to develop a better understanding of the issues involved in these disciplines. Finally, courses (or a masters degree) in arts management will put your accounting skills and your arts interests together in a unique and marketable way.

Pamela Keltyka
Daverio School of Accountancy
University of Akron
Akron, Ohio 44325-4802
(330) 972-6745

pkeltyk@uakron.edu

 

Randy Pope
Director, Graduate Program in Theater Arts
College of Fine and Applied Arts
University of Akron
Akron, Ohio 44325-1005

Jerry Apple
Professor of Taxation
Daverio School of Accountancy
University of Akron
Akron, Ohio 44325-4802

 

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