By Paula Katinas
Editor’s Note: Now that the Oxygen Network’s controversial “reality” series “Brooklyn 11223” has aired its season finale, the Brooklyn Eagle is proud to continue profiling the “real” women of Bay Ridge and their accomplishments.
Bay Ridge — Had Wall Street not collapsed in 2008, Leigh Holliday probably would never have left her high-powered job at Bear Stearns. She would still be assisting in the management of the corporation’s buildings all over the world.
But then again, Holliday would probably not be doing what she is doing today - helping children find the joy of creativity in The Art Room, a business she founded a couple of years ago on Third Avenue.
“I don’t know if I would have moved on to do other things if the financial collapse had not happened. I enjoyed my job. Bear Stearns was a great place to work. I had a skill set. I was enjoying myself. It was a nice place to be,” Holliday said. “We women, we want comfort in our lives. But sometimes, you have to reach outside your comfort zone just a little bit.”
For Holliday, reaching outside the comfort zone meant giving herself the chance to reignite her career in the arts after having left it behind for a while.
Her career shift could be a lesson to women everywhere to forge ahead in the face of tough circumstances. Many women, like Holliday, are moving onto second careers after losing their jobs.
Holliday was an executive assistant to the head of global corporate real estate at Bear Stearns.
“We were pretty much responsible for all of the company’s facilities worldwide,” she said.
Information sheets listing architects’ fees and construction costs composed of billions of dollars would routinely cross her desk.
Everything had to be precise.
“If one figure was off, if a digit was missing, or was added to the total, it had to be corrected,” Holliday said.
Holliday loved her job and met her fiancé Justin Brannan there. Brannan, who is now communications director for Councilman Vincent Gentile, worked in the asset management department at Bear Stearns.
Holliday was born and raised in Washington, D.C. She moved to New York in 2003.
“It was super exciting to come to this very cosmopolitan city. I have always felt like this was home to me,” she recalled.
Bear Stearns was one of the first multi-billion-dollar financial firms to go down when the economy collapsed at the end of 2008.
“It was such a sudden fall,” Holliday recalled. “I remember that when it happened, we were in the middle of planning a new, state-of-the-art facility in London.”
Instead, she was out of a job.
“I knew that a fork in the road was happening,” she said.
She decided to pursue a career in art. She had always loved it. Years earlier, when she lived in Washington, D.C., she owned a small studio-store called Fingers At Play and had helped children paint, draw and sculpt. Maybe it was time to do that again, she thought.
Holliday realized that she had never really left the art world behind, even when she was working in the field of finance.
“I had an art background. When I was working at Bear Stearns, I had a studio with a friend of mine in Park Slope. I would come home from work in my business suit and go straight to the studio,” she said. “Unfortunately, I had to give up the studio when I was in transition.”
The transition from corporate finance to art wasn’t easy.
“You can’t snap your fingers and make things happen,” she said.
She persevered. With Brannan, who is also a rock musician and understands the creative process, and Brannan’s mother, who is a teacher, Holliday opened The Art Room. The studio the three own is dedicated to teaching children about art and helping youngsters find their creative sides.
In addition to teaching kids how to create art, The Art Room treats children like serious artists, hosting sophisticated gallery openings where youngsters’ paintings and drawings are hung on the walls just like you would see at the Metro-politan Museum of Art.
“I’m so grateful to Bay Ridge, because I think the community has welcomed us and made it possible for us to have a business like this,” Holliday said.
Holliday and Brannan also do a lot of charity work, opening The Art Room to fundraisers like their annual Pie Social to benefit the Guild for Exceptional Children.
Holliday enjoys her day-to-day encounters with children.
“I love my job so much. To see the children’s smiles when they know they’ve done work that they’re proud of just makes my day,” she said.
Art can be an important educational tool, according to Holliday.
“It raises their self-esteem and their awareness of themselves. If they feel good about what they’re doing, it opens them up to learn other things,” she said.
Her advice to other women facing the winds of change in the work place: Don’t be afraid.
“It’s scary when something you’ve had for a long time is suddenly gone. But you can turn that event into a positive,” she said. “If you find something you’re passionate about and you go after it, you’ll find that there is great joy at the end of that journey.”