This is the seventh post in our “Project Your Voice” series. In this Q&A, we sat down with Angie M. Gates, President and CEO of Events DC. Even as a child, Angie was drawn to live entertainment. Over her illustrious career that spans more than two decades, she has found inspiration in every facet of what makes an event successful.
Q: How did you get started in the meetings industry?
A: I think I’ve been in the industry since birth. My dad was a jazz musician, so I was accustomed to being in venues with my mom while we were on the road with him. I guess it’s apropos that I would go on to manage a venue.
I have built a more than 20-year career in the meetings, entertainment, conventions and venue industry. I grew up in the south and started out in historic theaters in New Orleans. I was part of the Essence Festival, JazzFest, the Emancipation Day Festival here in Washington, D.C., and many other small and large-scale events. I am really drawn to culture-driven events.
Prior to my role with Events DC, I had the opportunity to run the historic Warner Theater, which led me to a post on Mayor Muriel Bowser’s cabinet as Director of the Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment. In that capacity, I focused a lot on tourism and hospitality, and often crossed paths with Events DC, which ultimately led to my appointment as President and CEO in October 2022.
In my current position, I focus on tourism, hospitality and keeping hotels full and the nightlife thriving. We bring in events that will entertain and engage our residents here in D.C. along with our visitors. In addition, I am managing venues day-to-day, including RFK stadium, The Fields at RFK, the Entertainment & Sports Arena and the Stadium Armory. Not one single day is the same.
At the forefront of everything is the same goal: to do things that will drive a positive economic impact for the Washington, D.C. community.
Q: What inspires you in your work?
A: I always have to start with my dad. He was an inspirational performer, but he also taught me that you don’t have to be on stage in order to participate in the energy of live events. It takes everyone from backstage to the front office to make an event run well.
I also get inspired at the women making herstory, if you will. There are very few women in this industry, especially at the CEO level. I remember when I was completing my master’s degree, I had the opportunity to interview Eartha Kitt, when she was playing the fairy godmother in a wonderfully diverse and inclusive cast of Cinderella. That was an incredibly inspiring conversation.
Some of the things that inspire me might shock most people. The loading crew, for example. Most individuals walk into an event and see the finished product. The crew is there at 4 or 5 in the morning and comes back again after the encore is over at midnight to begin the tear down. Without their hard work, the event couldn’t happen at all.
I still get inspired every day, even with the 20-year career I’ve had. I have these 1-on-1 meetings, and I ask everybody the same question: “What’s your fresh idea?” The answers astound me. There are always, consistently, fresh ideas out there, from all kinds of people and that rejuvenates me.
Q: What do you love about this industry, and what do you find most challenging?
A: The thing that I find most interesting about events is sometimes the same thing that is most challenging––this industry is ever-changing. For example, when the pandemic took place, we went virtual and created a whole new way of doing business almost overnight. Although that was challenging, it was exciting. We are still feeling our way through. People still have different comfort levels for attending large events, so we have hybrid models. I am focused on getting people back to D.C. for small, medium and large events, so how do we reach different audiences and make the experience work for everyone? What services can we offer to make them comfortable? That is sometimes tough to get right, but it is exhilarating work.
What I love the most about the industry is the people that I meet and cross paths with. I don’t go into an office every day, talk to the same people or do the exact same thing. Meeting new people is part of the beauty of it all. That’s an opportunity that not every industry has to offer. Just a few weeks ago, we had a convention here for the American Thoracic Society. I had probably never used the word thoracic before, and probably would not have met any of those interesting people if my career had gone a different way. The ability to learn is something I appreciate. It is so intriguing to be a part of these events. You see who is running the world and the impact they are making. If you only stay in your own lane, you miss so much of what is taking place and who is getting it done.
Q: Do you have any advice for others who are thinking of choosing this path?
A: If you want to be in this business, start working in a venue as soon as possible! Don’t get distracted by other things. It’s important to get experience in some kind of hospitality or entertainment role and remain consistent.
Also, find someone who, by your own definition, has “made it.” Whatever you envision as success, find that person, have a conversation with them and let them tell you how they got there. You don’t have to make the same mistakes. Learn from the people that got there before you, then follow those paths while building out your own footprint along the way. That is so crucial and will help you to love your career.
Q: What is your hope for the future?
A: I feel that it is important for our industry to build on the inclusive, equitable environment we are creating. That is true for individual careers and the positions we hold within organizations, but there are other ways to be inclusive. We can create an equitable world through the types of events that we host, and the organizations and people we welcome through our doors.
It’s important not to limit ourselves to a demographic that we’re accustomed to chatting with. I would like to see more events targeted toward youth to get them engaged and involved. I would also like to see the senior community better represented. In our inclusivity efforts, don’t forget about the next generation or the generation that led the way.
If you or anyone from your organization would like to be a contributor to the “Project Your Voice” series, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More from “Project Your Voice”
[Part One] Talking About Inclusion, Diversity and Finding Your Niche with Josh Henry, SPIE
[Part Two] Talking About Connection and Responsibility with Cassie Mancera, AAOMS
[Part Three] Talking About Making a Collective Impact with Paula Eichenbrenner, AMCP Foundation
[Part Four] Talking About Growth Through Facing Down Your Fears with Yolanda Simmons Battle, AHIMA
[Part Five] Talking About Putting Mental Health First with Dana Johnston, IDSA
[Part Six] Talking About the Power of Meetings with Karen Cuviello, Projection