Angie Gates welcomes me in a state-of-the-art studio at the Office of Cable, Television, Film, Music and Entertainment (OCTFME) the way a hostess would to an old friend coming over for Sunday dinner. The New Orleans native embraces me with open arms as if we’ve known each other for years and then makes the rounds, introducing herself to each member of my team and cutting up with the OCTFME crew, who she describes as her extended family. Her sincerity is effortless, and it sets the stage well for an intimate conversation about her brand-new role as CEO and president of Events DC.
The former OCTFME director and DC film commissioner started the next chapter of her career on November 14, bringing 20 years of experience in events management and entertainment with her to D.C.’s official convention and sports authority. Gates first came to the District for a job at Warner Theatre, where she ultimately became the first African American general manager. While she initially had doubts about her move — chief among them, if squirrels existed in our concrete jungle — there is no doubt in her mind that D.C. has become home. From second line parades in the Big Easy to go-go shows in the nation’s capital, the transition to another vibrant community felt seamless.
We sit down for our interview less than a week before Gates takes the reins at Events DC, and just days after Mayor Bowser’s reelection for a third term. Our conversation begins and ends the same way, with Gates beaming and speaking passionately about our city and her plans to help keep it thriving. Read on for a glimpse into the self-described entertainment buff’s goals for her new role, commitment to supporting our creative community and what makes her tick, whether it’s playing a party guest in “The Nutcracker” or dancing to go-go like no one’s watching.
District Fray: What drew you to this opportunity and why did it feel like the right fit for you at this stage in your career?
Angie Gates: It gave me a chance to continue to make a difference in our great city. I’ve had a career in entertainment. I’ve had a career in managing venues. I’ve had a career working with entertainers and doing large-scale events. That was totally in alignment with my career path, so I was very interested in the position. I also had a chance to work with the predecessor on the ReOpen DC committee [a Covid-19 task force designed to help reopen D.C. safely and sustainably] and learned a lot about the organization. Anytime there’s an opportunity to grow and make a difference, I definitely take full advantage of it.
What are your top three priorities in the first six months of your new role?
It’s very important to know the people on your team. We have to collectively work together to build a creative economy here in Washington, D.C. so I’m going to do a listening tour internally with the team. I’m also going to do an external listening tour with stakeholders and constituents. I’m going to work closely with the Hospitality Alliance: Destination DC, the Hotel Association of Washington, D.C. and the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington. I really want to spend some time closing the deals. What’s out there that’s going to be a large-scale event — whether it’s conventions and meetings, a sports and entertainment event or something geared toward our creative services — that’s going to really put people to work and fill our hotel rooms? What deals are pending that I can quickly close? One of the things I’ll focus on long term is looking at where we were prior to the pandemic, and really getting back to that point and excelling beyond it.
What is at least one major goal you hope to reach one year from today?
I tend to be a person who wants to accomplish anything historic that hasn’t been done before. I want to make it a point to really elevate what we’re doing from a sports and entertainment perspective. D.C. should continue to be a world-class city, but I want us to be the model everyone is looking at. I want to get the phone call that not only do we want to rent your facility and come and host our meetings here, but what are you doing that we can do in our city? I want us to be a household name — not only in Washington, D.C. but nationally and internationally.
Walk me through the 9th Street retail project.
We refer to it as the streetscape project. This is going to give us an opportunity to really transform the exterior of our facility. You’ll see everything from world-class art, retail kiosks and beautiful planters, but it also gives us an opportunity to engage the local businesses and retail in the area — particularly in the Shaw neighborhood. We’re looking forward to it. It’s a perfect opportunity for us to engage one-on-one with the community and really start to highlight our facility, not only for the people visiting from a tourism perspective but also engaging the individuals out in the community.
What other projects will you be focused on in the short-term? Are there any wards that take priority?
All wards matter. We have a wonderful venue, the Entertainment and Sports Arena, that we’re really looking to do more activities in. We have something to offer in every ward. We have RFK Stadium. We also have Carnegie Library and the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. But my main [priority] is making sure anything we’re doing has an inclusive and equitable approach, and that we’re showcasing all the venues we have in our portfolio and engaging the community in the process.
Why does D.C. feel like home? Why are you passionate about our city’s creative scene in particular?
I consider D.C. the capital of creativity, but what actually has locked me into D.C. is the people. After going through Hurricane Katrina and losing everything, it was like, “Where can I find that camaraderie of people and togetherness? Where can I find that music? Where can I find that culture?” And that is what I found very quickly in D.C. I found my family here. I’m not going anywhere. I’m a proud resident of Ward 6.
Tell me about your experience working at Warner Theatre.
On day one, I had a revelation. Someone was telling me the history: At one point, African Americans weren’t allowed to come into the theater. When African Americans could come in, they could only come into the balcony area. Within a year or so, I became the first African American general manager of the Warner Theatre. That was not only a historic moment but an enlightening moment that with time, things change. I really grew a lot while I was there. When I left, I was gone two or three years, and when I came back, I had a guest role in “The Nutcracker.” I went from the general manager to being on stage. This is how life comes full circle.
What sets our creative community apart from what’s happening in other cities?
The hustle and grind of our creatives. I have never seen a group of content makers and creatives who work as hard as they do here in Washington, D.C. We have such a diverse and vibrant creative community. There are people who are working their 9-to-5 jobs and then fulfilling what they want to do through their passion when they’re not working. That’s one of the things we highlight and will continue to highlight at Events DC. There’s a tourism component here. Look at our culture. Look at our fabric. Look at our creatives here in Washington, D.C.
What can the city do to further support our creatives?
Being part of the creative community makes a difference. For example, as a government, we can’t make the decisions. We’re here to implement the decisions. We can’t dictate what’s necessary. It’s important for us to listen to our creative community, which we’ve done, and be able to launch the resources and the services. Nothing’s better than allowing an opportunity for the government and the creatives to have a seat at the table together, and that’s what we’ve done. We’ve done that with 202Creates [Mayor Bowser’s initiative to engage residents through community-focused events, activities and resources] and our residency program. That’s what I will be doing at Events DC: engaging the community and making sure we’re bringing large-scale events that showcase the talent of the creatives.
Mayor Bowser just won her third term. What about her reelection are you most excited about?
I’m super excited with her being D.C.’s first female, three-term mayor. That’s historic. Mayor Bowser has made a lot of investments in the creative community. I’m really excited about some of the opportunities we’ve recently seen with the launch of the Encore Program, providing grants and subsidies. Sometimes, it’s not always finances. It’s having resources available for the creative community. I’ll give an example: After going through a pandemic, launching programs like Care for Creatives [pay-what-you-can mental health services for local creatives] and maintaining them, because your mental state of mind is just as important to be at your top potential creatively. Those are investments I know she will continue to make. I’m looking forward to it, and I’m here to activate and create initiatives and really do some additional things through Events DC, as well. Our creative community has to maintain, sustain and grow here in Washington, D.C.
When you’re not working, what do you do for fun? What are some of your hobbies?
I like to cook. I guess that’s just growing up in the South. I would cook with my grandmother and my mother, so I love home-cooked meals. I’m a movie buff. And as quiet as it’s kept, I’m a dancer. I like to dance, and I don’t have to go anywhere to dance. I’ll just turn some music on in my house and cut a jig and dance around. I’m a creative at heart. I’m an executive producer for films and documentaries. I spend a lot of time just writing my creative thoughts down. At some point, I think I’m going to compile everything together. I think there’s a book in the making.
Who inspires you?
My mom and my grandmother, because if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be sitting in this seat. I’m also inspired by what we’re doing today. This inspires me. You inspire me. I believe in what is called the minute mentor. I believe you can be around someone for 60 seconds and will have something you can take away from them. I’m often inspired by the little girls I run across. When they talk about what they want to do, it inspires me to keep forging ahead and pushing forward and shattering any glass ceilings that may exist. It becomes an inspiration.
What words do you live by?
Faith over fear. There’s a sign that’s at my front door. I see it before I leave my house every day, and it says, “Faith over fear.” I’ve had to rely on that throughout my career. I’ve had to remind myself of that from time to time. Faith over fear is what I live by, and it hasn’t failed me yet.