As museums and galleries across the world are coming together to raise awareness of the lack of gender equality in the art community, we wanted to find out more about the women in art behind the museums, galleries, and exhibitions.
We turn to one of the New York art scene’s great influencers – gallery director, artist, aesthetician, business woman, and a truly inspiring individual, Angela Di Bello, to learn more about her experiences in the art industry.
What is your background and when and how did you get involved in the art world?
I have been passionate about and active in the arts all my life, certainly as far back as I can recall; however, my professional career began in 1980 when I became an administrative assistant at a fine art consulting firm. That position lead to a full partnership within two years, when I became involved in sales and secured several fortune 500 companies with art projects worth half a million in revenue.
Many years later when the company dissolved, I went solo and began my own corporate art consulting company, catering to fortune 500 companies in the financial sector. In the 90s, I needed a change and accepted a position as director of the Gallery at Lincoln Center, where I developed a print program for the Metropolitan Opera as a fundraising venture for the Met. In 2000, I began my tenure as director of Agora Gallery.
When you were rising through the professional ranks, did you find that your experiences were different because you were a woman and not a man?
In the 1980s, most art professionals were women. It was a field where a woman could thrive by flexing her business acumen in a chosen career that she was passionate about. The challenge, with respect to being taken seriously as business women, was the male dominated client base, that I, as well as my contemporaries, were dealing with. Some of my clients were law firms, and more often than not, they would use the conference rooms, where we made art selection decisions, as an arena where power struggles took place. Alpha males ruled, and the most powerful among them made budget decisions and final art selections.
At that time, most art consultants were only making a commission from the sale of artworks. As you can imagine, this lead to a great deal wasted time. Eventually, this is what lead to an hourly fee for consulting services, as well as making a hefty commission from the sale of art works. So in the end, we were all grateful for what our clients taught us, particularly the lawyers who charge for every moment of their time.
What other obstacles did you overcome?
One major obstacle was beginning to work alone. Working alone without partners can be a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because you have no one else to answer to, but a curse because there is no one, on the same level, to bounce ideas off of; however, I began to understand that all artists basically work alone, and as a result, they become self-reliant and learn to be most creative when they dig in and challenge themselves in a way that is not possible when taking advice from others. I feel that I became more self-sufficient and creative as a result of working alone for five years.
Agora Gallery has a staff of mostly women, is there a reason for this?
Yes, I have yet to interview a man who had better skills and was better qualified than most of the women who applied for the same position.
What advantages are there for being a woman in the art world?
As Joseph Campbell professed, you must follow your bliss. There are no shortcuts to achieving success in any chosen field, however if you have a passion for the arts, particularly when one combines business and art, there is a greater opportunity for creating something new.
I pursued an education in Arts Administration and I have experimented with many art mediums throughout my early years and continue to do so to this day. I do this as a means of self-fulfillment and to gain better insight into my chosen career path. In addition, I believe that total commitment and immersion leads to flexing the creative muscle in order to be able to consider solutions to problems from many angles, to be your own “other hand” and most of all to not fear failure.
Have you had many role models in your professional career?
My third-grade teacher, Mrs. Hayes, who announced that I was the most creative girl she had ever known, inspired me the most; however, in my professional career my role models are the artists I have had the joy of knowing over many years. I admire their resolve, their passion, and the creative urge that burns like a flame for themselves and for those who cannot see when darkness surrounds.
What advice would you give to women who want to become art professionals?
Know your passion, get an education, get as much experience as possible, be creative in your thinking, solve problems, acknowledge yourself and others for their accomplishments, learn from failure, learn how to say NO, be a team player, stand up for what you believe in, and never give up!