MN: ImageNation has been in Harlem since its inception. How do you stay relevant in a world of competition?
MG: It’s hard. And the hardest part is when I first started with ImageNation, it was just me. Most of the competition in Harlem that exists now has been influenced by my work. I’m really clear about that. Staying relevant now is about partnering up and increasing the quality of our programs. Building new audiences and, right now, it’s about raising funds so we can be sustainable [and] actually achieve the goal of opening the cinema. We can produce a successful event; eyes closed. Now it’s about raising the funds to open the doors. Relevancy for us is about opening the doors of the cinema.
MN: You run the company with your husband, Greg Gates. What are some of the good and bad things about working with your husband?
MG: Greg is a very creative person, he’s really committed to what he’s doing. He gets it. And I trust him 150 percent. The bad part is that he’s my husband and with your husband, you get home at night and you still talk about it, especially if you’re annoyed.
MN: What has changed in Harlem since you produced your first event?
MG: When I started I had this image of a chain of cinemas but I realized that Harlem just wasn’t ready for it. There was no night life. I’d be opening a cinema on a dead block. Back then, 125th street was dark at night after 8 o’clock. Now there’s a real vibrant nightlife in Harlem. There are vibrant social hubs here. There’s a tremendous about of investment going on in Harlem. And there is a community that can sustain this type of endeavor so much more than before.
MN: Where do you see ImageNation in the next five years?
MG: I see us having two cinemas up and running. We’d like to have the franchise system up and running.
MN: Any advice to event planners and building audiences?
MG: Keep a good mailing list, a good strong team around you and know your audience, what will be engaging to them. Some people do things from a passionate point of view but there will come a time when your passion won’t sustain you. Having a clear idea of how the finances will come in is my best advice. If you’re an artistic person, you’ll find at least at first that the business part will come secondary. However, you’ll come to find out that it should be considered first. Prioritize bringing on an accountant and good bookkeeping.
MN: Advice for married couples going into business?
MG: I think it best if you segment responsibilities; everyone should have their lane. That makes things work a little bit better. Be very clear about who does what, like in your home; if your husband has his job and you have your job, you can complement each other instead of tripping over each other. I’d definitely say segment your responsibilities.