Corporate world, art gallery owner
By the time Carla Bristol moved from Guyana to New York with her family when she was 11 years old, she was ingrained in the business world, having worked in her mom’s food business. And by the time she got to high school, she knew business was her calling. College and 28 years in corporate world followed. Two years ago, she dropped corporate to pursue her dreams. Bristol, 47, tells her story to Live Local! magazine.
OO OO OO
My corporate career led me to information technology, working for a Fortune 500 in NY, and going up the ranks to senior global account manager. The parts of my job I enjoyed the most were understanding the needs of my customers, solving those needs and building healthy business relationships. But for me, most important was cultivating a sense of community. I led a corporate program to help youths learn job-placement skills, taught Junior Achievement and pooled together co-workers to feed the homeless during our lunch breaks. In 1996, the year I became a mom, my job brought me to Florida. The first time I talked about my idea of owning a gallery featuring art from the African and Caribbean diaspora was four years later, when I attended the St. Petersburg Chamber’s Entrepreneurial Academy. But that idea was set aside as I continued to focus on my corporate career, motherhood and other pursuits.
I founded Be A Blessing Everyday, or BABE, a movement for kindness, the following year. That was a way of sharing with others that every day we’re all given an opportunity to be a blessing to others, by bringing dinner to an elderly neighbor, donating clothes to a local shelter, or simply giving someone a hug or sharing a smile. And in 2009 I started an annual Success Brunch for Women and invited a diverse group of women to discuss one topic: “What would you rather be doing?” Many of us had nice homes, well-paying jobs and happy families, but still felt unfulfilled.
In March 2014, I decided to take a pause from corporate to open Gallerie 909 on 22nd Street South in St. Petersburg. I was already spending so much time volunteering at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum, and I realized the idea of opening a gallery was still a passion and this was my “now.” That part of town was somewhat desolate at the time, but I could envision what the street would look like in three to five years and I wanted to be a part of the progress. I was also inspired by the street’s past, its rich history that is now marked by the African American Heritage Trail.
As for Gallerie 909, we have hosted more than 40 artists from all over the country, and the gallery is quickly becoming the preeminent space for art, culture and heritage of the African and Caribbean experience. As I enter the gallery’s third year, I reflect on the sense of fulfillment I feel being a part of the community while doing what I love to do.
Although there has been several challenges along the way, I’ve never thought of turning back. I miss making the big salary that allowed me to travel and I’ve downsized, but the sense of fulfillment is like a propeller pushing me forward. I have been able to make assessments along the way and adjust accordingly.