Chela Mitchell is an art advisor committed to helping collectors build diverse art collections. Additionally, Chela is an art dealer at her eponymous Chela Mitchell Gallery. Chela has worked with institutions, corporations, and art collectors, informing their acquisitions in the emerging, mid-career, and established markets. She is a voice for change in the art world, often speaking on panels and actively fighting for the equity of artists and art professionals.
Before devoting herself full-time to the art world, Chela worked as a fashion stylist at Net-a-Porter, Barney’s, Intermix, and Vogue Japan. She has worked closely with artists like Solange, Iman Omari, and Young Paris. Chela has been featured in Forbes, The Los Angeles Times, ArtNews, Artnet News, NR Magazine, W Magazine, Matrons and Mistresses, and 10 Magazine. She is a proud graduate of Rutgers University and lives in D.C. with her husband, daughter, and French mastiff, Harlem.
How has your upbringing shaped your entrepreneurial experience and what you do in the arts today?
My upbringing was full of culture and exploration. I grew up in the Southeast corridor of Washington, D.C. I would travel across the city to the bilingual elementary school that I attended, which was essential for my development. That school exposed me to food, literature, music, language, culture, and children from different economic backgrounds. I can relate to and understand anyone. From the projects to the Hamptons, I feel the same level of comfortability. Growing up in an all-Black neighborhood gave me what I now know to understand as supreme confidence and a sense of self. I had positive role models in my village who gave me so much. Being encouraged to reach for the stars in my community is something that I have carried throughout my career. In the third grade, I was going to school by myself, which was an hour-long journey. My independence and problem-solving skills stemmed from that. I learned to think quickly and trust my intuition which is a significant factor in how I run my business.
What was the most important thing you learned at your first job in the Arts?
My first job in the arts was CMA (Chela Mitchell Art). Before founding my art advisory practice, I had never worked in the art world. I’ve learned a lot in the past four years. The most important thing that I’ve discovered is the need to stay true to myself. There are many structures and conventions in the art world that don’t always resonate with me. I’ve decided that many people benefit from witnessing me showing up authentically in these spaces.
As a multi-hyphenate, what is one thing you do every day that contributes to your success?
I’m a free spirit which is not always a good thing LOL. I need to bring a lot of structure to my day. I put my phone away for hours daily so I can focus. It helps so much!
You founded your advisory, Chela Mitchell Art, in 2018. What prompted you to launch a gallery, and how does your advisory practice inform the exhibitions you present?
I’ve been expressing my desire to open a gallery for years, as manifested last year. Engaging with art is one of my favorite things, so why not combine that passion with helping artists and collectors? Specifically, black artists and collectors have inspired me to create a space in D.C. where they can exist without the suffocation and violence of whiteness.
There is a deep need for an arts club-like Komuna House. What has been the most rewarding aspect of running this organization?
The most rewarding aspect of running Komuna is collaborating with artists and curators that I respect so much. The members are amazing and always bring the best energy to our events. They enjoy learning about art in an intimate, group setting.
What has been the greatest challenge in your career thus far?
The greatest challenge for me thus far has been undoing what I believe is no longer serving us in the art world. Tearing down old systems to create new structures can feel scary, especially for those that benefit greatly from the current system. That resistance can be heavy, but I already see minor changes emerging.
Is there a milestone or event this year at Chela Mitchell Gallery or Komuna House that we can look forward to?
Chela Mitchell Gallery will be opening its permanent space this year. Last year we had a beautiful pop-up space. I’m excited to celebrate the opening with my NYC and D.C. friends. Komuna House is finally fully foraying into in-person events after launching in the pandemic. Our membership will open up in New York City and Washington, D.C., with a limited number of open spots for each city. Our first NYC event of the year is at Lehmann Maupin with a private walkthrough of Nari Ward’s solo show.
What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?
Stay true to yourself. We don’t need a carbon copy of anyone that came before us. Train your eye to see what art resonates with you, and get outside of what is trending or popular.
How do you think the art world can become more transparent?
Honesty is the best transparency. Be honest about how oppressive the art world can be for artists. Many things fall under that umbrella, but naming them is a good start.
If you could own work by any five artists, who would be in your collection?
So hard. Kerry James Marshall, Naudline Pierre, Shinique Smith, and Alicja Kwade.