Alumni / January 11, 2024

Using A Business Background to Create and Curate Art

Marcus De Paula ’08, MBA ’13

Photo courtesy of Marcus De Paula.

Recommendations from friends and growing up in the region helped Marcus De Paula decide on the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business for his education. He graduated in 2008 and returned to earn his MBA in 2013.

Today De Paula is a multi-disciplinary artist and curator. His sculptures have been exhibited in many places, including a piece built for Burning Man in 2022.

“It was the largest piece that I’ve made, at 10 feet tall and weighing 3000 pounds. I made it in New York, drove it across the country myself and set it up in the desert without any heavy machinery,” De Paula says. Where most pieces would take about three months from concept to completion, he created the Burning Man piece in just 5 weeks. “It showed me what I was capable of.”

De Paula says his art calls “attention to civilizational fragility,” hoping to raise awareness about environmental and political challenges. “I want to prompt reflection and inspire action. That’s my practice. I’m currently exploring and learning a lot about solar power, and I’d like to create some large-scale sculptures that demonstrate how solar arrays can be sculptural and are art pieces themselves.”

His journey from business school to Brooklyn-based artist was very much unexpected but he realized a career centered on creativity was what he needed. After graduating from Smith with his undergraduate degree, De Paula started a lighting design company and got the idea to intertwine entrepreneurship and the arts. He returned to Smith for an MBA followed by stints at Deloitte and iHeartMedia, but ultimately wanted to run his own business.

“As an artist, you are an entrepreneur. You are running your small business,” De Paula says. He describes his artistic process as similar to the skills an entrepreneur would possess. “Starting with a vision, you have a big problem, and you sort of have to back into how to solve it, how to get there.”

His Smith education provided him the “framework and understanding of how to start with an idea and find a product-market fit. How can I find a way to execute something that I want to make, that I want to bring into the world, and a collector that would want to support it.” De Paula notes one of the classes that influenced him most during his MBA studies was an entrepreneurship class taught by Brent Goldfarb, Dean’s Professor of Entrepreneurship and academic director of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship. Through the course, students actively start a business and are ranked on how profitable it is. “I think it just encouraged me to get out there and do something, get out there and start making work.”

Making the work was one step, but the international business major found that when he transitioned to art, he lacked a network. “I realized a way to accelerate that was to curate exhibitions myself. And so, if you’re not invited to a party, you put on your own and people will come.” De Paula says his experience in marketing was helpful in showing others he could communicate and execute a vision for an exhibition other artists “would be proud to be a part of.” He organized a series of exhibitions called “Current.” The first iteration showcased 13 artists and was part of the New York Design Festival, NYC by Design, and was nominated and honored as a finalist for Best Exhibition by Interior Design Magazine in 2021.

De Paula says he received a lot of feedback about his career changes, and he recommends trusting the process. “I had a lot of fear about ‘what am I doing now’, wondering if I will be successful?” He says realizing that we are all individuals is what makes us unique, which is “our most defensible competitive advantage, to put it in business terms.”

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

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