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Posted By Ashley Morales


Internationally acclaimed artist Mark Aeling established MGA Sculpture Studio, LLC in 1996 in St. Louis, Missouri. In 2005, he relocated MGA to St. Petersburg, Florida, where it stands as an anchor studio within the Warehouse Arts District Association’s ArtsXchange campus. Featuring 5,000 square feet of studio space with 25-foot ceilings, MGA accommodates projects of any scale, specializing in metal fabrication and most cast mediums. Aeling is also the President of WADA, a vibrant and diverse cultural center he has helped to shape through active leadership advocacy in the arts and an understanding of the need for community involvement. Editors' note: This transcription is an edited version of the much longer recorded conversation which you can hear by pressing the play triangle.

Years in St. Pete

I just started my 19th year. I came down in 2005 on the Fourth of July.

Organizations involved in

I’m the board president of the Warehouse Arts District Association. Between that and the Soft Water Gallery that my wife Carrie Jadus and I have, and my business MGA, that keeps me pretty busy.

What gets you out of bed every day?

I do what I love. So, every day, I don’t have to set an alarm. Let’s put it that way. I am very, very content and I’m very fortunate to have found a way of making a living making things, and that’s a good motivator.

Why St. Pete?

I was breaking up a business partnership in St. Louis, and I had a project on the east coast, so I took the opportunity to take a three-week road trip. I drove down the eastern seaboard looking for a place to move my studio to, and basically just fell in love with St. Petersburg.

What is one habit that you keep?

Exercise. I am very interested in staying in shape. It keeps me focused. And you know, it’s especially as I get older here. I’m 56 now, and you know, statistically, if you don’t actively engage your body, then you lose your muscle mass, so I like being active, and being actively engaged in exercise makes me feel vibrant.

Who are some people that influence you?

Someone who I would consider to be a mentor is someone who is very passionate about what they do and someone who has found that synergy between their talent and the need for that talent, and has worked at building that with diligence. You know, I’ve come across a few people, one is Larry Giles in St. Louis. He started a company called St. Louis Architectural Art. He was an old Marine veteran who’d served in Vietnam, and he had a love for architecture and architectural ornament, and he bought himself an old used cement truck and modified it and turned it into a crane. He started salvaging building facades, and he funded it all by salvaging old tile roofs and then reselling the roofing tiles. He amassed a collection of architectural ornament from inner cities throughout the Midwest that filled multiple warehouses, and the guy was monastic in his dedication. He was one of the most disciplined people I’ve ever experienced. He had clarity of vision and dogged pursuit, which are things that I think are very, very valuable.

Locally, a mentor for me, someone that I admire is Rob Kapusta, who’s become a very dear friend. He’s incredibly philanthropic. He’s very intelligent. He’s very well educated. He’s a lawyer and he also has a background in accounting. He has had a hand in the development of the City of St. Petersburg behind the scenes; any major projects that are happening in the city, Rob is integrally involved through the Downtown Partnership. He’s on at least a dozen boards and he’s been involved in the Hub in the Innovation Center. And I mean, the list just goes on and on. When I became president of the Warehouse Arts District, I said to Rob, ‘I would be willing to take this on, but I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. If you would be my counsel, then I would be willing to try and do this.’ And he agreed, and through the course of doing that, we became very good friends. And that’s how the idea for the ArtsExchange came about, and it’s people like that I find very inspiring.

What is one piece of insight - a book, methodology, practice - that you would share with our readers?

It’s constantly evolving, so it’s hard to pick one thing. Right now, my wife and I are very involved in understanding more about diet and digestion and how the human body works. She’s an avid researcher, and she’s always sharing cool things with me. But, you know, one of the inspiring authors that’s always stuck with me and that I returned to on a regular basis is Eckhart Tolle. The Power of Now is a really great book. I think he’s inspiring and very interesting, and so far, his writing seems to be somewhat timeless, so we’ll see how that holds up in the long term of time.

What is one thing you wish you knew about your work 3 years ago?

My work has evolved a lot since I started doing this, and I’ve been making a living making things for over 30 years now. But all of the efforts have come to a head. There’s been a focus that’s happened in the last, I would say probably more five years, but, if I had to look back three years, I think probably really understanding how to manage time and resources as efficiently as possible. It’s something that I focus a lot of energy on, but I would say three years ago, I was still searching for my capacity. And clearly, in the past three years, I have found it and at moments, it feels like I’ve exceeded my capacity. S, that’s probably been the biggest eye-opener.

What’s next?

We’ve had a couple of interesting projects pop up recently. The bulk of what MGA does is public art. We do public art projects all over the country. The project that’s on the shop floor right now is going up to Charlotte, North Carolina. We’re going to install that in about two weeks. We’ve got another piece that’s on the heels of that that’s going to El Paso, so that is our bread and butter. It supplies, right now, probably 70% of the revenue that is generated by the business. The other portion is primarily driven by private development, working with developers making pieces. And just in the past year or two, we’ve started to attract some attention with private clients that are not businesses but individuals, and that is really interesting. We’re getting to the point where that’s becoming more and more a component of what we’re doing. Which is really nice.

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