Gary Backaus graduated from Memphis College of Art in 1986. He is now one of the managing partners at archer>malmo, one of the region’s largest and most successful advertising agencies. He answered a few questions about his choice to attend MCA.
What was your major?
What’s your job now?
Principal & Chief Creative Officer at archer>malmo. I help manage the creative department, and I’m ultimately responsible for all the creative work of the agency but also get very involved in clients’ marketing strategy and planning. In addition, I’m a partner in a>m ventures, our early-stage investment company focused on tech startups.
What is your favorite memory or highlight from your academic career at MCA?
My favorite memories are of the relationships I had with other students and instructors. The benefit of working and learning in a tight-knit community where everyone knows everyone else was invaluable.
How do you think your studies at MCA influenced your career?
I was fortunate to learn from a wide variety of practitioners that really prepared me to work at the professional level. In fact, the first creative director to hire me at archer>malmo had been one of my adjunct professors.
What inspires you?
Seeing and learning new things. The advertising business exposes you to a lot of wildly different topics and ideas. Variety and constant change keeps it interesting.
How is your life impacted by art?
What we do is applied art—aesthetic- and idea-driven work in the service of a business objective—so we get to do that every day. But I also enjoy fine art for exposure to the totally new. It helps you keep an open mind.
What advice would you give to students pursuing or considering a degree in fine arts?
Despite what some may say about the relevance of art as a career, if you look at the global economy, creative professions are among the last to be outsourced—advertising, product design, movies, video games. Mass production may be commoditized, but the ideas—the intellectual property with the most value—are still made in the USA. Apple’s products are made in China but as it says on every box: Designed in California. Art, ideas and creativity are among America’s last great exports and will always be relevant.