Arts Business Idea Competition gets financial boost for arts entrepreneurship

February 22, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State alumnus Paul Bell and his wife, Maryann, have made a financial contribution to the College of Arts and Architecture to support the Arts Entrepreneurship Program’s Arts Business Idea Competition. Paul Bell is a 1983 graduate with bachelor's degrees in arts and business.

Now in its fourth year, the competition is the College of Arts and Architecture’s annual showcase of arts entrepreneurship, which asks students to present an arts-based business plan that could earn entrants up to $5,000 to develop the concept. Bell’s contribution will sustain the competition and help to encourage a higher number of entrants while improving the visibility of the winning ideas.

Paul Bell

Paul Bell

IMAGE: Provided

“It is my hope that more students in this competition will develop the skills necessary to become an entrepreneur and to find a way to develop the art form they have practiced at Penn State,” Bell said. “The competition offers students the opportunity to try new ideas that can lead to developing a practical business model that helps artists to be self-sustaining.”

After spending 15 years as a senior executive at Dell, Bell shifted his career focus in 2012 to supporting early-stage tech companies. The nature of his work and his philanthropic vision is “a natural fit” for the Arts Business Idea Competition, but Bell said the commitment also allows him the opportunity to reconnect with his roots at Penn State.

During his time in Happy Valley in the early 1980s, Bell transitioned daily between the art and business worlds. As he was building the foundation of a successful business career that has spanned nearly 25 years, he was also exploring his connection to visual arts that began during his childhood. The result was Bell earning a bachelor’s degree in each discipline and developing oil-painting skills that he uses recreationally.

“When I enrolled at Penn State, I was committed to the business school. But as I took more art classes as electives, I got so into it that I decided to add it as a second major,” Bell said. “Art quickly became a source of personal development and although I knew it wasn’t going to directly apply to my career in business, it deeply enriched my life and continues to do so. And now I feel it’s time to give back.”

Jonathan Gangi, assistant professor of music, head of the Arts Entrepreneurship program and director of the Arts Business Idea Competition, said Bell’s gift offers a boost to the competition that will directly impact the students and fulfill the mission of arts entrepreneurship at Penn State.

“Paul’s support of the Arts Entrepreneurship program and the Arts Business Idea Competition is invaluable,” Gangi said. “I am thrilled to have someone with his level of business success and knowledge as an adviser and friend of the program.”

The 2019 competition is now open to undergraduate and graduate students from any major and any Penn State campus. The only requirement is that the business concept is arts-based. 

First-round entries are due on Feb. 25 and finalists will be announced on March 18. The final round, which is free and open to the public, will be held on April 2, in room 16 of the Borland Building on the University Park campus, with time to be determined.

This gift will advance "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit

Last Updated September 04, 2020