O’Neill Alumni Spotlight: Henry Bowen

What has your career journey been like? Did you have an AHA moment early on?

Henry grew up going to the local Methodist church, where he had a music director who recognized that he had a passion and a talent for music.  Henry had always known that he wanted to be involved in music in some capacity.  He’s a singer and has played trombone since he was in middle school.  He’s had a special passion for orchestral music since he was a kid, but he realized while in his undergrad program at the University of Arkansas that performing was not what he wanted to do full-time.  Instead, he decided to pursue a career in Arts Administration. He realized he would still be involved in the performing arts, which he was incredibly passionate about, yet he would be able to use more concrete skills that he learned and developed while taking his business courses in his undergraduate program.

Henry graduated from the University of Arkansas and then took a gap year, lived at home, and worked as a barista.  He applied at Bravo! Vail in Vail, Colorado, in the summer of 2018, and that set him on the path he’s on today.  In his role as artist liaison, he worked with artists firsthand, managed contracts, took care of hospitality and travel details, and a myriad of other behind-the-scenes details.  It combined people and music, two of his favorite things. From that point on, he knew he wanted to do that as a career.  He kept working with Bravo! Vail, assisting with social media and marketing, and even continued during his summers while he was at IU.

It was because of his internship with Bravo! Vail that Henry had an appreciation for the New York Philharmonic, which is one of the resident orchestras each summer. A position opened in the artistic planning department, and he fit the role.

What are the duties of your current position?

A lot of the courses at IU—marketing, fundraising, nonprofit finance—help Henry inform the decisions he makes in his current position.  He’s the budget manager for the artistic planning department with the New York Philharmonic, which has 38 weeks of programming each year, so the volume of unique programs that come and go every week are rigorous from September through mid-June every year.  Henry’s duties include facilitating contracts with artist management agencies, and acting as an engine for the department operations.  The Philharmonic works years in advance to book conductors and artists.

As you look back on stepping into your role, what do you remember?

Henry said that the first month or two with the organization was eye-opening.  It was an adjustment.  “Being able to piece all the parts together that make everything work takes time. The first year was baptism by fire,” Henry admitted.  “The role is quite fast-paced, and you have to get comfortable with knowing there will always be multiple plates spinning in the air.”

He went on to say that you must remember to make time for yourself. “It’s non-stop, you have to remove yourself from the chaos now and then to stay grounded.  You need to set professional boundaries for yourself, and you have to be aware of how you spend your time so you can approach the job with a fresh, positive mindset every day. It’s a process that looks different for everyone.” 

How do you maintain a work-life balance?

“When you’re at your busiest and most hectic, you have to remind yourself why you’re doing it.  Remind yourself of what got you in the business to start with. I love the music, and that’s what keeps me motivated.” Henry said. “That’s the reason I moved to the city in the first place. So you love it, but you also have to maintain that self-awareness.  There has to be a balance.” 

What skills have you found to be particularly valuable?

Henry mentioned early in our conversation that concrete skills, like having an analytical mindset and fundraising, were really important.  In addition, he said the classes he took at IU through the MAAA program, like nonprofit finance and project management, have been incredibly helpful in his current role. “Project management is a huge thing. Step away from the heat of the moment and assess priorities as you go along.  You may have an email that is dealing with a project that is further out, not next week, but you still have to pay attention to that first because so many other things hinge on that detail being solidified.” So Henry is constantly evaluating priorities as he keeps the big picture in mind. 

What would your message be to anyone just starting out in the MAAA program?

You have to love the job to do it well.  You have to have a passion to work in the nonprofit arts world.  “You’re not going into it for the money, you’re going into it to establish meaningful connections with people who share the same passion as you.  Getting and maintaining energy from that process, establishing a network of people around you…people all across the United States.”  Henry went on to say that many nonprofit performing arts organizations have similar goalposts.  “There are problems that the industry has faced for years, and continues to face.” Henry said it’s up to him and his colleagues in the Arts Admin program (at O’Neill), to bring a fresh perspective to organizations. “You need to be a bridge for what has been done before, and what can be done to improve your organization.”

How does someone gain confidence when they’re in their first role out of grad school?

When Henry was at IU, he worked at the Mathers Museum, Lotus Fest, and the IU Auditorium.  He said those experiences were incredibly valuable because he got the day-to-day workflow (of the organizations) that he couldn’t have gotten from sitting in a classroom.  This combination of work plus courses is incredibly valuable.  Henry went on to say that when you get your foot in the door, that’s when you get to see what makes you happy, what motivates you.  “You just can’t really know what it’s like until you’re working in the field.”

So Henry’s advice: Get as much work experience as you can, alongside the academic part of your journey. “You can have a master’s degree in arts administration and not know much about what actually happens behind the scenes of a nonprofit arts organization until you step in one and become a part of it.  Then you’ll understand what makes it tick.”

Was there an internship that helped you in your journey?

One of Henry’s internships was for the IU Auditorium where he was a development assistant. “It was a place that taught me how to speak and write about music, how to speak with donors eloquently and naturally, and how to connect with people.  They’re skills I still use in everyday life in my current job.”  Henry also worked in marketing at Mathers Museum, where getting people excited for an arts experience was part of his job. He still keeps that mindset in all of the work he does, even though he’s not specifically in the marketing department. “Never discount any experiences that you receive along the way, because you never know when they’ll come back to be helpful.”

Is there a failure or disappointment that was instrumental in your development?

Henry’s gap year between graduating with his undergrad degree and starting his MAAA program at O’Neill involved briefly becoming a student at Shenandoah Conservatory during fall of 2017.  He ended up taking classes for only one semester, because the program was not what he thought it would be: he wanted in-person classes and more one-on-one time with instructors, and that was not offered or available.  After time back in Arkansas, he ended up getting the role at Bravo! Vail that helped him get motivated and back on track.  “You have to allow room for Life, because it’s not linear. You have to have tenacity and a positive mindset. Optimism doesn’t imply that you’re naive, it’s a mindset.” And it’s how Henry Bowen chooses to operate.  He reminds his New York colleagues of this from time to time, and reflects, “Having a strong sense of self is important.”

If you want to connect with Henry, feel free to message him at Henry Bowen on LinkedIn.

By Juliette Kniola
Juliette Kniola Assistant Director of Career Services