Tommy Bowden ’18 is an actor, but he’s an actor with an entrepreneurial spirit that’s serving him well.
In seventh grade Bowden realized that his school’s ban on soda meant he could buy a 12-pack of the bubbly and sell it to eager friends at $1 a pop, roughly tripling his investment. He’s hung on to that ability to spot an opportunity.
In 2019, when Bowden was working in sales at an artificial intelligence tech start-up, he and an actor friend were looking for space to put on a show and grew frustrated with how hard it was to do that using Craig’s List and other resources at hand. From frustration came inspiration and a lot of work.
He and his friend, Ian Wallace, created Artra, an online service that connects artists of all sorts with the space they need to create. “I really like solving problems and being involved with creative people. So this, for me, is the best of both worlds,” Bowden said.
At Artra, space-owners who need tenants, and drummers who need a place to make noise, can find one another on their website. Bowden and his partner launched Artra in January 2021, limiting service to New York City but recently they expanded to Dallas and Austin, Texas. Bowden has left his day job behind.
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He spends most of his days contacting and meeting with space owners, while his partner focuses on the artists and Artra’s social media. While the primary mission of Artra is space, Bowden and Wallace are branching into helping artists handle logistics such as sales and shows.
Bowden is confident about the future of the business, especially now that the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be waning. Maybe the best part of the venture is that it provides the business partners with a way to continue their art. They set aside a couple of hours each day for rehearsal, and they plan to take a play on the road to the cities where they are expanding their business. It's a way to perform, to meet the local arts communities, and spread the word about Artra.
They are rehearsing the play “Never Swim Alone” by Dan MacIver, which Bowden, a theatre and government major, performed his first year at Hamilton. They are putting on a show with space owners in Dallas, and when the partners visit that city, they’ll also put on their own production.
Bowden used to think, especially as he worked at the tech start-up in Boston, that he’d have to choose between a money-making career or his art.
“This feels great,” he said about Artra. “It feels integrated. I don't feel like I'm betraying myself in any way working on this, which is just a fantastic feeling.”