From the Archives: Players: Henry Young, Art Angel

In the June/July 1992 issue, Worth highlighted Henry Young in the “Players” section of the magazine for his love of the arts and being instrumental in saving Minneapolis’ famed Guthrie Theater.

Never mind Jesse Helms and the Right’s assaults on artistic expression—it’s always an uphill battle to fund the arts. But in this age of austerity, when philanthropy plays like a scene out of Molière’s The Miser, expectations are low, and just making ends meet is the goal.

All of which makes Henry A. Young Jr.’s achievement so astounding: Young masterminded a five-year campaign, just completed, that raised $43 million for the grande dame of American repertory, the 29-year-old Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, making it the most well-endowed theater company in the country.

Dedicated to the classics (Aeschylus, Shakespeare, Chekhov, etc.), the Guthrie suits Young, 47, who has that buttoned-down demeanor of the Establishment. Meeting him in his office—an old family mansion he persuaded a patron to donate—one takes him for a scion.

But Young’s is a masterful performance, the studied result of 22 years spent chatting up the monied class on behalf of the arts. He was raised in New York, but not on Park Avenue. His father was a health club owner, his mother designed bridal wear. Although he excelled as a clarinetist, “ I lost faith in my talent,” he says wistfully, and he joined the Navy.

During that hitch, it struck him that he could be involved in the arts through the business side. He later saved two ballet companies from financial ruin, one being the famed Joffrey.

What he did for the Guthrie, though, was nothing short of magic. When corporate giving tapered off, he targeted individuals. First came two letters of introduction—then, a follow-up call. It was a tactful approach. And it worked. Individual gifts increased not only in number but size—from an average $37 in previous campaigns to $536 in the endowment drive. Six gifts of $10,000 were received over the telephone.

“People are not ATMs,” says Young. “The question is, are you interested in them other than for what they can give you?” His philosophy set the tone of the drive: Ask the right questions, listen intently, and people will arrive at a gratifying reason for giving and think it was their idea to write the check! Boffo!

Deservedly, Young is casting off with his family this summer on a year-long sailing voyage. After that, he’s not sure, although he says he’d like to save the oceans. A tall order, perhaps, but then Henry Young has proven he can deliver.—Patrick Houston

Reprinted from the June/July 1992 issue of Worth.

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