Olen started playing the cello in 2015 at age 40.
Beginning in 2021, during the shutdowns of the pandemic, Olen came across Music for People while seeking a new means of expressing and connecting to music beyond the confines of classical music. By this time, he had 43 years of experience playing the piano, but sought re-entry into music via the beginner's mind of being unfamiliar with and entirely unskilled at the cello. Being an adult beginner at the cello cleared a path to freshly discovering the piano anew; and the vast permission of free improvisation invited the joy of expressing through both instruments equally.
The mysterious immediacy of improvisation suddenly opened onto a new world of collaborative music-making after 26 years of working professionally as a ceramic artist. Strangely, the tactile language Olen developed over years of working with clay has jumped seamlessly into playing music as a malleable medium.
Currently, Olen pursues his love of collaborative improvisation alongside his work as an arts educator in the Philadelphia area, where he specializes in teaching adult beginners and amateur artists to uncover and grow their own innate creativity via both clay and music. Olen also now serves as a programming coordinator for Music for People, a worldwide community dedicated to the belief that all people are inherently musical, creative, and capable of authentic, spontaneous expression.
Olen holds degrees from Yale University and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has exhibited his work at The Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York; InterSpace New Media Arts Center in Sofia, Bulgaria; James Nicholson Gallery, New York; Ampersand International Arts, San Francisco; P.S. 122 Gallery, New York; Turbulence.org; The Philadelphia Art Alliance; The Clay Studio, Philadelphia; Matin Gallery, Los Angeles; Beaux Arts Bath Gallery, UK; Oxford Ceramics Gallery, UK; and the Jianshui International Ceramics Museum, China, among others.
He is the recipient of grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Dedalus Foundation, New York State Council on the Arts, AIM Program at The Bronx Museum of the Arts (New York), Harvestworks Digital Media Arts Center Artist-in-Residence Program (New York), Joan Mitchell Foundation grant via the Vermont Studio Center, John Michael Kohler Arts Center Arts/Industry Program, a Turbulence Commission from New Radio and Performing Arts, Inc. (New York), and an invitation under a Chinese government grant to present approaches to artistic innovation in personal studio practice to ceramic arts educators and students in Jianshui, China.