Bridging the Cultural Gap and Supporting the Arts

Shirley Young has never forgotten her cultural and artistic roots.

Young was born in China, but spent most of her formative years living in the United States. She attended Phillips Academy in Massachusetts for high school and Wellesley College for her undergraduate degree. After graduation, Young spent 25 years working for Grey Strategic Marketing before accepting a position with General Motors.

Now retired, Young has more time to devote to the things about which she is passionate. One passion is helping to bridge the gap between Chinese and American cultures. The other is music, a hobby for which she had had little time since beginning her career.

Once an avid pianist, Young had heard the name “Interlochen” mentioned many times throughout her life, but never attended or visited campus. Then one night, at a dinner with Interlochen Arts Academy alumnus and Life Trustee James Tolley, the name came up again. “I told him, ‘I'm kind of interested in Interlochen; I don't know much about it, but I've heard about it over the years, and I'd really be interested in knowing more,’” Young said. “Of course, he immediately pursued that, and eventually they invited me to join the board.”

Young’s term on the board of trustees has ended, yet she continues to be involved as a trustee emerita and a donor. As a member of the board of trustees for the New York Philharmonic, Young was very excited to learn of the partnership between Interlochen and the Philharmonic.

This presented another opportunity for Young to be a philanthropist. She made a generous gift that was used to challenge donors to support sending students to New York for the Arts Academy Orchestra’s performance as part of NY Phil Biennial. Her challenge was the catalyst behind Interlochen’s first crowdfunding effort—which was a rousing success.

“To see the Arts Academy Orchestra performing at Geffen Hall in a Philharmonic program was hugely rewarding,” she said. “I think it was just a great demonstration of what Interlochen produces.”

Young has been a longstanding donor to Interlochen, giving to other important priorities such as the Interlochen Annual Fund and the International Fund, and including Interlochen in her estate. Her impact extends even further than philanthropy.

“One of the things that I felt very strongly was that the world is globalizing, and classical music is so strong in China,” said Young. “There are 40 million students studying piano and violin in China, so this was a world I felt Interlochen needed to be part of and that Interlochen needed to understand, and that our students needed to understand.”

With this in mind, Young has been marketing Interlochen to Chinese families for several years now. It’s not an easy sell: American teenagers, independence and even the idea of “summer camp” are strange and sometimes scary ideas for Chinese parents. Nonetheless, Interlochen is the perfect opportunity for Chinese students to practice their English while studying their art of choice.

Young also helped establish a partnership between Interlochen and the Shanghai Conservatory. “I felt it was important for Interlochen to have a linkage to China at the academic and faculty level,” she said. “We created a mutually beneficial arrangement where Interlochen could learn about China and Chinese music, students and music culture and the Conservatory could learn about musical theatre, brass playing—which needs improvement in China—and chamber music.”

Most importantly, Young has been a resource for the many Chinese children who choose to attend Interlochen, helping staff communicate with parents and resolve difficulties. But her help is becoming a bit less necessary as technology advances.

“Last year I was hugely amused because an 8-year-old came to Camp, and he really didn’t speak any English,” Young said. “He used this app on his phone to do translations, and he did fine.

“That’s the marvel of modern times.”