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In the Spotlight - January 2014

January 01, 2014

A Monthly Series of Donor and Patron Profiles

Yuming Chiu is going places. He can see his future: There’s a big job. Community engagement. Board directorships. Involvement in the arts. “My entire life I have been really passionate for music,” he says. “As a kid I dreamed of becoming the president and CEO of the L.A. Philharmonic.”

At 28 and in his second year of the MBA program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Chiu is well on his way—but he’s not quite there. Yet. “I’m definitely a poor grad student,” he says. “I’m not earning money right now. I’m definitely on a student budget. I still eat McDonald’s all the time!” he says, laughing.

So you might be surprised to learn that the guy frequenting fast food joints for dinner is also a member of the Orchestra’s Maestro’s Circle. In other words, a $2,500 donor. Chiu made the gift after being matched with The Philadelphia Orchestra as a Wharton fellow—a competitive program that pairs students at the school with non-profits to help prepare them for board leadership. “To get the full board experience, I knew I needed to give,” he says, but knowing how much to give was a little more complicated. “It was a really tough call for me, whether or not I wanted to give to that degree.”

A mentor helped convince him. “She said, ‘Yuming, the hard part about non-profits is … if you’re really passionate for something, you’ve got to give till it hurts.’” So he did. Chiu redid his budget—something he was learning a lot about at Wharton—and also took on a new teaching assistant position. “I thought, if this is where my passion is, if this is where my heart is, then I should put my money where my mind is … and where my mouth is going,” he explains. “Taking that money, I was able to donate to the Orchestra. When you give till it hurts, it makes you fully engaged—and it makes you fully committed.”

The Maestro’s Circle is not Chiu’s only commitment. He also regularly buys tickets from the eZSeatU program, attending as many concerts as he can and trying to bring someone new each time. One of his goals as a Wharton fellow is to help the Orchestra capitalize on the popularity of the program. “They sell out in literally five minutes. Two to three minutes, sometimes! There is unbelievable pent-up demand from the youth to go to these concerts,” he says. “How can we leverage that excitement to actually turn it into dollars and long-term patrons.”

Chiu continues: “The conversation is changing about bringing arts to people like me who are young professional millennials … and we have to be ready to accept that type of change if we want these types of institutions to survive in the long run.”

Change, of course, is never easy.  To those who might resist it, Chiu makes this appeal: “Don’t be afraid of breaking from the status quo of what ‘orchestra’ is supposed to be. Orchestra to me—and to a lot of people—is life. It makes us cry, it makes us happy, and these passions have been around for hundreds of years. I think we have to understand that just the environment is changing.” 

Originally from Los Angeles, Chiu grew up going to the Hollywood Bowl every summer. He did his first summer internship with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. A violist, he pursued a music career as an undergrad at UCLA and played professionally for a while, but tendinitis ruined those plans. Luckily, he had other talents. He studied economics and accounting as well as music at UCLA. “I could sell candy twice as fast as anybody else in school,” he laughs, saying his family knew he was business-savvy, even as a child. “When I bought my first car, I made the salesman cry!”

Since moving East in 2012 to attend Wharton, he considers Philadelphia home. That’s one of the reasons he chose to become a donor in Philadelphia instead of L.A. He’s also a big fan of the Orchestra’s ongoing commitments in China. “I’m Chinese-American and to have The Philadelphia Orchestra go to China as the first ambassadors really means that these are the people that are thinking ahead and these are the people that are trying to build those global relationships,” says Chiu. 

“I am so passionate for classical music. I listen to it every day,” Chiu says. “It’s my lifeblood. It’s what I live and breathe when I’m not working … and I think when you’re so excited about something, you definitely want to be part of the one that represents you in the community.

“And I love it!” he adds. “I absolutely do.”