Top 7 Under 40: Shu-Ling Hergenhahn Zhao

Ferndale, Shu-Ling Hergenhahn Zhao, 31, has always found a way to incorporate theatre into her life. Her tenacity combined with her passion for playwriting and musical theatre has lead her to play a key role in the Whatcom County art scene.

“At one point early on I had planned to go to medical school,” Hergenhahn-Zhao said. “But then I discovered theatre and it has all been downhill ever since.”

In addition to serving as the president of Whatcom Woman in Business, Hergenhahn-Zhao is the capital cabinet chair for Sylvia Center for the Arts.

“I went from making flaming prop guns to helping the center host fundraisers and events,” Hergenhahn-Zhao said. “Now I’m creating relationships of reciprocal love and giving with those non-profits and with patrons.”

In her role, she has helped raise funds for Mount Baker Planned Parenthood, Northwest Immigrant Right Protection, Northwest Youth Services Queer Youth Project and the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Evergreen Empires Reign of Cakes Fundraiser.

“Any time I have to give to other organizations that are doing good work and are on the front lines of changing the circumstances of people in our community, I am down to give my energy and sweat,”Hergenhahn-Zhao said.

Hergenhah-Zhao is a former member of the Whatcom Young Professionals and plans to rejoin this fall. She also represents SCFTA at the Cultural Heritage Tourism Stakeholders group which focuses on increasing tourism and boosting the local economy by utilizing cultural and heritage assets.

“I work in theatre and the arts and I am passionate about that because I fundamentally believe that the arts are integral in helping share stories,” Hergenhahn-Zhao said. “Art makes these stories accessible and increases our opportunities to create empathy and the culture we want to live in.”

She recently co-hosted Dragtopia which was an all-ages drag and variety show and a PRIDE Art Show. The event helped raise funds for the Northwest Youth Services Queer Youth Project.

“That should seem like a pretty normal and straightforward event for an arts center but the logistics of the event were complicated,” Hergenhahn-Zhao said. “We were anticipating protesters or serious bad vibes to happen but instead we wound up with a community that was beautiful and embraced everything.

Future goals for Hergenhahn-Zhao are to push for proper representation of marginalized communities and underrepresented voices, she said.

“At this point in my life I have learned to be unapologetically myself,” Hergenhahn Zhao said. “I think when you learn that it allows you to live your life with integrity and really shape your future in a way that is genuine and authentic.”

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