The Segerstrom Center for the Arts has elected Jane Fujishige Yada, a longtime Orange County businesswoman, arts patron and philanthropist, as its next chair of the board. She will take on the position starting July 1, 2021, and will become only the second woman to chair the Segerstrom Center’s board of directors, and the first woman of color.
Yada is manager of Harbor Field Holdings, L.L.C., a real estate asset management company based in Irvine. She was born in Orange, grew up in Anaheim and comes from a prominent local farming family. The Fujishige family also co-founded Gem-Pack Berries, a shipping and distribution company for strawberries that supplies grocery retailers throughout the country.
Yada will become the first Asian American woman to serve as chair of the Segerstrom Center’s (formerly the Orange County Performing Arts Center) board of directors, and the first woman since Elaine M. Redfield served in 1980-81. She will also be the first person of color to chair the board of directors since James Nagamatsu in 1979-80.
Yada was elected during a special board meeting on Oct. 16. Her appointment comes at a time when businesses, government agencies, arts institutions and nonprofit organizations across the country are reconsidering their own racial, ethnic and gender makeup, and many have pledged to diversify their ranks. Yada will lead a board that has been headed by white men for decades.
“I’m all for more inclusivity at the center, and I’m a huge advocate of it,” said Yada, 55. “Personally, I’ve been involved in the center since 2001, and I’ve always felt really included. The board and organization have been really welcoming to me, and I’m very grateful for that.”
Yada, who lives in Tustin Ranch, is no stranger to the center. She is vice chair of the Facilities Committee and the ad hoc Reopening Committee. She is also a member of the center’s support group, Angels of the Arts, and co-chaired the Candlelight Concert in 2018. She’s also co-chair of the popular CHOC Follies, an annual fundraiser.
In addition, she serves on the boards of Pacific Symphony, CHOC Children’s Hospital Foundation, City of Hope, Hoag Hospital and Second Harvest Food Bank.
“She’s very knowledgeable about Orange County and the center, and extremely passionate about the arts,” said Casey Reitz, president of the center since December 2019. “She’s very generous, very generous and very kind. She’s extremely knowledgeable about many things important to the center.”
O.C. Born and Bred
Yada was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Orange. Raised in Anaheim, she attended Ball Junior High School and Loara High School in Anaheim. She is the oldest of three children, and has a younger brother, Jack, and a younger sister, Nancy, who live in Irvine. Their mom also lives in Irvine.
Yada’s father, Hiroshi Fujishige, was a farmer and a member of the celebrated 442nd Infantry Regiment during World War II. That combat team — whose motto was “Go For Broke” — saw some of the fiercest battles during World War II, and was the most decorated unit of its size in U.S. military history. He passed in 1998.
Her family on her father’s side was also interned at Tule Lake during World War II, when the U.S. government incarcerated about 120,000 Japanese Americans — an act later found unconstitutional and a violation of their civil rights. The federal government under President Reagan paid reparations of $20,000 to each incarcerated person in 1988.
“The way they found our family — my grandfather had previously been a secretary at church. He was in some booklet,” she said. “It was so long before the war. The government found it, collected the family and off they went. I learned a lot from that.”
Luckily, the family — unlike so many other Japanese Americans — was able to hang onto most of its property, then in Norwalk. They later purchased a 56-acre strawberry field in Anaheim.
With the opening and subsequent growth of Disneyland and the Anaheim Convention Center area, the Fujishige Farm became part of the Anaheim resort area in the 1980s. In 1998, the family sold the majority of its original farm ground to the Walt Disney Corporation.
Encounters with Henry
Yada says when she joined the then-O.C. Performing Arts Center board, she felt a special connection to Henry Segerstrom, founding chairman of the center, lima bean farmer and a monumental leader in the center’s history.
“We both came from farming families,” she said. “He was so far ahead of his time, in so many ways. Not just on the business side, but his aesthetic and everything that he did. He (helped) create the center, with master planning years ago.
“When I first came on board, I remember his kind comments during board meetings. Because he knew how much I appreciated my upbringing on the farm. He fostered my love for the arts. I think he really appreciated that connection — it was unique but familiar.”
Yada’s family has also been clever and wise at the developing game. The Fujishiges teamed with Nexus Development and Prospera Management to develop Hilton Homewood Suites, a family-oriented hotel on a portion of the family’s remaining Anaheim property. The hotel has been ranked consistently as the No. 1 family hotel in Anaheim by Tripadvisor.
Representing Demographic Change in O.C.
Orange County has not always been the most diverse place in the West. It was way more homogeneous a couple generations ago, and served as a Republican-majority bedroom community for folks who worked in Los Angeles.
Yada remembers when she was the only Asian in her classes in junior high and at Loara High School. But things changed during her senior year.
“It was first year of calculus, and all of a sudden there was this new row of students,” she said. “They just came in from South Korea. I remember they had a calculator in one hand, and a tennis racket in the other. They blew the curve out of the water,” she laughed.
With the expansive growth of Latino and Asian populations here, the demographics of Orange County have changed dramatically since the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s.
In 2004, Orange County officially became a “majority minority” county, or a region where people of color actually comprise the majority, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“The demographics of Orange County have changed so much over the past 40 years,” Yada said. “And the center has evolved with the world around it. And very rightfully so, we’d like to continue to reach out to various communities around us.”
Yada will serve a three-year term starting in July, after current board chair Mark C. Perry’s term concludes.
“I speak for the Segerstrom Center board of directors when I say that we are thrilled that Jane Yada has agreed to be our next chair,” Perry said in a statement. “For many years, she has given generously of time, knowledge, business acumen and personal resources. She is a native of Orange County, respected for her effective professional, business and philanthropic leadership. Jane is the ideal person to lead a vitalized and forward-looking center. When she commits herself to a project or cause, she brings a roll-up-your-sleeves enthusiasm and work ethic that inspires her colleagues, as we have seen in her approach to the board ad hoc Reopening Committee and Facilities Committee.”
Visions for the Center
Yada said she loves many of the different performances that happen at the center, but she especially loves Broadway.
Ticket sales make up a substantial portion of the center’s income, and Broadway shows are a huge part of that.
However, she wants the center to do more than just serve as a presenting venue for traveling shows.
“We host Broadway. We host different dance companies. Kristin Chenoweth has performed here. But we haven’t really produced (much of) anything,” she said. “If we could become a producing company as well, and have that go out to different media, we can get future royalties — if it’s well done. It would be a lot of hard work in the beginning. But I would love to see something like that.”
She also strongly supports the center’s dance programs and educational outreach. The center’s ABT William J. Gillespie dance studios just reopened this week, Reitz said, and the center has reopened and renamed its School of Dance and Music for Children with Disabilities. Now it’s Studio D: Arts School for All Abilities.
“Anything that has to do with the kids, hearing kids’ laughter and joy at the center, I support,” Yada said. “The educational programs, busing all those kids in. I was one of those kids once.”
Getting Through the ‘COVID Wave’
Right now is a difficult time for the center, and all performing arts organizations across the country. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, public performances have been halted since March, and the center was forced in June to lay off 63% of its staff.
The future looks murky as well. Much depends on if Orange County can move into the next tiers — which are orange and yellow — in the governor and state’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy.” Outdoor performances on Argyros Plaza might resume in November, but there’s no guarantee of that happening.
“We may be in for a long winter,” Yada said. “We want to stay as financially sound as we possibly can be.”
But characteristic of Yada and her determined, hardworking spirit, she remains optimistic.
“We are just going with the flow of this COVID wave, and we’re just trying to do the best we can. We’re doing what’s best for the center, and best for the people.”
She seems to know what she’s talking about, as she has developed intricate and detailed knowledge of safety protocols for high-trafficked buildings such as the center. She’s doing the same with some of the properties she oversees.
Yada said the center will implement many more contactless features, including ticketing, entrances and exits, bathroom facilities, drinking fountains and concessions. And “hand sanitizers will be everywhere.”
“The filters we have in place are above and beyond what’s recommended,” she said. “They are meeting and exceeding any requirements out there. As we’re in the building, we’ll make sure that the air we’re breathing is as clean as can be. Not only the main hall, but in the dressing rooms, rehearsal rooms, backstage. We want to make sure everybody working back there feels comfortable as well. And hopefully we can have a reopening party and have a wonderful week.”
Yada and her colleagues have had to budget for many things they never had to consider before, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), hiring industrial hygienists and installing a super-high-quality HVAC system.
“There’s a lot of money going in to making sure that this building is as safe as that can be,” she said. “It might be one of the safest in the country. People can feel reassured that they can perform there without nerves. We want to make them feel safe, make them feel comfortable.”
With the amount of work and research she has done already, Yada is impressing many at the center, even though they know many difficult days still lie ahead.
“She’s very detail oriented,” Reitz said. “It’s a huge win for us to get Jane in this role, and a huge win for Orange County.”
Richard Chang is senior editor for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. He can be reached at email@example.com.