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Creighton grad leads international creative arts nonprofit

Dec 1, 2022
5 min Read
Micah Mertes
Shun Lee Fong

As much as Creighton journalism alumnus Shun Lee Fong, BA’95, liked being a lawyer, he could see that something was missing.

His parents had brought him and his siblings up in a household that encouraged music, writing, theater, fine arts, painting, whatever artistic endeavor they chose to pursue. He’d been ingrained with a need to make things, things meaningful to himself and (ideally) to others.

But a few years into his legal career, Fong felt he’d lost all creative outlets. Though he enjoyed his job — an intellectual property attorney with Lamson, Dugan & Murray LLP — he wanted to dip his toe into a different career. He got an agent and started going to acting auditions in Omaha.

“There’s a short leap between being a trial attorney and being an actor,” Fong says with a laugh. “In both cases, you stand up in front of people and try to convince them the story you’re telling is true, on an emotional and logical level.”

In 2003, Fong left his law practice and moved to Los Angeles to start his career as a creative professional in the entertainment industry. Nearly 20 years later, he’s still there, not only acting but writing, directing and producing, too.

Shun Lee Fong and Lou Diamond Phillips
Shun Lee Fong, BA’95, left, interviews actor and director Lou Diamond Phillips at The Greenhouse Arts & Media, located near Los Angeles.

Fong has several projects in the works. A family-friendly fantasy film about a sketch book come to life starring Tony Hale (Arrested Development, Veep). A time travel murder mystery film set in Pennsylvania. A romantic comedy shot in Nashville and Taiwan over the last year, to be released by Sony this fall.

He’s also co-producing an animated series called The Dead Sea Squirrels alongside his business partners Mike Nawrocki (co-creator of VeggieTales and voice of Larry the Cucumber) and Steve Taylor (former Christian rock singer and song producer turned filmmaker).

But along with all Fong’s creative endeavors, he’s equally proud of his opportunities to support and mentor his fellow creatives.

In 2007, Fong founded the international creative arts nonprofit The Greenhouse Arts & Media. It began as a group of individuals who wanted to collaborate creatively in a variety of artistic disciplines, to explore the intersection of their own talents with the broader world, to serve one another and their community in a spirit of faith and fellowship.

If that sounds a bit like the vibe of a certain Jesuit university, it’s no accident.

“At Creighton,” Fong says, “I could always find people who cared enough about me to say, ‘Here are the mistakes I’ve made, and here’s how to not make them yourself.’”

The Art of Mentorship

Like so many graduates of the journalism program over the past 30 years, Fong found a mentor in professor emeritus Eileen Wirth, PhD. She remains one of his biggest advocates today, inspiring him to pursue the creative art of mentorship himself. When he supports others, he thinks of the times she and others at Creighton supported him.

He says Creighton’s foundation in the liberal arts also proved a boon in his career. He discovered that he didn’t need to limit himself to any one lane or label. Careers, like knowledge itself, are porous, flexible, ever evolving.

“I think sometimes we create boxes for ourselves that we choose to never step outside,” Fong says. “In doing that, we miss out on the opportunity to explore new ideas and experiences. This is a big and vibrant world. Why put yourself in a box?”

I think sometimes we create boxes for ourselves that we choose to never step outside. In doing that, we miss out on the opportunity to explore new ideas and experiences.
— Shun Lee Fong, BA’95

Over two decades in Hollywood, Fong has spent as much time thinking about creativity as he has on creating things himself. He started writing these thoughts down, and they eventually became The Saints & the Poets, a collection of essays reflecting on the arts, entertainment and the spiritual side of creativity.

He’s also spoken about these topics at conferences, colleges and churches across the country.

The essays and presentations showcase an artist wrestling with himself and two different ideas of success. On the one hand, the success of fame, fortune, “making it big.” On the other, the success of creative satisfaction and a fulfilling life. Those two can be reconciled, of course. But the latter doesn’t depend on the former, and the former doesn’t necessarily lead to the latter.

“I like to say, ‘Don’t chase success; chase excellence, and success will follow,’” Fong says. “It might not be the exact success you were looking for, but it could be something more fulfilling than you ever imagined.”

Along the way, you might just find the thing you were created to do.