Park paints future in art publishing

Grace Tseng, Sports Editor

Cheeyeon (Chelsea) Park’s earliest memory of wanting to become an artist was  when her grandmother invited an art teacher to her home in Seoul. Crouching around a Korean-style low lacquered wooden fold-out table, Park and her cousins  marveled as the art teacher created bright, colorful strokes across the blank canvas, and Park stated that watching her art teacher paint was what initially ignited her interest in art.

Park stated that her dream never faltered, and she attended Columbia University, eventually earning her Bachelor’s degree in Visual Arts in 2018. 

When she moved to the United States at 8 years old from South Korea, Cheeyeon adopted the name “Chelsea” and kept it  through high school. However, upon entering college, she chose to return to her birth name, “Cheeyeon,” which she said is more in touch with her identity. 

“I’m not sure at what point I felt like I wanted to get rid of my American name,” Park said. “I think in high school, as I became more serious about studying art, I was becoming disillusioned with the idea of having to assimilate to America by using an American name. There were times when I would have to tell myself ‘Cheeyeon, Cheeyeon, Cheeyeon’ so that I wouldn’t forget my name.”

Throughout her high school years, Park said that she always knew she wanted to pursue a higher education in the arts, so she participated in multiple art-related extracurriculars. One of her commitments was volunteering to teach a painting class for children held at the Rancho Peñasquitos Library.

“[Teaching] was such a fulfilling experience because I was already doing paintings of my own, so I loved teaching that to little kids and holding little exhibitions for them,” Park saiad. “Instead of having wine and cheese, I would bring them Cheez-Its and grape juice. I hung their paintings and drawings on a wall in the library.”

Another fundamental part of Park’s time at Westview was being a part of The Nexus, for which she served as a Final Focus editor during her senior year.

“The Nexus was the best thing that happened to me in high school,” she said. “It taught me how to write, it taught me how to think critically, it was my first exposure to politics. These realms were out of my comfort zone at the time, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that The Nexus made me who I am right now.”

Park said that her experience teaching the painting class and writing for The Nexus helped her during her college years as they gave her the assets to  plan large-scale events, such as being a member of Columbia’s undergraduate arts curatorial collective.

“In the collective, I would reach out to people to call for submissions, organize shows, and sometimes we would want the shows to happen in a more unique space so I would contact Columbia,” Park said. “Learning how to deal with bureaucracy is a real skill that you need both in college and outside of college. People really want you to have that skill of reaching out to organizations or different people, learning how to troubleshoot, and more.”

Extracurriculars available at Westview, such as The Nexus, Park said, helped her succeed during her years at Columbia and in finding internship and work opportunities.

“The skills of writing and organizing events or groups were skills that Westview did prepare me for,” Park said. “Westview best prepared me to succeed in college, and college is where I learned to succeed onwards outside of college.”

Park also actively participated in art-related programs, such as the UCLA summer art camp and California State Summer School for the Arts (CSSSA) camp, which she stated gave her exposure to working with other artists in an academic environment.

“Having peers critique my work and experimenting together was a very exciting turning point and commitment to art,” Park said. “Being together with teachers and teaching assistant who were graduate students getting their MFA [Master of Fine Arts] degrees, and other peers like myself from L.A. or far away places like Colombia who were just as passionate and serious about pursuing art made me more serious about approaching art from technical, theoretical, and historical approaches.”

Despite having concrete plans to attend college while in high school and her extensive experience in various extracurricular events, Park said that she’d never considered what her life would be like beyond college, such as finding a job, much less working for an institution as prestigious as the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

“When I graduated, all I was thinking about was going to this particular college, going to live in New York, being able to draw as much as I want without it being a side thing from schoolwork, but this is my schoolwork,” Park said. 

MoMA PS1, Park’s current workplace, is a museum of contemporary art and an art publishing bookstore. The “PS1” in its name is derived from “Public School 1” as the building was formerly a New York public school.

The uniqueness of her workplace, given that it combines aspects of art publishing, display, and art curation, Park said, was one of the reasons why she had never imagined herself in her current job.

“Visually, it’s a bookstore inside a museum, but we also operate as a performance space and a distribution company,” Park said. “We sell books, we also distribute books, and it’s all within the arts publishing industry. We’re also in relations with the curatorial staff, so if there is an exhibition at MoMA PS1, and the artist published a book on the exhibition, we would take care of their book launch, signing and discussion.”

Park obtained her current job after completing internships each summer of college and after interning for her current boss three years prior. She said that she enjoys her job because of the opportunities it gives her to communicate with people in an academic and creative context.

“Chatting up with artists that I admire is really cool, and getting to know the artists through the events we host is a great chance to get to know the artists,” Park said. “I also enjoy the aspect of needing to read books outside of my comfort zone because I have to be able to write about them to promote them. It feels like a continuation of college where, through my job, I am able to reach deeper with reading and writing.”

Prior to working at her current job, Park took a gap year between her third and fourth years of college, during which she moved to Berlin, Germany, and worked at an art bookstore. 

Park said that she decided to take a gap year in order to relieve herself of the stressors in her life, which were exacerbated by the competitive environment of New York. 

“I wanted to be in an environment, after getting my degree at Columbia, where all my degrees and education didn’t matter, and I wanted to feel what it would be like to have all of that stuff taken away from me because there are a lot of things that happen to you in your early 20s that shape the way you view your work.”

Being in a new environment, Park said, gave her new experiences which allowed her to shift focus in her studies. 

“Before moving to Berlin, I was interning at museums and learning about curatorial works, but then after moving to Berlin, I moved into art publishing,” Park said. “I have a year of experience working at an art bookstore in Berlin and then I came back and finished my last year of college.”

After completing her senior year of college, Park took on a job working for an Appalachian Mountain Club location in New Jersey for a summer before fully entering a nine-to-five job. 

“After graduating college, a lot of people jumped into their careers, but I really needed a break,” Park said. “The Appalachian trail runs from Maine to Georgia, and all these mountain clubs are stationed throughout the trail. I worked at the New Jersey location, and it was a sweet summer of making food for hungry hikers[and] cleaning their bunks. It was completely different from all the schooling I had since Westview and college.”

Park added that the eclectic job experiences from her gap year gave her new outlooks on her life. 

“Knowing that living a life without following the typical societal routine exists out there helped me put a perspective on my daily life right now,” Park said. “That’s really hard to do when you’re in high school because you have little political power in your household to take on odd experiences like that, but those moments of stepping outside of a school-centered, work-centered framework were refreshing.”

Park said that though she has faced difficulties because of her choice to pursue a life in the arts, she does not regret her decision and encourages students to pursue their passions.

“All the adults told me that it wasn’t going to be easy going into the arts, and it’s true that you don’t earn much money and there is a sense of instability, but I don’t know what else I would do,” Park said. “I hate the idea of switching my occupation so that I could earn more money. It’s not an option to me because it doesn’t seem like a life I want to lead.”

Park said that she hopes to gain more work experience through different jobs in the future. Despite her uncertainty of what her next step may be, Park’s hope to pursue work related in the field of art publishing remains unwavering.

“Having learned how to think critically about the world and gauge the world in a perspective with confidence in my own mind and understanding, I want to continue doing that,” Park said. “If my mode of doing that is through art and with books or publishing, then that’s my commitment in my life.”