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Intern Spotlight: Dafne Chan

by Lindsay Hutchens

Blog intro


Columbia College Chicago, Arts Management master’s student


MCA Store

Dafne Chan, a second-year Master of Arts Management student in the Business and Entrepreneurship Department at Columbia College Chicago, joined the MCA’s internship program this spring semester in the award-winning MCA Store. An international student from Hong Kong, Chan has enthusiastically enjoyed rounding out her professional experience at the MCA, having previously earned a BA in art and media design from DePaul University and interned at EXPO Chicago, the now-relocated gallery THE MISSION, and the Asian Art and Fashion Departments of Leslie Hindman Auctioneers. It was Chan’s experience at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers that defined her desire to work on the business end of contemporary art, and convinced her to pursue a graduate degree, opting for what she describes as the artist’s version of an MBA, and to apply for an internship at the MCA Store.

Chan fondly describes poker faces being offered up by Associate Director of Retail Operations Martin Oliver and Retail Manager of Online Sales and Integrated Marketing Steve Zirbel during her interview, making her worry she had bombed the opportunity. Yet her infectious positivity, friendliness, and professional experience seem to have shined through her nerves, as she was invited to join Martin and Steve, both of whom she now knows to be funny, trusting, and supportive people.

Chan and I recently spent one morning away from our responsibilities in the MCA Store and curatorial department respectively, getting to know one another, then selecting questions from a small fishbowl filled with strips of paper bearing questions which ranged from direct to oblique.


If you discovered a working time machine, where and when would you go?

Chan quickly changed gears from the professional to the personal: “I would go to a year when my grandfather hadn't died yet.” Chan's grandfather, who fought in World War II then met her grandmother in Hong Kong, died only a month before Chan was born. Her only memories come from the photographs she's found in her grandmother's drawers, and she describes him as being quite handsome, envious of his good looks. “Why didn't I get his genes!?”

If you were to be stranded on a desert island, what three things would you bring and why?

“First, does this desert island have Wi-Fi? Do they have [cell phone] reception?” Worried less about finding a way off the island, Chan's first necessity would be her smart phone, fully charged in case they have reception, so she can still talk to her mom. Next, a choice that fills my own second-year graduate student's heart with joy, a whole case of books. But more specifically, a case of “all the books I've been too busy to read while in grad school.” And finally, an unfinished 1,000-piece puzzle from the original Sailor Moon. Another abandoned hobby in the name of higher education. In briefly considering the more basic of human needs, Chan reaffirms her decisions by saying, “I don't eat, so, I'll have water.”

Artwork courtesy of Dafne Chan

interview continued

If a movie was made of your life, what genre would it be, and who would play you?

Almost immediately, Chan knows her film will be a hybrid action/comedy. Less interested in what leading actress will play Dafne Chan, she first lets it be known that Tom Hiddleston (Loki in Thor, 2011, The Avengers, 2012, Thor: The Dark World, 2013, and Thor: Ragnarok, 2017) will most certainly play her love interest. Pausing to think, Chan says “I don't know who is going to be me, because they have to be Asian.” She wants to stick to the truth. Chan first lands on Lucy Liu, but thinks longer, wanting someone who is “weird enough,” and “not too pretty,” but coming up blank—a not surprising road block when imagining Hollywood's representation of Asian women, especially within the action/comedy genre. Chan decides to stick with Lucy Liu, a consolation hypothetical based solely on previous roles in Charlie’s Angels and Kill Bill.

If you were the host of your own talk show, who would be your first guest?

“Not Tom! The first show is not going to be good.” Strategically plotting the needs of a first guest and knowing where not to take risks, Chan decides her first guests cannot be her parents, since they aren't famous enough. Instead, Chan decides Trevor Noah should be her first guest, seeing it a chance to simultaneously receive constructive feedback from a seasoned contemporary and gain support from a new peer. “He keeps sticking in my head. His sense of humor. He's well-traveled.”



interview continued

What’s the strangest thing you have ever eaten?

Although Chan describes food from her home in China as being some of the weirdest she has ever seen or heard of, she hasn't actually eaten much strange food given nearly a lifetime of being vegetarian. Instead, a childhood recollection contorts her face even now as she describes older cousins being cruel to her when she was just five years old: “They told me wasabi was matcha ice cream!”

What are your plans and goals after the MCA?

Chan’s dream job is to work for Artsy.net because she loves their mission to, in Chan’s words, “make art accessible to people who have internet.” When she travels home to Hong Kong, the least favorite question Chan repeatedly gets asked is, “If you are studying Art Business, does that mean if I draw a stick figure you will sell it for me?” Chan rolls her eyes while relaying the insincere prodding. The way she sees Artsy function is to be accessible in a way that doesn’t intimidate those without an academic art background from enjoying, understanding, and collecting works of art. Artsy uses, as Chan puts it, words “no longer than two centimeters.” Chan has even situated herself in building a resume that includes professional internships that touch on the various modes of experiencing art that Artsy promotes: the gallery, the museum, auction houses, and fairs.

As an international student, Chan also has pragmatic reasons for wanting to work at Artsy, namely that they have offices in both New York and Hong Kong. The process, expense, and short time frame associated with international students remaining in the United States after graduating from school often becomes prohibitive to opportunities in the job market. Chan says that employers have been known to not even consider an applicant if they require sponsorship as an international student; and under the Trump administration, things are even less certain for her future in the US. With her education, experience, and language fluency in Mandarin, Cantonese, and English, Chan is uniquely qualified to work for an international arts organization like Artsy.

Why intern at the MCA?

Chan started by looking at her resume and asking, “What am I missing to work at Artsy?” The MCA was the first museum that her favorite professor took her class to, her first semester as an undergraduate at DePaul. Not only has she come full circle in her academic experience, bookended by formative times at MCA Chicago, but she’s excited to learn from “One of the world’s best museum gift shops (Fodor’s).” Chan has flourished under the supportive and trusting leadership of Martin Oliver and Stephen Zirbel, taking on tasks like helping with product photoshoots that she’s proud to have completed on her own. In referring back to her larger goal of working at Artsy, and how her time at the MCA Store translates to selling works of art online, Chan says, “at the end of the day, selling art can be similar to retail.”