Jessie Li and Kara Chomistek

Avenue Calgary’s 2016 Top 40 Under 40.

Photograph by Jared Sych. Photographed at Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre.

Ages: Both 29

Job titles: Vice President and Co-Founder, PARK (Li), President and Co-Founder, PARK (Chomistek)

Why they’re 2016 Top 40s:

Chomistek and Li have built up Calgary’s fashion profile by organizing events, forums and mentorships through their organization, PARK (Promoting Artists | Redefining Kulture).

If it were up to Jessie Li and Kara Chomistek, the term “starving artist” wouldn’t exist. And, if the success of their organization, PARK (Promoting Artists | Redefining Kulture), is any indication, it doesn’t have to.

In 2008, Chomistek was studying biomechanical engineering at the University of Calgary while Li was studying accounting at the U of C’s Haskayne School of Business. Despite their more academic pursuits, both had an interest in fashion and the arts, but they noticed that those local communities were losing ground.

“We were still students, but we were looking around seeing all these creative people leaving Calgary to go to these bigger city centres,” says Chomistek. “We really wanted to make an impact for all these artists who felt like they had no opportunity.”

So they decided to create that opportunity themselves. Chomistek, Li and six other students came together, each throwing $50 into a pot, and PARKSALE was born. The outdoor market, which was held outside the engineering building at the university, gave young artists and budding fashion designers a venue to sell their ceramics, prints, clothing and accessories – but that was only the beginning.

Eight years later, PARKSALE, now an annual event with more than 80 vendors, has been joined by two biannual fashion shows, PARKSHOW and PARKLUXE, both of which incorporate large-scale art installations and a see-now, buy-now model where the audience can purchase many of the garments they see on the runway at the event in a market atmosphere.

Chomistek and Li, who now work for the organization full-time, have organized more than 40 of these shows across Canada and have mentored more than 650 designers and artists. “We never expected it to get this big,” says Li. “It was just a hobby, something we knew these artists and students really needed, and to look at how much that has changed, how these artists are thriving, it really inspires me.”

For Chomistek, even as PARK expands, it all comes back to her sense of community. “I want to create a city that I want to live in and be proud of,” she says. “Every time I question why I’m doing something, I ask myself, ‘Is this going to make Calgary a better place?’

“It’s about making Calgary and Canada a place where fashion and art are legitimized.” – Jennifer Friesen 

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