Elena Moon Park: Exploring spaces of gathering and kinship through sound

By Melissa West

In this interview, current PASS artist in residence Elena Moon Park shares insights and ideas emerging from her creative residency experience. 

Elena Moon Park by Alexia Webster

Can you describe your creative process during this residency? What have you been up to, what ideas are you exploring, how have you been engaging with the site?

At its core, this residency has really been about reflecting on what I personally find so meaningful about music-making, which is how it can bring people together into communal spaces to share, exchange, and just be in the presence of one another. And why I think ‘gathering’ is so important in our everyday lives. I had two interests coming into the residency: one is an interest I’ve always had in learning about a place – its history, its people, its energy – through conversations with people who are connected to it. The other is to reflect on the core meaning of what music-making brings to my life, and what I believe it can bring to the world.

I connected with two friends & music-makers, both of whom also have a deep love for bringing people together through music, and both of whom share an interest in exploring more about the communities we grew up in (all in the South of the U.S.) through music and storytelling. This residency kicks off that process of learning about place and celebrating gatherings through music and storytelling. I decided I wanted to interview a few people associated with Snug Harbor to talk about gatherings and place, and I can’t overstate how fulfilling that experience has been. These conversations have been so open, enlightening and deep, and I already feel so inspired by these stories and by Staten Island. This process of interviewing and listening to people’s stories has made me reflect deeply on these themes, and I look forward to finding ways to encourage communal reflections on gathering spaces and human connection through our own music and storytelling.

Does your residency at Snug Harbor differ from previous residencies you’ve participated in? If so, how?

Interestingly, while I design and run a lot of residencies as part of my work with Found Sound Nation (foundsoundnation.org) and the OneBeat program (1beat.org), I do not actually participate as an artist in a lot of them. So I have had a lot of experience on the other side of the table, so to speak. I will say that from years of designing and leading residencies, I truly value the opportunity to create or have space – not just physical space, but creative and mental space, to truly explore and play and examine any questions or inspirations you may have. You can go into a residency with a set plan and a conceptual idea, but often, if you really take the time to sit in those conversations with yourself and one another about what is at the heart of your questions, your examinations, your practice, those things can and often do change. I’ve really valued having conversations, both with people at Snug Harbor and with my collaborators, and letting those conversations guide a process.

What has drawn you to the idea of gathering(s)? Can you share more about how you are thinking about this topic and why it’s important to you at this moment?

During the pandemic, I (like many of us, I believe) spent a lot of time reflecting on what really mattered most to me at this point in my life, and in that, I realized that the simple act of gathering – finding creative, joyful, simple ways to come together in community with people, especially during this difficult and anxiety-ridden time – is core to my life and work. There are different ways people are brought together in community – sometimes, in our work lives, it is centered around career-driven or perhaps commercial goals. It can be a congregation around a singular output or issue. It can be through religious or spiritual practice. I became very inspired by gatherings that are creative and intentional, but that above all center the opportunity and energy for simple, meaningful, human to human exchanges and interactions. It’s perhaps an obvious, overly simple concept, but I believe it is so fundamental to our lives. Melissa (West) articulated this well in my interview with her, in very direct language: How do we create spaces for people to have meaningful interactions?

In the course of my interviews, this topic quickly led to a lot of discussion around artist communities and the need for artist gathering spaces, which seem to be somewhat lacking these days (not only locally, but nationally and globally, I am sure). For many, and for many reasons, gathering spaces that once existed seem to be more scarcely found, and people are yearning for more. To me, these conversations reflect the incredible impact of gathering spaces to create strong artist communities, which, I believe, in turn creates stronger, more cohesive communities in general. And people’s memories of these gathering spaces from the past can offer us both hope and knowledge for how we can support and create these spaces again. I hope that these reflections can do their part in highlighting, celebrating and supporting gathering spaces of the past, present and future. 

You’ve been utilizing a storytelling format known as the “crankie”. Can you describe what a crankie is and how it fits into this project?

full crankie developed by Elena and collaborators. A crankie is a long illustrated scroll wound between two spools. Spools are positioned within a box framing a viewing window. A storyteller hand-cranks the scroll while telling or singing a story.

This is actually less about the crankie, and more about simple visual art…

Lately, I’ve been drawn to the beauty and effectiveness of simple visual representations of ideas, thoughts, concepts. I’m someone who has always shied away from visual art because I felt I was not very good at it. And as someone who now believes very strongly in the idea that everyone is a soundmaker – that music-making is something for everyone to enjoy – I am starting to tap into my inner visual art self, without fear of it being ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ In doing so, I have started to recognize that visual representations (whether a drawing or painting or paper cutout or anything), no matter how simple they are, can have such character and “say” so much. I also love to collaborate – it is the primary reason I like to make anything – and so this first “crankie” image came about because a friend of mine just decided to try and make one for fun, embracing her inner artist similarly to how I am trying to do so. “Crankies” have a wholly deep and fascinating history within themselves, and I am nowhere near an expert on them. But as they have a storytelling background, we decided to create one image in that form to add a simple yet unique and magical “voice” to the project.

In addition to being a musician, you are also an arts administrator, educator, and producer. How do you balance these many hats? Do these different identities feed into your creative process? Can you describe how you’re thinking about these roles in your own professional and creative development?

I think I went through many phases in my life – playing & studying music, getting involved in community organizing and social justice, becoming an arts administrator and cultural producer – but everything is connected by a core interest in bringing people together for exchange, dialogue, to tell our stories, especially to listen to each others’ stories, and to appreciate / acknowledge / celebrate the vast differences & similarities in our humanness. In the end, all of these different practices are driven by that interest.

For years, I’ve been leading global music exchange programs that bring people together from all over the world for intensive, collaborative residencies, and through that, I’ve seen the real impact of people coming together from very different backgrounds and life experiences to share. So much of that impact comes from simply having a safe space and a chance to meet and talk, to share about one another’s lives and memories and ideas and dreams. So that drives a lot of my work and activities.

I also think that in today’s world, many of us are by nature wearing so many different hats – for better or for worse – needing to create our own platforms and structures to present creative or community projects. But I think if we are tapped into what is driving it all underneath, what we value underneath all of our “hats,” we can figure out how to prioritize and sustain this process. And i also think doing these things in community and collaboratively makes that process much more meaningful, and for me, turns the process itself into the goal I am trying to achieve.

For this project, you are collaborating with several musicians. Can you share some information on who they are, how you’re thinking about collaboration, and what your collaborative process looks like?

I am collaborating with two other musicians – Nathan Koci and Brett Parnell – who are dear friends of mine. During the pandemic, we became part of a small, organic community of people that felt very meaningful and impactful for me, especially going through this particularly challenging time. Most but not all of us were musicians by profession in that group, but one thing I think we all shared was how strongly we felt that music and music-making is a connecting force or energy, a way for us to connect with one another on a deep but joyful level. And we all simply take great joy in music as a way to bring people together. We also share a love of learning about place, and while we run in similar circles as musicians in the city, we don’t often get a chance to play together. This residency was an ideal way for us to combine our love of gathering with our love of place, and to try and bring some of our own joy of music as gathering to others.

You have a culminating event to share your residency research with the community on March 19. Without giving too much away, what can audience members expect for this event?

This event will be inspired by all of the themes & ideas written above – a simple and welcoming place to share our reflections on music, gathering and joy, and to be in community with one another. We will play tunes for audiences to listen to, along with reflections by people in the Snug Harbor community (including hopefully some people in the audience!), drinks, snacks (because what better way to share in a gathering than to eat & drink together), and an invitation for everyone in the room to share with one another about gathering spaces in our own lives.

What else do you have on the horizon? Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

My work with the arts organization Found Sound Nation is ongoing, including several upcoming collaborative artist residency programs across the U.S. and across the globe (see 1beat.org and foundsoundnation.org). We will also be presenting a few pieces as our Found Sound Nation collective at the MATA Festival on Saturday, June 3 at Roulette in Brooklyn, for anyone interested in the artistic creation side of what we do. I can also be seen performing music for kids and families across NYC and beyond, which is one of my favorite forms of communal music-making – you can find out more on that at elenamoonpark.com/all-ages-music!

What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?

Hmm… some days I love a simple vanilla soft serve. Some days I love a fancy butter and salt ice cream. I mostly like to try out new & unusual experiments by brilliant cooks & chefs & food scientists!

Where can people learn more and stay connected to your work?





Join us for Elena Moon Park’s PASS event on Sunday, March 19, 2023 at 2 PM at the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art. To learn more and RSVP, visit https://snug-harbor.org/event/pass-gatherings-a-work-in-progress-by-elena-moon-park/