By Sam Boer
The suggestion was brought forth unassumingly enough. Dr. Ajay Heble—currently the director of the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation out of the University of Guelph (IICSI), but also known for his award-winning teaching, research, and founding of the Guelph Jazz Festival—suggested that an online improvisational arts festival could be an exciting venture for IICSI. The Institute, which would usually be hosting its annual musical improvisation camp in Gaspé, Quebec and teaming up with KidsAbility Guelph to run Play Who You Are during the summer suddenly had an opportunity to try something new.
IF 2020 Video performance still by festival founder Dr. Ajay Heble
Upon discussing this online festival notion, a few central tenants were proposed. It should allow international communities to connect. it should provide paid opportunities for artists to create unique new works responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. And, ideally, it should be 24 hours long.
Named “IF 2020,” this online festival grew from a humble idea (the concern that we may only be able to curate a 12 hour event did not last long) into a full-fledged, internationally reaching festival, with over 150 musicians hopping on board from over 15 countries around the world. Attempting to invite as many different artistic disciplines as possible, the roster of artists participating in IF 2020 quickly became wildly eclectic: traditional Korean percussionist Dong-Won Kim; Order of Canada recipient, poet Lorna Crozier; fearless local spoken word poet Truth Is…; and international jazz icons like William Parker, Satoko Fujii, and Evan Parker. Dancers, comedians, theatre practitioners, sound artists, DJs—dreamers of all sorts agreed to participate. The IF 2020 team initially wondered if artists would be interested in contributing to such an event; the answer was, thankfully, a resounding yes.
Video performance still by IF 2020 contributor Truth Is
IF 2020, which will take place starting on August 7th at 8pm (EST) in Guelph, will hopefully be a cathartic opportunity for many arts lovers in our community and beyond. It will certainly entertain, but the hope is that it inspires hope for future possibilities in a post-pandemic world. To quote author and activist Arundhati Roy, this event is a humble attempt to “imagine [the] world anew.”
IF 2020 will be featuring several brilliant Guelph artists, thanks to the support of many local organizations. These include Book of Negroes author and U of G professor Lawrence Hill, presented by the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival; multi-faceted musician Andrew Craig; cellist Matt Brubeck & hurdy gurdy player Ben Grossman, as well as percussionist Rich Burrows, presented by the Arboretum; Jacob Cohen and Leslie McCue, presented by Arts Everywhere; Jasper Tey, presented by the Guelph Comedy Festival; Lynette Segal and Isabelle Segal-Grossman, presented by the Guelph Dance Festival; and Lewis Melville, presented by Hillside. While this is a global event, it’s also a showcase of diverse Guelph talent.
Tune in to IF 2020 at improvfest.ca on August 7th-8th to witness the incredible range of art that persists despite this pandemic. The lovely thing about a 24-hour festival is that you can watch it, for free, any time between August 7th at 8pm and August 8th at 8pm. There will always be something new to spark your curiosity!