Project Directors

Ajay Heble | University of Guelph, IICSI

Ajay Heble is Director of the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation and Professor of English in the School of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph. He is the author or editor of several books, and a founding co-editor of the journal Critical Studies in Improvisation/Études critiques en improvisation. He was the Project Director for Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice, a large-scale Major Collaborative Research Initiative, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

As the Founder and Artistic Director of the Guelph Jazz Festival, Heble has jolted the citizens of Guelph into an appreciation of improvised and avant-garde music and delighted aficionados from around the world with his innovative and daring programming. Under his visionary leadership, the Festival—winner of the prestigious Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts (2010), and a three-time recipient of the Lieutenant Governor’s Award of the Arts (1997, 2000, 2001) —has achieved a rock-solid international reputation as one of the world’s most inspired and provocative musical events. Recent projects include two new books both published in 2013 by Duke University Press: People Get Ready: The Future of Jazz is Now (co-edited with Rob Wallace), and The Fierce Urgency of Now: Improvisation, Rights, and the Ethics of Cocreation (co-authored with Daniel Fischlin and George Lipsitz). As a pianist, he has released three CDs: Different Windows, a live recording of improvised music with percussionist Jesse Stewart (on the IntrepidEar label) and two recordings with his improvising quartet The Vertical Squirrels: Hold True / Accroche toi (on Ambiances Magnétiques) and Winter’s Gate (on Barcode Free).

Eric Fillion | Queen’s University

Eric Fillion is adjunct professor and Buchanan postdoctoral fellow in the Department of History at Queen’s University. His research explores the social and symbolic importance of music, within countercultures and in Canadian international relations. His ongoing work on cultural diplomacy and Canadian-Brazilian relations builds on the experience he has acquired as a musician playing drums with Montreal-based bands in various studios and on international stages. It also informs his current research on the postwar cultural public sphere: his two main projects examine the emergence of the music festival phenomenon in Canada and the entangled sonic histories of diasporic social movements. An affiliate of the North American Cultural Diplomacy Initiative (NACDI), Eric Fillion is the founder of the Tenzier non-profit archival record label and co-editor of the journal Critical Studies in Improvisation/Études critiques en improvisation. He is the author of JAZZ LIBRE et la révolution québécoise: musique-action, 1967-1975 and Distant Stage: Quebec, Brazil, and the Making of Canada’s Cultural Diplomacy. His next book, titled Statesman of the Piano: Jazz, Race, and History in the Life of Lou Hooper (co-edited with Sean Mills and Désirée Rochat), is under contract with McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Project Collaborators

Ben Finley | University of Guelph, IICSI

At the age of 14, Ben Finley plucked his first bass string! Everything changed. Immediately things fell still, without worry, in playful possibility with each low vibration. Miraculously, that feeling remains. Ben is a collaborative performer-composer, grounded in acoustic and electric bass playing (in multiple tunings and often with effect palettes). He grew up on a music festival farm (Westben). There, he witnessed many ways of making music, entwined with land and creatures. Dreams instilled: what might a holistically sustainable (culturally/ecologically etc.) festival look like? He currently leads two music groups: Pluto Theremin, a solo/band project that reimagines the edges of electrified creative bass playing + layered poetic vocals; and Weaving Locus, an experimental acoustic-ish quintet. He plays, composes, and records with various creative music ensembles and in internationally acclaimed productions and community projects across Canada and the US. Ben is the co-founder and creative director of the Westben Centre for Connection & Creativity’s international/multi-generational Performer-Composer Residency and is Westben’s Sustainability Coordinator. He is a current Ph.D. candidate in the Critical Studies in Improvisation program at the University of Guelph, studying music festivals/creative music practices as sites of eco-cultural regeneration.

Melissa Noventa | Queen’s University

Melissa Noventa is a multi-disciplinary artist and researcher originally from Guelph, Ontario. She has accumulated a wide range of training, performing, and teaching experience throughout her career. Melissa’s work has spanned commercial, academic and artistic settings allowing her to work alongside a formidable list of distinguished artists and institutions from Canada and abroad including some of Cuba’s premiere folkloric ensembles. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Dance) and a Master’s degree (Dance) from York University. Currently, Melissa is entering her fourth year of the Ph.D. program in Cultural Studies at Queen’s University, where she is exploring cultural diplomacy between Canada and Cuba through music and dance. Since arriving in Kingston in 2019, she has also worked with Queen’s Afro-Caribbean Student Association dance team, The Grande Theatre, and the Movement market to share Afro-Cuban dance with the Kingston community.

Project Management, Communications, and Coordination

Sam Boer | University of Guelph, IICSI

Sam Boer (M.A., Ryerson) is a musician, writer, and teacher born and raised in Guelph, Ontario. Dedicated to pushing boundaries in folk music, he has released his debut album Pigeon under the moniker Samson Wrote. Pigeon received funding from the Ontario Arts Council and was nominated for a Canadian Folk Music Award in 2019. He has toured Canada with several groups, most notable the art-folk collective The Lifers, performing at festivals across Canada including Hillside, Summerfolk, and Mariposa. When he is not recording or performing, Sam writes pieces for Exclaim!, leads music classes for young children, and provides PR and grant support for musicians and non-profits.

Bronwyn Jaques | Queen’s University

Bronwyn Jaques (she/her) is the Administrative Assistant, Events and Communications, in the Department of History at Queen’s University. She holds a PhD in Cultural Studies from Queen’s University. Her SSHRC-funded doctoral research focused on the practice and mobilization of dark tourism in Kingston. Bronwyn is also a public historian, and has completed a number of research projects with local heritage and arts organizations, including the Penitentiary Museum of Canada, the Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning, the Swamp Ward and Inner Harbour History Project, the City of Kingston, and the Bloor Street Culture Corridor.

Sheetal Lodhia | University of Guelph, IICSI

Sheetal Lodhia has worked in the public and private sectors at the intersections of strategic management, production (radio, print, video), research (qualitative, ethnographic, table), and community engagement. She is a voracious consumer of pop culture, and, as an Allophone, comfortable working in multilingual environments, including English and French. A doctoral graduate in English Literature and Cultural Studies from Queen’s University, she has researched, published and taught in cultural studies, literature, colonialism, critical race theory and history of medicine. She has produced radio documentaries, podcasts, and a video documentary short. As a matter of course she stays curious, writes, watches TV, games, crafts, teaches and harbours fantasies of becoming a pro-tennis player.

Marie Zimmerman | University of Guelph, IICSI

Marie Zimmerman has worked in the realms of both theory and practice in cultural studies, having been both an academic and a festival director for over twenty years. She has also been the editor of a scholarly journal, the executive editor for a Canadian publisher, a creative writing teacher, and a freelance writer. She is currently the Executive Director of the Hillside Festival in which capacity she oversees outreach, finance, operations, risk management and HR, and teaches songwriting. She has worked for five Canadian arts festivals in music, dance, jazz, film and literature, acting as Artistic Director, publicist, HR consultant, emergency plan architect, strategic planner and Treasurer. She is a guest lecturer on arts, culture, and sustainability, and a founding member of the Guelph Fab 5, a collective of local arts festivals.

Graphic Design

Lucy Bilson | University of Guelph, IICSI

Lucy Bilson is a graphic designer with almost a decade of experience in the field of design and a Master of Design degree from York University. Lucy’s passion for design is all consuming, and her practice has led her to work with clients throughout Canada, the US, and the UK; she is currently based in Kitchener Waterloo, Ontario, with clients far and wide. Lucy’s lifelong love for design began in the museums and galleries of London, UK, where she was born and raised, and was solidified through her extensive education in both Europe and North America (through art school, a Bachelor (Hons) in Design, a Master of Design, and a graduate diploma in Curatorial Studies), continuing now through her practice. She has designed for Canada’s largest media company, brand new companies finding their feet, and many clients in between. Lucy is currently a part-time studio instructor in the Department of Design at York University and in the School of Creative Industries at Conestoga College.