As a form of musical practice, improvisation embodies real-time creative decision-making, risk-taking, and collaboration. Musical improvisation can be considered not simply as a musical form, but, perhaps more urgently, as a complex social phenomenon that mediates transcultural inter-artistic exchanges that produce new conceptions of identity, community, history, and the body. The International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation is a central source for the collection and dissemination of research on the social implications of improvisational practices.
The International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation (IICSI) is a partnered research institute, funded through a SSHRC partnership grant, that investigates how improvisation can improve life. IICSI’s mandate is to create positive social change through innovative scholarship, impactful arts events, and community-oriented activities. Our Institute works with scholars, students, creative practitioners, and community partners to practice and study improvisation as a model for social change. This research has resulted in the development of new technologies for making sound; large-scale celebratory community gatherings; numerous publications, including hundreds of articles published through our Institute’s peer-reviewed journal; workshops for youth; artist talks; and academic conferences. The University of Guelph also offers graduate programs in Critical Studies in Improvisation, which arose from years of IICSI’s award-winning, arts-based research and training.
The project team for the Institute includes 75+ researchers and 65+ community partners around the globe, as well as several Student Research Assistants and core staff members. The Institute has key sites at University of Guelph, McGill University, Memorial University, University of Regina, Carleton University, the University of British Columbia, Queen’s University Belfast (N. Ireland), and 17, Institute of Critical Studies (Mexico).
The Institute was founded in 2013 and builds on funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), as well as contributions from the host institution, sites, and many partners. Prior to 2013, this effort was a research project titled “Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice” (ICASP website is in the process of being archived).
During the five years of the Improvising Futures SSHRC Partnership grant, the work associated with the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation will be indexed to 4 new strategic research priorities:
- Improvisation, Media, and Stories of Change
- Improvisation, Public Spaces, and the Practice of Everyday Life
- Improvisation, Decolonization, and Making Peace
- Improvisation, Wellbeing, and the Social Determinants of Health
The IICSI team and affiliated research projects continue to grow and expand as new research initiatives are developed.