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Improvising Communities: A Retrospective Exhibition

October 21, 2023 @ 10:00 am - 8:00 pm

Banner Image: Interconnected Relationships Mural, Omar G Ramirez and his students, Mural Workforce Academy, Boyle Heights Arts Conservatory x MALDEF, 2023

Improvising Communities: A Retrospective Exhibition

The Emergence of a New Field of Interdisciplinary Inquiry

October 16–21, 2023
Massey Hall, University of Guelph

Improvising Communities: A Retrospective Exhibition marks the celebration of a significant milestone in the emerging field of Critical Studies in Improvisation. 

The founding of the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation (IICSI) at the University in Guelph was facilitated by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Partnership Grant, awarded in 2012. The Partnership Grant set in motion a decade of robust research and creative outputs generated by a team of scholars, researchers, community partners, and arts practitioners on a local, national, and international scale. 

This exhibition illustrates the formalization of improvisation as a field of academic inquiry over the ten+ year period of the SSHRC Partnership Grant in which the institute was named (2012 to 2022) and narrates how IICSI has evolved into a central source for the collection and dissemination of research on the social implications of improvisational practices.  

Improvising Communities invites you to explore, inquire, investigate, and play with a curated selection of sample projects generated by IICSI’s network during this extended period, from practice-based community programming to accessible new media technologies. The exhibition encourages you to consider one of IICSI’s central research questions: can improvisation be a vehicle for positive social change? 

This exhibition takes places October 16–21, 2023 in Massey Hall, at the University of Guelph.

improvisation history timeline

Timeline designed by Carter Pryor, 2023

The Hand You Are Dealt: Improvising the Archive

In late 2022, IICSI approached Studio Oleomingus, a partner on their new SSHRC grant “Improvising Futures,” about creating a video game which showcases the last ten years of IICSI’s research findings. Enthusiastic and up for the task, Studio Oleomingus and IICSI set to work to determine the format, content, and technical specifications of the game, meeting monthly with an advisory committee to talk through ideas, troubleshoot potential issues, and narrow in on a delightful player experience. 

a colourful visual of a playing cars with abstract shapes and designs

The Hand You Are Dealt: Improvising the Archive, 2023, Studio Oleomingus

After almost a full year of collaboration, what emerges is a freeform digital toy: a collection of playing cards that contain within them a variety of media, including audio tracks, documentaries, short films, photographs, recorded performances, artwork, and more, from different research and creative outputs generated by IICSI and their network over the past decade. We proudly present to you, The Hand You Are Dealt: Improvising the Archive.

Hosted on your web browser (www.improvisingthearchive.com), the game is accessible to anyone with an internet connection, and it invites players to discover the intricacies of IICSI’s diverse array of researchers, partners, and community organizations, all while learning a little bit about the institute’s research and activities.

IICSI and Studio Oleomingus hope the game will be as fun to play as it is informative, and hope the game leads to a wider conversation about improvisation in the exploration of digital archives and interactive art. 

The video game will premiere at our exhibition opening night, on Monday, October 16 at 7 pm at Massey Hall, University of Guelph.

Exhibition Schedule

Monday, October 16
7–9 pm | Opening Reception

Movie poster of a lighthouse

Cape Spear Klang, 2021

Join IICSI for the opening reception of Improvising Communities: A Retrospective Exhibition at Massey Hall, University of Guelph! The evening will be divided into two parts: a special premiere of our video game The Hand You are Dealt: Improvising the Archive and talk back with Studio Oleomingus creators Dhruv Jani and Sushant Chakraborty, and an exclusive screening of the documentary Cape Spear Klang (2021) and talk back with Directors Ellen Waterman and Diego Pani.

About Cape Spear Klang: When Delf Maria Hohmann was asked to design a sonic event for the 2018 Sound Symposium—a festival of experimental music and sound in St. John’s, Newfoundland—he set out to create a nested environment of recorded soundscapes, improvised music, acoustic space, and multi-channel sound diffusion. The site-specific work would take place at the wild and majestic Cape Spear National Historic Site. Musicians would perform in WWII bunkers set into the cliffs, and the audience, seated outside, would receive the resonant echo of those concrete chambers diffused through an eight-channel sound system and accompanied by the composer’s recorded soundscapes blended with the natural seascape. Weather intervened and at short notice the event was moved to a neo-gothic Anglican cathedral in town, drastically changing both its presentation and its signification. Cape Spear Klang documents the resilience, inventiveness, and improvisational artistry of Newfoundland musicians.

Light refreshments will be provided. Massey Hall is a physically accessible venue.

Please RSVP to attend!

Tuesday, October 17 to Thursday, October 19
Open 12–4 pm

Friday, October 20
Open 12–8 pm (extended hours for IF 2023)

Saturday, October 21
Open 10–8 pm (extended hours for IF 2023)

Partners and Researchers (SSHRC PG 2012-2022)

The 2012 SSHRC Partnership Grant “International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation: A Partnered Research Institute”, led to national and international partnerships with six core research sites and one foundation partner: McGill University in Montreal; University of British Columbia in Vancouver; Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John’s; University of Regina; University of California at Santa Barbara; and Musagetes.

In addition to the core research sites, the grant brought together an international team of 50+ researchers from 20 different institutions and over 3o international partners. These partnerships connected scholars of improvisation studies in unprecedented ways via affiliations ranging from grassroots level connections between our community partners, to formalized cooperative agreements at top levels of administration and research oversight at IICSI’s partnered institutions.

We’d like to thank our partners and researchers for their involvement, dedication, and contributions to the research. Please note that partners and researchers were added and removed throughout the ten-year duration of the grant. To get a sense of the amazing team and partners involved, please check out the relevant pages on our website


This exhibition has been made possible by a dedicated team of individuals and an exhibition committee. A special thanks to: Ajay Heble, Julia Busatto, Jordan Zalis, Dhruv Jani, Lucy Bilson, Simon Flint, Rebecca Caines, Eric Lewis, Shawn Van Sluys, Ryan Ahlers, Bonnie Thomson, Matthew Endahl, Ben Finley, Ann Westbere, and Mike Hansen.

A special thank you to our exhibition partners:


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October 21, 2023
10:00 am - 8:00 pm
Event Category:




Massey Hall, University of Guelph
478 Gordon Street
Guelph, Ontario N1G 1Y4 Canada
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5198244120 ext 53885