Misha Bower talks new book, Music for Uninvited Guests

Published in Metro News October 31, 2012

Rain settles on the sidewalk outside local café The Bag Lady. It’s the morning rush and things are bustling. Misha Bower and I are tucked into a corner, sitting on a red, crushed velvet couch. Bower orders a cappuccino.

We’ve met up to talk about the author’s new book, Music for Uninvited Guests. She is humble, self-deprecating even, as she talks about her accomplishments — fronting Toronto-based folk-rock outfit Bruce Peninsula and having her first book published by Cringles.

“I’ve been writing for a long time,” the London native tells me. “Since high school.”

Her background is in theatrical writing; in 2010 she wrote and produced a play for the Toronto Fringe Festival. But, Bower insists, play-writing doesn’t come naturally.

“I’m just such a rambler,” she says. “My main criticism of myself is that it’s been half an hour and I haven’t been able to get someone to walk from stage left to stage right.”

So she decided to try her hand at short fiction.

Music for Uninvited Guests features eight short stories, each exploring how something extraordinary can emerge from the mundane. The stories are vignettes, beginning in the middle of things and offering first person narratives of daily events.

“They are about having these hesitant and uncertain characters that seem to have all the analytical details to solve their problems but are just a little too human to put it all together,” Bower says.

The characters are a patchwork of the real and the imagined, Bower says, pieced together from obsessive observation, note-taking and prolonged conversations with her editor, Jacob Sheen.

“He took these essays in the ether, this voice from nowhere, and through the process of asking questions it started to become a living story,” Bower says. “His instincts and ability to ask great questions was a compass for the direction the book took.”

On Saturday night, Bower will be celebrating the launch of her book at the London Music Club. The evening includes readings from Music for Uninvited Guests and performances by Grey Kingdom, The Weather Station and Daniel Romano.

“I’m so delighted and honoured when people take an interest in the book,” Bower says. “This is going to be a dynamite night.”

Tickets for the book launch are $7 in advance, available at Grooves and the London Music Club. Doors open at 8 p.m.

Western jumped the copyright gun, critics say

Published in Metro News July 15, 2012

It could be some time before Western University students see the benefits — and possible cost savings — of a Supreme Court ruling that recommends loosening copyright rules for photocopied classroom texts.

That’s because Western officials inked a two-year deal in January with Access Copyright, setting a flat rate of $26 per full-time student for the use of copyrighted material. The majority — if not all — of the cost is expected to be passed along in the form of a student fee, officials have said.

By signing the agreement, Western jumped the gun, critics say. Samuel Trosow, an associate professor of media studies and law, is among them.

Trosow specializes in copyright law and said he advised against the Access Copyright deal earlier this year, partially because of the then-pending Supreme Court decision.

Justices handed down their ruling Thursday, saying content used for classroom lectures and discussion shouldn’t be subject to royalties.

That means, Trosow said, Western students shouldn’t be paying a dime.

“(The university) should have stuck this out and continued to deal through the copyright board,” the associate professor said.

University officials declined to answer specific questions about the deal.

“Western is reviewing the Supreme Court decision,” Keith Marnoch, Western’s
director of media and community relations, said in an email to Metro. “Our current agreement with Access Copyright expires in December 2013, and all the current developments concerning this issue will help inform what we may choose do at that time.”

Other critics include the school’s University Student’s Council and its Society of Graduate Students at Western.

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada followed the example set by Western and the University of Toronto, signing an agreement Access Copyright in April, Trosow said. That means students at several other institutions, like McMaster University, are now facing the same issue.

“Western has won the race to the bottom in copyright policy,” Trosow said last week.

The University of British Columbia and York University were among the schools that rejected a deal.

Music inspired by community

Published in Metro News October 20, 2011

“No one knows what the word ‘folk’ means anymore,” says Graham Nicholas. “If someone performs with an acoustic guitar, we tend to classify that as folk music.”

Photo by Amanda Grant

“But it’s more about passing stories along and getting as many people involved as possible. It’s a way of identifying a community that you belong to.”

Nicholas, a local musician, took this sentiment to heart when writing and recording his debut album Bury Me Beneath the Dance Floor. Along with eight friends, he formed a music collective called The Old River Raft in 2009. A modern spin on the grassroots creativity that characterizes the folk genre, the group would meet regularly, each member taking turns sharing songs that the rest of the group would jam on.

“We were all learning to share our stories together,” Nicholas says. “There was no lead singer, or head songwriter. And if someone had a story to tell we’d help them do that.”

With some encouragement from his close friend and band mate Scott Brunt, Nicholas started to spend more time writing his own music.

“He kept pushing me — I never used to sing back then and he really got me to try new things,” Nicholas says.

Building on Brunt’s advice and his own passion, Nicholas started to write and record an album in his downtown London apartment with sound engineer Casey Wolfe. Drawing on a talented circle of friends to create a modern take on traditional folk music, Nicholas enlisted the help of Blair Whatmore of Handsome Dan and His Gallimaufry; Zach Hoffman and Andrew Lennox of Wild Domestic; Brent Herbert of The Woody Allens; and local musicians Martin Horak, Beth Prysuk and James Cummins along with Brunt and Wolfe.

“All the people that play on this album are a part of my music community, part of this creative community that inspires me,” Nicholas says.

Nicholas will celebrate the release of his album on Saturday night at the London Music Club (470 Colborne St.). He will be joined by Guelph group Your Neck of the Woods and Alanna Gurr, who is also celebrating the release of a new album that night. The show starts at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 at the door.

Seeing a city’s potential

Published in Metro News November 3, 2011

“It started as a joke,” says artist Peter Thompson of the title of the upcoming exhibition Not Bad For London at the Michael Gibson Gallery, “but it seemed to work.”

Photo by Amanda Grant

“It’s about this comparison, or compromise, people make,” says Jason McLean, whose work will be featured along with six other London artists in the show. “Like it wouldn’t fly anywhere else, but for London, it’s pretty good.”

The irony isn’t lost on the talent group known as “the drawers.” Despite their London roots, the artists’ success is largely outside of the city, in the other parts of Canada and abroad.

Their work has been bought and shown throughout Europe and North America, and just this past winter they exhibited together in Sweden.

“There’s great stuff going on here but who’s hearing about it? You have to have higher goals,” McLean says.

Still, the artists: Marc Bell, James Kirkpatrick, Amy Lockhart, Jason McLean, Jamie Q, Peter Thompson and Billy Bert Young, are excited for the show in London.

“We like exhibiting together,” says James Kirkpatrick.

“But we don’t always get to. It’s hard to coordinate and curate but this came together quite naturally.”  
“It just seemed like the right time,” McLean adds.

The artists’ work is characterized by drawing.

Using different media they apply a drawing technique to their pieces, creating contemporary art with a cartoonish tone.

This exhibition will feature a mix of old and new work, from the drawers. Each artist will occupy a part of the gallery with individual work, and the middle of the space will house collaborative projects.
The show also incorporates interactive elements, like Kirkpatrick’s sound art.

Kirkpatrick is also a musician, and he has created instruments and amplifiers for the show, so the viewer can become a participant.

“People can come in and pick up the instrument and play,” he says.

“And they’ll make a different sound every time you touch them, any song or melody you make will be unique to that moment.”

The exhibit is an exciting display of Canadian talent and has drawn interest from major galleries and at the international art fair this past week in Toronto.

 “This isn’t new, and it’s not odd,” McLean says, “We’ve been doing this for a long time. But are people going to get out to see contemporary art?”

London has the potential, McLean says, but it’s whether people take advantage of it.

Not Bad For London opens Friday at 8 p.m. The exhibit will run at the Gibson gallery (157 Carling St.) until Nov. 26.

Survivor’s new website boosts CAS

Published in the London Free Press March 14, 2011

At 11 years old, Katie Wilhelm left home.

Her two younger siblings in tow, she stood downtown on Dundas St. in London and called 911 in the hope of starting fresh.

“I knew even then there was something better out there for me so I left,” she says now, nearly 13 years later.

When police arrived at ­Wilhelm’s home, they found her single mother, who was addicted to drugs and alcohol, and deemed the home unsafe.

That night, Wilhelm and her brother and sister entered the foster care system. By 14, she had lived in 30 homes and attended 16 schools. She was angry and depressed.

Now 23, Wilhelm is happy. She has graduated from Fanshawe College, started a successful business as a freelance graphic designer, and works as a volunteer for the Children’s Aid Society. She is a success story and one of the few foster children who find a family and a place to call home.

“Katie is our daughter through and through,” says Heather Courts, a foster parent who adopted Wilhelm when she was 17. “I always tell her: ‘You didn’t grow under my heart, you grew into it.’ ”

The Courts met Wilhelm through their son, Jamie. On Jamie’s birthday, Wilhelm arrived at the family’s home to help decorate for a party. She had just turned 16 and would be going on extended care and maintenance — when foster children are forced to live on their own as adults.

“I didn’t feel like I had any role in the community . . . in anything. I really didn’t think I would ever go to college, but having this family take me in — it was life- changing and not an experience many foster children would ever get to have,” Wilhelm says.

“If you affect just one person, you’ve made a difference,” says Courts. “Katie’s opened up our eyes and introduced us to all kinds of different things.”

When Wilhelm spoke at Ignite London on Feb. 23, her adopted family was sitting in the front row. As she spoke at Aeolian Hall, telling her story to a captivated crowd, tears came to their eyes.

“I knew how hard it was and if I hadn’t had the support of finding a family who cared and loved me the way any child deserves . . . I don’t know how well I would have done,” Wilhelm says. “I wanted to give the opportunity to youth to get out and get inspired and be motivated again.”

Ignite marked the launch of Wilhelm’s foster advocacy program, a website she’s designing for foster children, parents and grads to create a support system.

The idea for the online portal came from speaking on a Children’s Aid Society panel. After the presentation, she was approached by a couple who were becoming foster parents.

“I was speaking to them about my experience and they said, ‘This was really beneficial for us. It would be useful if there was some kind of website where you could go and hear these stories and learn what to do and what not to do,’ ” Wilhelm says.

Through Ignite and the London Community Foundation, Wilhelm won a Community Vitality grant. The $1,000 will help get her project off the ground.

“We were looking for something that shows investment in the community, not just a band- aid solution,” says Cindy Graeme, of the London Community Foundation.

Wilhelm’s hopes to have the website running by 2012. She plans to make the portal open-source so other cities can download the software.

Urban art show draws fans of all ages

Published in the London Free Press March 29, 2011

When Ryan Mahy was caught doodling graffiti in class instead of taking notes, he didn’t get into trouble.

He was given a 110-metre-long wall, stretching the length of H.B. Beal secondary school’s field, as a canvas for his urban art.

Six years later the mural, created by Mahy and 26 other artists, has been painted over, but his vision continues to grow.

Mahy is the mastermind behind Artfusion, a monthly pop-up art show introducing London to urban artists and hip-hop culture. The event features local artwork and music, encouraging creativity in the community.

“I was captivated by hip-hop culture and I knew I needed to combine all aspects of art and music,” Mahy says.

Artfusion attracts crowds of nearly 1,000 people creating, buying and selling art.

“It goes from teenagers to seniors and everything in between. Everybody is there and learning from each other — it’s inclusive, not exclusive,” Mahy says.

On Saturday, Artfusion will present its 15th show in a surprising new venue, at Citi Plaza in downtown London.

“We had hosted all the shows at Il Tenore but the restaurant was closing so we had to look for a new space,” Mahy says. “It isn’t the first time we’ve faced obstacles, but the event has such momentum we have to keep it going.”

Mahy approached the Downtown London Business Association looking for support and ideas for a new space. He was then put in touch with Lucas Blois of Arcturus Realty Corp., who donated the space for the event.

“Anybody who is going to be that positive and turn downtown and London into a beautiful place where young people want to come and stay, then we’re all over it,” says Janette MacDonald, manager of Downtown London.

Mahy says the life of an urban artist is a constant struggle and the support of the community is invaluable to Artfusion.

“People have such a negative impression of graffiti art — they don’t know the difference between the good stuff and the bad stuff and how positive it can actually be,” he says.

MacDonald says Artfusion “gives (the artists) credibility and separates them from the taggers.”

Artfusion 15 opens Saturday as a licensed event in the old Music World space in Citi Plaza by the Wellington Rd. and King St. entrance. The art gallery will remain open to the public from April 2 through to April 9 during the day, and all art displayed will be for sale.

“London is a conservative city but that’s also what makes it more fascinating,” Mahy says. “I think the urban art influence in London is necessary. It is outside the box . . . and it’s engaging kids to look at art and allowing artists to come together.”