‘It was pretty freakin’ awesome’

The newly opened Bluesfest School of Music and Art is bringing the arts to the community — and to budding artists — in a whole new way, writes Sonia Mendes.


Eleven-year-old Darwin Mason will be heading back to school this fall with some amazing summer memories, especially those made during his time at DJ camp with the Bluesfest School of Music and Art.

“It was pretty freakin’ awesome,” says Mason of his experience. “We learned how to record scratch using MP3 files instead of vinyl, and how to mix one song into the next.”

The five-day summer camp — which culminated in a kids’ performance at Bluesfest in July — is just one of BSOMA’s unique program offerings.

The school, which opened in Westboro last spring, aims to link its classes with Ottawa’s long-standing Bluesfest and the Ottawa Folk Festival, slated for Sept. 10-14.

“It’s exciting because it’s something we haven’t done before,” says Mark Monahan, the school’s founder and executive director for Bluesfest.

He says the idea for the school expands on the concept of community that Bluesfest has always embraced.

“We’ve been doing community programming since 1999 with ‘Blues in the Schools’ and we’ve always had a mandate to foster community involvement and profile local artists, so this is kind of an extension of what we’ve been doing,” says Monahan.

“It gives us an opportunity to have a year-round presence.”

Housed in the former Westboro United Church — located at 450 Churchill Ave. — the school will have a focus on education, particularly for youth, says Monahan.

The ground floor and mezzanine will serve as a hub for local festivals, while the lower level of the building — known as Kitchissippi Hall — has been renovated to include four private studios, a digital lab and a performance space.

Class offerings will range from the visual arts to music lessons, filmmaking and animation.

“We’re hoping to do the odd quirky and unique offering as well as the standard stuff,” says Geoff Cass, co-director of programs at Dovercourt Recreation Centre and a member the school’s advisory council.

He says digital art lessons, learn-to-crochet classes and glee club are all potential offerings for the fall season. 

The new school is a not-for-profit project, and will be run in conjunction with the Dovercourt Recreation Association. 

Cass says Dovercourt’s role is providing the community connection, as well as handling registrations and other administrative work.

Beyond the lessons, however, the school will also open itself as a “hub” for musicians — and music enthusiasts
— to connect in the community.

“It’s not just the kids but also the instructors who were looking for space,” says Cass.

“Westboro is a very artistic community, and this is a golden opportunity for people to get out of their living rooms and get into a great space.

“Our fall program offerings invite people to come down to the school for open jam nights, rehearsal times and song circles; people can come with their instruments and be part of the music, or simply come and listen.”

As for Mason, nothing beats the thrill of learning the tricks of the trade from a real DJ — and then having the chance to perform at Bluesfest.

“I was the first one on stage, so that was more than a little nerve wracking,” he says, adding that he played five medium-length punk songs.

“I was kind of worried that nobody would like it, but afterwards I got a lot of applause and I know I did an awesome job.

“I seriously haven’t felt that pumped in a long time — I would recommend it to anyone.”

For a full listing of classes, visit www.bsoma.ca or connect via Twitter: @BSOMAhouse.