Wavelength’s artistic director steps down amid abuse claims

The indie music non-profit's board is launching an independent investigation following an ex-staffer's allegations against Jonny Dovercourt


At this summer’s Camp Wavelength music festival, one person will be noticeably absent: cofounder and artistic director Jonathan Bunce, better known as Jonny Dovercourt.

The Toronto music scene veteran is stepping aside following allegations of abuse that surfaced on June 30. Wavelength’s 10-member board of directors has called for an independent investigation into allegations made by Dorice Tepley, a former volunteer-turned-employee who was terminated from Wavelength in 2015.

“We are committed to having an outside unaffiliated person conduct an inquiry as to what happened and the appropriate action,” says Dean Williams, president of Wavelength’s board. “While that’s happening, the organization has asked Jonathan to step down to alleviate any concerns that artists or any community members might have about these allegations.”

The festival, which is slated for August 18 and 19, is scheduled to go on as planned.

In a series of Facebook posts published over Canada Day long weekend, Tepley urged sponsors and performers to reconsider their commitment to this year’s event.

“If you believe me, don’t go. If you believe victims, don’t play, don’t go,” she wrote. “Protect yourselves. Don’t let this abuser use your talent for his own ego and gain!”

Tepley alleges that Bunce, who she worked alongside with for nearly a decade, was a bully who controlled her and isolated her from others.

“He made me feel dumb. He made me feel like shit about myself because I was me,” she states. “He turned what friends I thought I had against me. That’s all I can share because the rest is too traumatic.”

Since the posts were published, Wavelength’s board of directors has met every day to discuss the situation. In addition to the independent inquiry and asking for Bunce’s temporary removal, they’re also planning a town hall so that community members can voice their concerns.

“We are sensitive to the fact that not everybody is comfortable speaking in public, but we want to give the community a chance to say what they want to say so we can be better and learn from what’s happened here,” says Williams, adding he wants to encourage a conversation off social media.

Bunce declined to comment, referring questions to Wavelength’s board.

Tepley is not the only person to speak out against the artistic director. Polaris Prize-winning artist Lido Pimienta, who played Wavelength in 2014, posted a public statement on her personal Facebook on July 2. Her allegations against Dovercourt are focused on artist compensation and how she was treated as a musician.

“Even as I started in the scene, I valued my work and could recognize a gatekeeper/opportunistic/weasel right away from my years in the music industry,” Pimienta wrote.

Williams says that in 2015, the year Tepley was fired, Wavelength’s finances were in the red, “which is to say there was a financial element to her dismissal, but it was also performance related,” he explains.

Sally Lee, who also sits on Wavelength’s board, believes some of these issues are indicative of not-for-profit arts organizations, especially ones that rely mainly on grant funding to operate.

“Wavelength has been punching above its weight for a long time. People think that Wavelength has this level of visibility and recognition, but we’re a pretty small grassroots organization,” she says.

“This is a narrative that exists in other communities,” Williams adds. “What we’re hearing organically come out from Dorice’s post is the junction between arts administration and the arts, so what better opportunity to redefine the parameters of that relationship and create something better?”

Tepley, who is currently based in Winnipeg, is not planning legal action against the organization. She stresses that her intention was to expose Bunce and warn others.

“I’ve done all I can do for now. I have to put my health first. I will put my story out there more when I feel comfortable,” she told NOW in an emailed statement. “I am disappointed with the scene. They have to help themselves because I am done.”

Williams and Lee are hopeful that Wavelength can change and that this year’s festival will go forward as planned.

“Regardless of the outcome of any sort of inquiry, we need to be sure on our end and in terms of the community’s mind that it was fair, objective and impartial,” Lee says. “Wavelength is more than Jonathan.”

Bunce cofounded the Wavelength music series in 2000. For 10 years, it held a weekly Sunday-night indie music showcase before shifting to concentrate on special events and festivals. In 2014, the not-for-profit organization, which relies on arts funding and the help of volunteers, launched the outdoor summer music festival, Camp Wavelength.

michelled@nowtoronto.com | @michdas

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