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kottke.org posts about Kris Bowers

The Last Repair Shop

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2024

The Los Angeles school district runs a shop that maintains and repairs the 80,000 musical instruments used by students in the district. Kris Bowers and Ben Proudfoot made this short documentary about the shop and the people who work there, some of whom have been broken and repaired themselves.

In making “The Last Repair Shop,” my directing partner Ben Proudfoot and I got the chance to tell the tale of four extraordinary master craftspeople who ensure, day in and day out, that L.A.’s schoolchildren have playable instruments in their hands. We were floored and proud to find out that our city, Los Angeles, was home to the last shop of this kind in the country.

Bowers and Proudfoot previously collaborated on A Concerto Is a Conversation, an Oscar-nominated short documentary about Bowers’ grandfather, who was part of the Great Migration.

A Concerto Is a Conversation

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 02, 2021

In this lovely short film, composer and pianist Kris Bowers talks to his grandfather, Horace Bowers, about his life in the Jim Crow South and how he found a new life in California as part of the Great Migration. Horace’s move across the country set in motion events that culminated in Kris premiering a concerto he wrote with the LA Philharmonic. You can read more about Horace in this 2019 profile.

Yet, in a sign of the times, Horace encountered discrimination while building his business. At the time, mainstream financial institutions rarely gave loans to Blacks and Bank of America had already denied him. His fortunes changed after he hired a White young man as a presser.

“I gave him a job and after two days, he asked me to tell the bank that he had been working for me for 30 days. He said that he needed a loan because he had just gotten divorced and was broke and wanted to borrow money to go back to Texas,” said Horace.

“Even though I was with Bank of America, they had turned me down for a loan and I did not think he could get one. But, a few days later, his loan was approved. I wondered why, but I immediately thought of the color of my skin.”

Armed with this knowledge, Horace devised another route. He visited a different branch, picked up the loan papers, completed the forms and mailed them in.

“A few days later, my loan was approved and from then on, nobody saw us. I did mostly everything by mail,” he said.