Last year’s Girls Rock camp in Columbus; for the first time this year Girls Rock took place in Cincinnati.Provided by Girls Rock ColumbusGirls Rock is empowering the next generation of Cincinnati’s great musicians during a weeklong music and creative arts summer camp for girls and gender-variant youth.
Girls Rock began in Portland in 2001. Now, the official Girls Rock Camp Alliance (GRCA) has grown to include over 60 camps internationally, although the Cincinnati team estimates that there are closer to 100 including non-affiliated camps that hold the same ethos and structure as those in the GRCA. After volunteering at Girls Rock Columbus, which just held its sixth year of camp, Girls Rock Cincinnati Director Marlo Salem and co-organizer Holly Meyer were inspired to start a camp in the Queen City, which is currently wrapping up its inaugural year.
“I do a lot of work with youth and have my entire short adult life,” says Meyer, who is an elementary music teacher. “I had never been a part of a program that allowed for so much creative expression without any boundaries. I had never been in a space where I had seen teens feel that confident to be their authentic selves.”
Over the course of the week, middle and high school-aged campers take lessons in drums, keys, guitar, bass and vocals; have band practice; and write original songs. With the aim to nurture self-expression, there are also daily workshops taught by community members covering an array of subjects including screen printing, sound pedals, gardening, weaving, puppetry, bracelet making and journaling.
The camp not only aims to foster the technical know-how to be a good musician, but also the emotional support, encouragement and affirmation young people need to succeed. At lunchtime, campers — and their all-volunteer team of counselors — watch concerts and have Q&A sessions with local musicians, bands and DJs, including Indie Pop act Knotts, Garage Pop duo Blossom Hall and singer/songwriter Elsa Kennedy. More than just a cool way to spend the lunch hour, campers get the chance to connect with role models in the community and see that pursuing a path in music is a real option.
“It’s a very common narrative to be the only girl in the band,” says co-organizer Anissa Pulcheon. “I have always worked toward having spaces where there are more women and gender-variant people involved. Being in a place where you see other people who are like you — that’s super affirming.”
Operating on the belief that all people deserve access to creative outlets, Girls Rock wants youth to know that they belong in the music and creative arts scene in Cincinnati and beyond.
“As a non-binary person, it’s so necessary to feel represented and seen by the people that you’re working with,” Salem says. “Historically, the people who have access to practicing, being good at (and) making a living off music are white men.”
Salem says it’s important “all of the facets of underserved identities are welcomed and uplifted and encouraged” at the camp — regardless of what school they attend, their family’s income, where they live or how they identify.
“You will have a place here,” Salem says. “Save for cis men and boys.”
On that note, co-organizer Emily Ash adds that’s “because they have spaces everywhere else.”
Salem reiterates that point, citing that most other spaces are male-dominated, creating the need to carve out a place specifically for girls and gender-variant youth.
“Particularly in a city like Cincinnati this is really important,” Ash says. “Not that it’s not important in every part of the world, because it is, but in a city that’s so racially segregated, and where it’s so uniquely difficult to be a marginalized person of any kind, it’s just so vital to have these spaces that are specifically for marginalized people.”
The Girls Rock team is already looking toward the future of the camp in Cincinnati. Eventually, they plan to officially join the GRCA and offer year-round, all-ages programming throughout the city. More important than ever, they emphasize, is providing the space, dedication and resources for creatives of all types to flourish.
“At the risk of making myself cry, I feel like I’m doing an act of good for my younger self,” Ash says. “This very much feels like something that baby Emily would be all about. I want these kids to have a space where they know that they’re valued, that their identities matter and where they feel like they belong.”
Girls Rock Cincinnati will culminate Aug. 10 with a free 7 p.m. show at the MYCincinnati Firehouse (3120 Warsaw Ave., Price Hill) with merch for sale, a photobooth and original performances by Girls Rock campers.
For more information on Girls Rock Cincinnati, visit girlsrockcinci.com.