Music, feminism, empowerment – Girls Rock! Canberra

When I was a teen, I don’t think I could have thought of anything better than a holiday camp where I got to learn to play an instrument, play in a band, learn about feminism and meet some seriously cool mentors. Sadly, such a dream wasn’t a reality then, but it’s about to become one with the launch of Girls Rock! Canberra. I chatted to Founder/Director and former Feminartsy sub-editor, Chiara Grassia.

Tell us a bit about yourself!

I write, play guitar and make zines, but currently all that has been pushed to the sidelines while I finish my honours thesis. I’m into other people’s stories, punk rock and social theory.

What is a Girls Rock! camp?

Feminist music geek utopia. It’s a week long program where girls form a band, write an original song and perform it at a showcase, usually held at a local venue, on the last day. This concept originated in Portland, Oregon in 2001 as Rock ’n’ Roll Camp 4 Girls, and has since grown into a national and worldwide movement, with similar camps popping up in places like Sweden, Iceland, Brazil and Japan. It’s a safe space where girls are encouraged to play whatever music they like, collaborate with others and attend creative workshops like screen printing t-shirts, making their own zines and learning self-defense.

Why do you love Girls Rock Camps? What drew you to them as a program?

I read about them as a teenager, thinking that they sounded exactly like the kind of place I wanted to be. Years later, when planning a trip to the USA, I looked up the Portland camp and got in touch, and ended up volunteering for the summer. It was such a surreal experience – X-Ray Spex and B-52s and The Slits playing in the background while girls wrote songs, made zines and hung out. A friend summed it up as ‘the place that filters out everyone I don’t want to talk to’. Big dance parties every lunchtime. 12-year-olds killing it on the drums.

It’s incredible to watch these transformations take place – from girls who have never picked up an instrument in their lives and at the end of the week have composed a song with their new friends, to teens who admit they have never gotten along with other girls until now. As a volunteer, it’s incredibly inspiring and empowering to be surrounded by amazing women, who are kicking arse in so many areas, music and otherwise.

You’ve travelled to the States to research camps this year – how did you find the place affects the way the camp unfolds?

With the assistance of a YWCA Canberra Great Ydeas grant, I spent five weeks in the US hopping from camp to camp – Bay Area Girls Rock Camp in Oakland, California, Girls Rock Austin in Texas and RnRC4G in Portland. There is a history of radical politics that underpins Oakland, which was threaded into the BAGRC curriculum. While other camps touch on this, there would an overt focus on addressing systematic oppressions and privileges (especially gender, race and class), and looking at how we could address these through our actions and language used during the week at camp.

Austin was more subtle in their use of language, however instead of introducing terms like ‘heterosexism’, ‘binary’ and ‘cis gender’, which RnRC4G and BAGRC do effortlessly, they placed emphasise on fostering critical thinking skills, healthy group dynamics and how to communicate assertively. (Although a lot of the campers are already familiar with this type of language through internet feminist bibles like Rookie and Tumblr.) Also GRA was held in a church, and there a yoga program for kids running at the same time – all the sad kids sitting alone in the corner were totally at the wrong camp. Portland has close ties with the Riot Grrrrl scene, and the camp is pretty punky (like BAGRC) but with a looser structure.

Tell us about Girls Rock! Canberra – when will it be, and what can we expect?

Girls Rock! Canberra – the first of its kind in Australia(!) – will be running January 11-16, 2016 at Ainslie Arts Centre. It’s a day program, so the hours are 9am-5pm. There are some extremely rad musicians already locked in as mentors [including Courtney Barnett and Jen Cloher!!], and I’m so excited by all the volunteer applications we’ve received. We’re working on making this inclusive and accessible. In girls rock camp tradition, it’s a pretty DIY affair, driven by passion and a desire to build an inclusive, supportive community.

How do people get involved?

If you’re 10-17 year old and self-identify as female, trans or gender non-conforming, then definitely consider applying. Keep an eye on our website, Facebook and twitter for more deets.

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