Girls Rock Bloomington, a local music and mentorship program, started a community fund on Jan. 15 to provide free and reduced-price events for BIPOC girls, transgender and non-binary youth.
The community fund was created by founder and camp director Amy Oelsner. As a rock ‘n’ roll camp for girls of all identities, Girls Rock Bloomington strives to magnify self expression through music and education.
Oelsner said the program wanted to make events more accessible to their campers, many of whom are BIPOC.
“We have been paying attention to the Black Lives Matter movement that's been happening for a long time, but has been especially loud this year,” Oelsner said. “We wanted to do a small part in being anti racist co-conspirators and this seemed like a good first step.”
After working at a Girls Rock in Brooklyn, New York, Oelsner brought the concept to Bloomington. The program started in June 2019 with its first summer camp.
The five-day camp has campers work together in groups to collaborate, learn instruments and perform a song at the end of the week. Since the program’s launch, Girls Rock has hosted musical workshops, after-school activities and a virtual summer camp last year due to COVID-19.
The community fund has raised $350 of its $2,000 goal, which would cover almost two full tuitions for the program’s summer camp, Oelsner said. She said she would also get in touch with Black Lives Matter for suggestions on where to donate any extra funds.
“It's important to basically create a venue for people who are marginalized in order to share their voice and to develop confidence and build community with each other,” Oelsner said.
Cathleen Paquet was camp director for the virtual 2020 summer camp and has worked as a volunteer coordinator and band coach. She said the program has previously partnered with the Boys and Girls Club and Ivy Tech to raise money and provide camp slots to children who could not afford it.
“For a program like this only to be open to those who can afford would be really unfortunate,” Paquet said. “It will always be incredibly important for Girls Rock to keep events financially accessible because it would undermine the goals of what we do if it was out of reach for any particular kids.”
Paquet said there should be more programs like Girls Rock that amplifies voices of people who may have been underrepresented in the music industry.
“Girls Rock gives me a lot of hope and so much happiness,” Paquet said. “It makes me feel better about the world we live in to see these kids feeling really empowered, sharing things and finding the courage to share their voices.”
Girls Rock Bloomington is a part of MidWay Music Speaks, a Bloomington based non-profit organization that celebrates and connects women and non-binary people in music via promotion, empowerment and performance opportunity.
MidWay Music Speaks was founded by Alexi King in 2018 after the first MidWay Music Festival.
“We are built by and for women and non-binary people in music,” King said. “That is our audience that we usually serve, but we do like to be as inclusive as possible because we're not trying to exclude anybody.”
King said Oelsner’s work with Girls Rock and the new community fund are great ways to break down barriers as it helps children who may not have the opportunity to attend Girls Rock.
“Maybe with the donation, they'll be able to attend and could completely get them to be inspired and encourage them to pursue music,” King said. “To be really cheesy, it could change a life too.”