Girls Rock Bloomington and the FAR Center for Contemporary Arts held a Black History Month open mic night at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
“The goal is to reduce barriers for people who want to make music,” Amy Oelsner, the founder and director of GRB, said. She shared that GRB has been putting on open mics for about a year, though this was only their second in-person one.
The non-profit organization arranges a music camp each summer, as well as a variety of other workshops and programs, especially for girls, transgender and non-binary kids who are 8-14 years old. While all of the night’s performers were adults, several children sat in the audience, cheering for the performers and dancing to the music.
The theme of the night was “Black Resistance,” one chosen by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History for Black History Month. Several of the performers — many local Black poets and musicians — discussed this theme by recounting the injustice they had faced and their ongoing struggles being Black in America.
“As an African American Christian, there’s a lot I have to deal with in order to feel comfortable doing things that go against what others expect,” singer Alese Allen said.
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She sang one of her singles, “Emotions,” as well as a preview of an upcoming single.
Tamara Brown and PDVNCH, both poets, also performed at the event. Brown, who is also a musician, began with a poem about race, her ancestors, and growing up, which was followed by a segment in which she included the audience and had them clap out a rhythm while she sang an original song. PDVNCH gestured to the crowd wildly during his spoken-word performance about Black girls and their strength, comparing them to flowers that grow out of concrete.
Additionally, Ross Gay, a renowned poet and author, read some of his comical essays from an unreleased book — the upcoming sequel to “The Book of Delights,” in which he details a new thing that gave him delight each day.
Local band Foredaze ended the night with its musical performance, playing a few original songs as well as a cover, at one point asking the audience to help name an unreleased single.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’re making is beautiful,” Jae Gasana, a local non-binary Black musician, and the emcee of the night, said to those in the audience.
Gasana is also a Girls Rock Young Adult Advisory Board youth leader. They said they initiate and plan events with the help of Girls Rock Bloomington’s larger staff and the generosity of organizations like FAR Center, who shared their space for the event free of charge.
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The open mic night was free to the public, but GRB encouraged a $10 donation for its Black, Indigenous and People of Color Community Fund. This fund was first formed in January 2021 and helps cover the costs of GRB camp for local BIPOC youth.
“Having a BIPOC fund means that there will be youth that will have a chance to explore music and different parts of themselves,” Gasana said.
They also said the camp helps kids establish relationships with the local community.
“I want everything we do with Girls Rock to be a recurring event,” Lauren Kniss, the director of FAR Center for Contemporary Arts, said. “They’re just so easy to work with — their mission just completely aligns with what we’re trying to do here at FAR.”
In addition to its collaboration with GRB, FAR provides several other events, exhibitions and programs for the Bloomington community. In March, FAR will host its Youth Art Month, during which they will provide kid’s workshops and an exhibition of art created by local students.
The open mic, which saw some artist debuts as well as performances by more established performers, satisfied its goal of providing a safe space for artists to share moments of joy, sadness, anger and grief.
“These events bring out so many different people of all ages and all backgrounds,” Gasana said. “It’s all about sharing.”