Girls Rock! Iowa City for five fantastic years

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A Girls Rock! camper in deep concentration with her bass. — photo by Jason Smith

For one week each summer, girls, trans youth and gender non-conforming kids aged 8-16 gather to dig into the roots of rock and roll. This is no rock history course, though — their education is far more visceral. They learn to rock the best way anyone can — by doing it.

Girls Rock! Iowa City held its first camp in 2014. But while rock and roll is the camp’s medium, it’s not the end game. The international organization Girls Rock Camp Alliance, a loose affiliation of similar arts-focused groups around the world, says on their about page, “Our work is a direct attempt to amplify voices that have otherwise been told to be silent.”

Community Builders: Girls Rock! Iowa City

Little Village Community Builders highlights efforts to build bridges between groups in the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City community that might not otherwise interact.Girls Rock Iowa City is a non-profit organization for female and trans-identified youth ages 8-16 that is focused on promoting community, creativity and self-esteem through musical instruction and expression. Presented by: Oasis Falafel

Posted by Little Village Mag on Friday, July 6, 2018

At the heart of the campers’ experience is self-confidence and feminism.

Co-founder Merit Bickner, who attended a Girls Rock! chapter themself starting at age 13, volunteered for five years at the Chicago camp before creating the Iowa City chapter. They told Little Village last year, “We talk to the kids at camp about the imbalanced distribution of power and how we’re working to reclaim it.”

The campers, many of whom have no prior experience playing any instruments at all, break up into bands to write, record and perform an original song. They record in the studio at United Action for Youth (UAY), which also hosts other Girls Rock! workshops and activities throughout the year. The performance gives the campers the opportunity to experience taking the stage at venues where their idols may have gone before, such as the Blue Moose Tap House.

The Girls Rock! camp has become a mainstay of the Iowa City cultural scene. Not only is it raising up the next generation of top notch musicians, but it frequently gathers together the city’s current crème de la crème in support of it. Recent benefit shows have featured local favorites such as Younger and Starry Nights.

Those benefit concerts are invaluable to the Girls Rock! Iowa City nonprofit. Tuition for the summer camp is offered on a sliding scale, and about 35 percent of the campers in 2016 attended for free. All of the instruments on which the campers learn are provided and maintained by the camp for their use.

Girls Rock! Iowa City offers a valuable opportunity for girls, trans and non-conforming youth to find their place in the community. Over the past five years, the organization has integrated itself seamlessly, working not just with UAY but the Iowa Youth Writing Project, the Iowa Women’s Music Festival, One Book Two Book and other local mainstays. In their work, they have gone a long way towards achieving one of the goals stated on their website: “to start a conversation that challenges assumptions about what girls can do and become.”

Editor’s note: This article initially misstated the number of campers who attended Girls Rock! Iowa City’s 2016 summer camp. There were 38 campers who drew a crowd of 150 to their show case that year.

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