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Girls Rock Indianapolis Summer Camp Trades Campfires For Chords

Girls Rock Indianapolis is a week-long crash course in rock music and instrumentation for girls ages 8 to 16. The camp runs July 19 through 24 at Park Tudor School in Broadripple.

The camp might seem unusual, but as co-founder Sharon Rickson tells it, it's not just about writing hooks and learning chords. Girls Rock Indianapolis is a tool to foster self-esteem in young women.

"I think that the act of playing music, by yourself of with a group of people can teach you a lot of different things," said Rickson. "It teaches you dedication, it gives you a creative outlet of expression, it lets you develop your own voice and your own opinions and really express yourself regardless of what you look like and where you come from. So it's something that you're creating and you're judged by a sound, and your intuition and passion."

26-year old Rickson has been playing guitar and bass since middle school, but she didn't start playing in bands until she was in her twenties. She says that finding other musicians to work with was a challenge, especially for a young girl.

It was that lack of community that led her and her bandmates in Neon Love Life, an all-female garage rock band, to develop Girls Rock Indianapolis. But they can't take all the credit for the idea. Since the first Rock Camp for Girls in Portland Oregon ten years ago, dozens of similar camps have popped up in cities such as Atlanta, Vancouver, and London.

Why Only Girls?

Here, Girls Rock Indianapolis cites research from the Girl Scouts. They say studies indicates that girls in single-sex environments quote "feel better able to compete fairly, garner attention, take a chance they may be wrong, or not look physically wonderful at the moment."

"A lot of girls at a certain age, mainly this age, 8-16, are afraid to be themselves," said Rickson. "They're very self-aware. And I think that by having an all-female environment, they're shown not only that there's no pressure or expectations from the men and boys in their lives, but there's also a really good example that anything these girls want to pursue, they can."

The Schedule

Organizers have put together a week's worth of activities.  "Every day the girls have band practice and instrument instruction, and it's a very small ratio of 1 instructor per 4-5 girls, so it's nice individual attention," said Rickson. "We are doing a silk-screening workshop where the girls design their own band logo and are able to make their own t-shirts."

Also peppered into the schedule are workshops on self-defense, body image, and self-empowerment.  The campers will learn a history of women in music, and discuss how women in presented in the media.

What's Going On "Backstage"

But organizing a summer camp is more than planning an engaging schedule. There's also the issue of money and resources.  Everything from checking instructor backgrounds, to organizing benefits, to acquiring a storage space worth of instruments and amps, has been done out of pocket by Neon Love Life and camp volunteers.

Luckily, Rickson's educational background is in Arts Education, so she was able to navigate potential hurdles when it came to putting a camp together.  "I'm pretty familiar with classroom teaching, with community-centered teaching and outreach," she said.

The Big Gig

On July 24th, ten bands made up of the 40 girls take the stage for their final performance at the Earth House Collective in Indianapolis.  Each band will perform an original song written during camp week.

But Rickson and her co-founders won't just be winding up cables and giving their campers goodbye hugs after the performance – they'll be working on their 501c3 non-profit designation and looking for funding for future projects.

"It's my goal to do year-round after school programming or weekend programming, eventually secure a space for us to work out of and have classes and workshops and things of that nature," said Rickson. "We want this to be a long-lasting, sustainable program here in our city."

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