ANU sociology graduate turns Honours thesis into successful girls’ rock music camp

ANU sociology graduate turns Honours thesis into successful girls’ rock music camp
Tuesday 19 January 2016

The Girls Rock! camp is an initiative Chiara Grassia first learned about as a teen and wished she could have attended. Originating in Portland, Oregon, it has since spread across the United States as well as Europe and Brazil. 

After Chiara finished her degree at ANU in Sociology, she travelled to the US and volunteered at the Portland camp in 2013 and returned the following year. In 2015, Chiara was awarded a YWCA Canberra “Great Ydeas” grant to bring Girls Rock! to Canberra. 

“I started working on bringing it to Canberra a year ago and I did my Honours alongside organising that,” Chiara says.

“Honours is a really intense year but it also helped […] with thinking about the sorts of issues to do with the camp in finer detail.”

Chiara’s thesis was on how the Girls Rock! camps are spaces that generate social transformations.

“Girls Rock! camp is this incredible space that is created within a week,” Chiara explains. 

“It dismantles and interrupts habits, creates new ones. So things like dismantling jealousy between girls, reframing women as peers rather than competition.”

The camp, held at the Ainslie Arts Centre, empowers young women and builds their confidence through mentoring, music and other creative activities. Over the week, campers each took up an instrument and formed bands. On the final day, they performed their compositions at a public showcase to family and friends. 

“The majority [of the campers] have never played an instrument before and they’re all incredible,” Chiara enthuses.

Chiara listed a few of the band names: Sound Quakes, Mum It’s Not a Phase, Pineapple Paradise. One of the youngest groups was called the Screaming Moths, who wrote a song about a killer moth.

“They’ve really been supporting each other and looking out for each other and developing friendships that will hopefully continue after this program,” Chiara says.

“Hopefully they’ll form bands or create other things together, create a community.”

One of Chiara’s coups was getting the participation of Australian indie-folk musician Courtney Barnett. Chiara emailed Courtney’s record label, Milk! Records, having seen a photo of Courtney wearing a Rain City Rock Camp for Girls t-shirt.

Courtney spent two days presenting workshops on songwriting and how to start a record label with Jen Cloher. Courtney also performed for the campers with Jen and Steph Hughes, from Dick Diver, who taught drums during the week.

“It’s really awesome that they’ve been so supportive of it and have wanted to get involved as much as they have,” Chiara enthuses. 

On having led the Girls Rock! Canberra initiative and turned her paper into a reality, Chiara says she has had a dream week.

“I’ve been working on it theoretically for the past year and to see it practically applied is just unbelievable. It’s been truly excellent.”

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