METROnome: Phoenix nonprofit empowers girls through rock music

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Sierera LaDuke/DD
The “Girls Rock!” movie screening will be showing on Sunday, September 13th at the Newton in Downtown Phoenix. (Sierra LaDuke/DD)

In Portland, attending a rock camp helped a girl conquer her stage fright to fulfill her dream of performing on stage. In Los Angeles, a teenager ended her rock camp experience with a desire for all women to feel as invincible as she. In Phoenix, a group of women inspired by first-hand experiences with rock camps across the nation are preparing to empower girls across the Valley through music education with a new nonprofit, Girls Rock! Phoenix.

“If I had told you don’t have to be really good at what you do to go on stage, and it’s okay to take up space and be really loud, I feel like I would have felt even more empowered to do more earlier,” said Sarah Ventre, president of the nonprofit. “It was something that was missing from Phoenix and it was something that we needed.”

The group was originally founded in October 2014, inspired by a Girls Rock! camp in Washington D.C. that Ventre volunteered in. Girls Rock! Phoenix is steadily reaching significant milestones. In August, the organization was officially granted a 501(c)(3) nonprofit designation, and on Sept. 13, the organization will be hosting its first formal event.

These milestones help the group prepare for its first summer camp, to be held in 2016. Over the course of a week, girls of all ages will go through intensive music instruction and practice times with their assigned bands. All campers will give their final performances at a professional venue, no matter what level of skill they end up at.

“It’s really important for the campers to feel safe and celebrate who you are and not be afraid of who you are,” said Eleanor Mink, treasurer for Girls Rock! Phoenix.

Aside from providing music lessons, the nonprofit also aims to inspire confidence in girls through empowerment workshops related to topics like body image. The campers, who are not required to have any prior musical experience to participate, will also be given a welcoming space to express themselves and enjoy music from professional female musicians volunteering at the camp.

Jenna Duncan, event and volunteer coordinator for the organization, was motivated by her experience as a teenage girl attending rock concerts in Phoenix.

“You were getting pushed around in a kind of a rough way where it felt uncomfortable and kind of unsafe, so this whole idea of creating space, for me, that’s where that comes from,” Duncan said. “I think any girl should feel safe enough at a rock concert. Any girl should feel safe enough to be on stage and not be assaulted or harassed or made fun of.”

The summer camp is only a portion of what Girls Rock! Phoenix has in store for the future. In addition to becoming a member of the Girls Rock Camp Alliance, through which they will receive support from other rock camps, the organization is planning a one-day empowering rock camp experience for the winter.

“I think it took a lot for me to feel like I was good enough or in the right space to do something like play a show,” Ventre said. “I want these girls to feel like after one week or one day of learning three power chords and just rocking those power chords, they’re good enough to play the show.”

These programs are meant to fill the gaps in traditional school music education — including funding, freestyle practice and acceptance from peers — that cause girls to initially shy away from arts programs altogether.

“Girls Rock! serves a different role because it’s that space where you can do whatever you want to do,” Ventre said. “You don’t need any experience to just go for it. Maybe that gives someone the confidence to join a school program, to join a band outside of school, or to keep their band from rock camp together during the school year.”

The importance of the nonprofit in the Valley lies in the creation of opportunity for girls to be heard and to learn from others, said Jennifer Liebhaber, the organization’s vice president.

“Music is the universal language,” Liebhaber said. “You could not speak the same language as someone, but you could still enjoy a song. It’s one of those things that make us human, so it’s important for us. Whether it’s rock music or classical or jazz, I think that it’s still important for us to learn from each other in that way.”

Music is the strongest method of communication for reaching out to youth, Mink said.

“When they can learn music at a young age, and they can feel powerful expressing themselves, this could stay with them all their lives,” Mink said. “It’s going to pay off in leadership and connecting and making the world better.”

The Phoenix nonprofit’s first event, a screening of “Girls Rock! The Movie,” will be held at The Newton from 2-5 p.m. on Sept. 13.

Contact the columnist at Emily.Liu@asu.edu