In 2007, a passion for music and dedication to female empowerment spurred the creation of Ottawa Rock Camp for Girls—a weekend of music instruction for teens and young adults. Ten years later, Girls+ Rock Ottawa is a multi-faceted organization with programs for girls, women, and non-binary youth to learn and experience music in a welcoming space. This November, Girls+ held their eleventh rock camp, showcasing tremendous growth and confidence in Ottawa’s women+ music community at the newly-renovated National Arts Centre.
Despite its recent success, Girls+ Rock is still a small, non-profit organization ran completely by local volunteers. Bianca Oran, a member of the organization’s Board, is a non-profit professional with a passion for music and development. She left a career in the music industry to work on sponsorships for the Ottawa Mission, and joined Girls+ a year ago to assist with on partnerships and communication. “It married my love of music with my day job and what I was already doing,” she says. “Music has been a huge part of my life for most of my life. I thought this would be a really good organization to get involved with in any way.”
“Since I’ve been there, it’s evolved a bit,” she says. This spring, the organization changed its name from Ottawa Rock Camp for Girls to Girls+ Rock Ottawa. “That’s because we’re more than just a once a year camp,” she explains. “We do workshops throughout the year, we have a drop-in jam space where alumni can come and practice. We provide that access space for them.” In addition to their new programming, the organization expanded to an older audience, hosting its first Rock Camp for Women+ this summer. The inaugural project was a huge success, proving a desire for welcoming music programs and communities in the city.
In the past year, Girls+ has also received an influx of funding, allowing the organization to pursue its new projects. They recently received just under $24, 000 granted from TD. “For a little organization like ours, to have that support is huge,” says Oran. The funding allowed them to purchase brand new instruments for their camps and jam sessions, providing for new and returning artists. “We purchased a lot of the instruments from local music shops,” says Oran, “so we put the money back into the community.”
The recent funding has been continued with the help of The J.S. Belleau Fund, which was established this summer. The fund was created after the passing of Jean-Sebastien Belleau, a young Ottawa local and active participant and friend of the city’s music community. “We were honoured and moved when J.S.’ family listed Girls+ Rock Ottawa as the recipient of all proceeds in his name,” says Tiffanie Tri, Chairperson and co-organizer of the camp. “We created the fund because we wanted to have a way to distinguish the funds that were donated in his memory. As in, have a way to track it and monitor its impact.”
Additional funds were also raised this summer at the I Love You J.S. Fest (ILYJS), a community festival and fundraiser hosted by Ottawa Showbox. Since his passing in March 2017, over $2,700 has been raised in J.S.’ name, and donations continue to roll in.
Girls+ has used the donations towards the the maintenance and upkeep of their new and growing inventory of musical instruments, “in order to sustain these investments, and to ensure that we can keep providing high quality instruments to anyone who wants to partake in our programming,” says Tri.
The new instruments were used this past month at the Girls+ Rock Camp, but the organization has more and much larger plans to use their new investments. Their main goal is to create a local music library for young musicians to borrow and rent instruments, following their mandate of providing access and resources to music in Ottawa.
In addition to their increasing funding and expanding projects, the organization has established partnerships with a variety of local businesses. Girls+ recently launched their own collection of merch, selling out of their first run at Victoire Boutique in Westboro West and online. The organization chose Victoire for its independent, local impact and dedication to ethical fashion. The new line (which includes t-shirts, sweatshirts and totes with handmade designs by local artists) marks a new beginning for Girls+, with a tangible showcase of identity, community and impact.
Girls+ is a unique non-profit made of young musicians, professionals, artists, and local supporters. The organization’s last year is proof of this, with its exponential growth and evolving identity. “We’re a community based organization that uses music to empower girls,” says Oran. “We have this flagship event, the camp, but we also want to create new partnerships in the community. We want to make sure were being as inclusive and diverse as possible.”
In the future, she hopes for a continuation of funding and community support. “How great would it be if we could take on more than 30 campers per year? Or if we could pay our volunteer teachers? We just don’t have the capacity or funding yet.”
Specifically, Oran is passionate about creating space and resources for women and girls interested in music. “It’d be great to have more support from the community, more spaces for alumni to host all-ages shows,” she says. Sustainability is important to Girls+, which inspired their jam sessions and women’s rock camp, so alumni can return to further improve their skills. Many have done so, with a handful of former students returning annually as teachers.
Ottawa is not an easy place to thrive as a young artist, especially as a young woman. Girls+ Rock’s mandate—to empower young girls and women through music—is evidently thriving and working to break down barriers for gender minorities. At November’s camp showcase, campers exuded a shared confidence and skill, nurtured through the program’s dedication to community. The programs offer an affordable, safe and inviting space for youth to pursue their passion.
From a $24,000 grant to community fundraising to multiple new programs, it’s been a massive year for Girls+ Rock Ottawa. Now, with secured funding and growing local partnerships, there’s no limit to the impact these young girls, women and local leaders can have in Ottawa’s music community.
You can donate to Girls + Rock or the J.S. Belleau fund at https://girlsrockottawa.com/donate/.