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Arts Beat: Santa Barbara nonprofit encourages girls to rock

Courtesy of GRSB

Girls Rock Santa Barbara is a local nonprofit that brings together aspiring young artists with professional mentors in the music industry. High school-aged girls and gender-expansive youth learn about music, creative expression and performance in a positive, empowering environment.

Zadie, now 17, has been participating for almost a decade as a Girls Rock camper—and now a summer intern. She said it is a strong community of support that keeps her coming back year after year.

“They want to see you succeed and actually put out your ideas,” Zadie said. “I really like how they’re always encouraging you to go forward.”

Typically, dozens of Girls Rock campers aged 13 to 18 spend the summer in Ojai honing their music skills and performing with friends. This year, with summer camps cancelled, executive director Jen Baron came up with a new way to keep the young artists at work and connected. She launched paid internships.

“I thought maybe we’d get 30 applications...we got over 300 from teens around the world,” Baron said.

Baron offered as many internships as possible—42—each one including a $500 stipend. She pulled together a panel of professionals to help narrow down the applications, but said it was tough with so many talented young artists expressing interest.

“This is an international group which is amazing,” Baron said. “We have kids as far away as Norway participating, and Ireland. One of our instructors is in Ireland.” Baron started the local organization nine years ago and says more than 7,000 young artists have participated so far. She said many of the teens look forward all year to the summer program.

The internship requires a commitment of 10 hours per week from each student with six areas of focus: record label, recording artist, social media, journalism, photography and podcasting.

An experienced group of female mentors is on board, as well as special guests like Grammy-nominated Elle King, along with other well-known musicians.

“We have special guests every week that are joining our Zoom chats and are speaking to the girls, answering their questions and kind of pulling back the curtain, showing them what the industry is like behind the scenes,” said Marley Ferguson.

Ferguson is in her third year as a mentor for Girls Rock Santa Barbara. She’s a touring musician and the mentor for the recording artist discipline. She had her group start by writing a professional bio they can use moving forward and start also working on music demos for release at the end of the summer.

Ferguson mentors remotely over Zoom and the students share their recordings via Instagram Live and other platforms.

Sixteen-year-old Sophia from Santa Barbara said being selected as a Girls Rock intern has made this summer of lockdown much more bearable.

“For the first few weeks of summer I was sitting by myself at home and I didn’t know what to do,” said Sophia. “I’ve been so, so happy to be involved in the internship.”

A singer, songwriter, and guitarist, Sophia has already had some success as a recording artist. She started with Girls Rock Santa Barbara at the age of eight.

“I was really shy, I didn’t have a lot of confidence and I think that’s where I learned the most from Girls Rock,” Sophia said. “While I was learning a lot about music, I learned so much about being able to trust myself and be confident.”

Baron said the organization began when a professor asked her to draft a business plan for her dream job. As a musician and songwriter herself, she said a music-related nonprofit to empower girls was the obvious choice.

“Art is one of the most incredible and beautiful ways to express how you’re feeling and we’re just providing that safe space for them to be able to express themselves,” Baron said.

The KCBX Arts Beat is made possible by a greant from the Shanbrom Family Foundation.

Beth Thornton is a freelance reporter for KCBX, and a contributor to Issues & Ideas. She was a 2021 Data Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, and has contributed to KQED's statewide radio show The California Report.
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