The Power of Music

Girls Rock Indianapolis  educates and inspires local female musicians

By Madeline Szrom

»An energetic murmur erupts from the Girls Rock Indianapolis headquarters, located on the second floor of the rustic and historic Murphy Arts Building in Fountain Square. It’s First Friday, an open-to-the-public monthly gathering of artists, musicians and creativity lovers, and although the old building allows for a brisk mid-winter breeze, the robin’s egg-blue GRI office offers an air that is warm and inviting.

Young intern Maddie Theaman ushers visitors from the gray hallway into the vibrant office where artwork further brightens the walls and sketch books populate a folding table. Vice President Annie Skinner sets up her DJ equipment, providing music that eventually flows in waves over a crowd of girls who carry on hushed conversations about their favorite bands.

GRI is a chapter of Girls Rock Camp Alliance, which started in Portland, Oregon, in 2007 as a platform for the empowerment and education of aspiring female musicians. The organization works to instill a sense of pride in female musicians from a young age.

A chapter was formed in Indianapolis in 2010 after GRI co-founder Sharon Rickson spent time as a volunteer at the Girls Rock camp in Seattle. “It was a bunch of women playing instruments and getting together to donate their time to ensure girls could learn how to play,” Rickson says. “I saw what it did in Seattle and thought … ‘My community needs me.’”

GRI began as a one-week, musical summer camp with approximately 40 girls in attendance. Today, the camp is divided into two weeks for girls ages 8 to 16 and boasts more than 80 attendees. Participants can sing or play guitar, bass guitar, keyboards or drums for bands that they form while at camp. Once assigned a band, the girls learn an original song, which they perform on the last day of camp in front of family, friends and the public.

For several years, GRI’s only offering was the camp, which took the entire year to plan and execute. However, GRI board members, volunteers and participants wanted more.

“Camp is great, but when it was over, it was over,” Skinner says. “You build this community and then it was like ‘See ya later!’ So when we were on our board retreat, we talked about how to fix that.”

The result led to the established headquarters in Fountain Square, which not only serves as a space for the board and volunteers to meet, but also as a gathering place for young female musicians.

“We wanted a safe place for kids to go on First Fridays,” Skinner says. “A place where girls could come instead of being out on the streets, possibly getting into trouble.”

Twinkle VanWinkle, GRI’s executive director, says the space allows the group to further provide music lessons and mentorship for young girls.

Lessons are held during the fall, winter and spring, with the summer camp filling out the year’s calendar. Lessons are priced moderately to accommodate all income levels, and girls are invited to apply for scholarships to attend the camp. “We don’t want to have a high price point for our services,” VanWinkle says. “We would like to make money to use for our programming, but we don’t want anyone left out.”

Though GRI is based in Fountain Square, its offerings have reached girls well beyond the near-southside neighborhood. “I love that Fountain Square has its own community of arts and music, but that it’s so accessible,” says President Marcy Hook-Moeller, who lives on the south side. “Now, with year-round programming, we’re hoping people realize Fountain Square isn’t so far away. We’re passionate about reaching those places, like the south side, that need music and the arts.”

Budget cuts often affect music and arts programs in area schools. In 2011, Franklin Township announced it would be cutting orchestra and music, along with other arts education courses, when state funding was reduced for the township.

In such cases, GRI provides an educational alternative. Center Grove senior Cassy Coha has served as a junior volunteer for GRI for two years. “I always felt intimidated to play music and expand myself,” Coha says. Now, thanks to her participation with GRI, she has learned to play guitar and bass with other girls her age, while also developing self-confidence.

“GRI helped me find the musicians I was looking for to be inspired by,” Coha says. “Camp is my favorite week of the entire year. I never want to miss it, and I will always make time for GRI.”

What was once just a fun week for girls is now a well-recognized force in the local music scene. “GRI is now in the position where we can reach more areas,” Hook-Moeller says. “My heart is in the south side, and I want to keep reaching out that way.”

To learn more about Girls Rock Indianapolis, visit or call (317) 643-0233.