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Empowering girls at the Institute for Musical Arts

IMA, Institute for the Musical Arts, in Massachusetts is a non-profit organization built on helping women and girls in multiple areas in the music business. Ann Hackler and June Millington began this program in California back in 1986 before moving to a permanent property in Massachusetts in 2001. They started by asking questions about the “what if” of having more women in the music industry. Women did not have a large presence in the business then. They wanted to see women in roles such as producers, engineers, sound techs, as well as performers.

An old creamery in Bodega, California served as the first physical space for the non-profit organization. This allowed them to have a place to hold the first workshops, concerts, camps and recording studio. The institute was able to be a fully realized program, and not just an idea and a plan.

Ann and June began working with women in the music industry, in various roles at this property. The desire to nurture, according to Ann, eventually led to working with girls and young women. A mother approached them and asked about allowing her daughter to attend, even though the workshops were geared toward older women.

This young girl of 15 came to them and was unconnected from the world. She had a transformation over the summer which showed June and Ann how much music could be a medicine for young girls. In 2002, the pilot summer program began with 12 girls attending. One of the goals of this program is to help girls take ownership of their music and be proud of it. Girls are taught from societal influences that they should be quiet and stand in the back. This group of girls are taught a completely different lesson during their time at camp.

The current space in Massachusetts has multiple buildings for lodging, workspaces, a 3000 square foot recording space, and a 200 seat capacity performing space. If a break from the music is needed, the natural landscape can help. IMA is next to the D.A.R State Forest with lakes available for swimming and kayaking. There are even kayaks and other items for rent on the property.

The organization helps women in the industry in multiple ways. There is a full range of workshops and a summer camp offered there at the property. Workshops range in topics from songwriting to voice lessons, and producing to booking. There is a workshop for any interest within the music industry.

Each summer a camp is held at the property in Massachusetts. The first camp was planned for 1999, but things didn’t quite work as planned. Summer 2002 saw the first summer camp for IMA. Each summer has five sessions; two teen, two pre-teen, and one advanced session for older students. There are three faculty and fourteen girls at camp for each session.

Though there are multiple workshops in the summer program, it all centers around the theme of collaboration. Since everything started with drums, it is one of the required classes. Each camper is required to take drum and vocal lessons. They take turns in the different roles to record a song. Some of the jobs they get to take on are running the board, recording, producing, engineering and being a 2nd engineer to someone. One of the first things that the campers get to do is learn how to run the board. This is an intense 10 days that keeps the girls focused on the task at hand.

All of the classes, skills and collaborations the campers learn culminate in a show at the end of the session. The campers have written, learned, produced and performed the music they would perform.

A team of past alumni who are also performers, faculty and advanced students get together to create the curriculum for the summer program. Each summer differs from the last because of this. If students join multiple years, they can get exposure to different skills and classes.

IMA also puts together a festival each year. This is a curated music event and is usually held in the performance space at the property. The festival in 2020, though, had to look a bit different. The pandemic took a toll on many things in the country, with the entertainment industry being one of the largest industries hit. The performances were mostly pre-recorded and broadcast from the camp. There is a virtual tip jar set up for the artists, as well. Concerts are held throughout the year at their performance space.

With the current pandemic, they have had to change the way they do things. Workshops and the summer programs have moved to an online platform. The camp uses the Acapella platform to record and collaborate with virtual students.

The uncertainty of 2021 brings with it questions for the logistics of the camp this year. The hope is to be able to return to having students come to the property and collaborate in person, but that may not be feasible. If not, the program will continue in a virtual format.

Ann and June, along with their staff, want to ensure the camp and workshops can remain accessible for women and young girls. Whether that be virtual or in person, IMA and their work will continue.


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