Reported By Women: June 22

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From bikes to art, there was no shortage of empowerment for our city's women this week. Check out what our incredible team has to say about this past week’s happenings.

Graffiti Camp for Girls

Reporting and photography by Sandra Okot-Kotber.

Graffiti Camp for Girls is a program run over the course of four to five days teaching preteen and teenage girls the mechanics of designing and creating public art through murals.

I trekked up to Graffiti Camp for Girls, weeds peeping through the gaps in the cobblestone path. No one batted an eyelash when I arrived. The girls were focused on spraying vivid colors onto a brick wall in Bolivar Alley – tunnel vision on the mini masterpieces they were concocting. It was only Day Two of camp, but there seemed to be a confidence carried with every push of the paint cans’ nozzle.

I found a familiar face outside of the group of girls, which belonged to Liz Miller, manager of programming at ArtWorks.

“Nina’s the one with the pink hair,” she told me, and I immediately saw a flash of fluorescent bubblegum strands. We made our introductions and Nina – whose artist name is Girl Mobb – was modest and the epitome of chill. She is the founder and director of the unique camp that’s been creating a stir literally worldwide, yet she holds a humble demeanor.

Girl Mobb calls Cincinnati her hometown, though she now lives in Oakland. I asked about her choice to return to the Midwest.

“I think Cincinnati’s changing, but I used to see Cincinnati as a little bit more conservative. I live in the Bay Area, so we’re known for being kind of wild over there, so it’s real different. But I see it changing and growing and being accepting of more renegade, wilder forms of art, so actually I think now is a really good time for this program in Cincinnati.”  

She started holding the all-girl art havens in cities around northern Cali and a woman from Dayton, Ohio got air of the camp and asked her to bring it to the Buckeye State.

“I was kind of surprised because I didn’t think there’d be any interest in that in Ohio. So I went to Dayton and did the class. In February, we did two classes in Cambodia and that was really crazy. After that, we were just like, we need to do travel with it.”

So travel she did. This is where Liz Miller and ArtWorks come into the picture. It all started with an email thread. Girl Mobb sent a cold email to the nonprofit – which is famous for the over 100 murals adorning walls across the Greater Cincinnati area painted by local youth.

“I’ve always known about [ArtWorks] since I’m from out here. We seemed to have similar mission statements,” she explained to me through a respirator. Miller shares that she “lit up” at the opportunity, knowing that it would fit in perfectly with ArtWorks’ new phase of the two-year-old mural series, New Lines. The goal for the series is to draw attention to historic Over-The-Rhine’s interesting alleyway system.

“[We’re] cleaning them up, making them safe, making them not just walkable but destination routes through the city, so really hearing attention to that unique and special part of Cincinnati. We were gearing towards a street art-feel, graffiti-feel for Phase Two so we thought that [Graffiti Camp for Girls] would be a perfect fit for this particular phase of New Lines and for Bolivar Alley,” Miller elaborated.

I loved everything I was hearing in this alley in the midst of its transformation into a vibrant work of art. To place the cherry on top, New Lines supports Cincinnati artists by bringing in locals or artists with roots in the city.

“I love giving local artists opportunities to showcase their own work and their own style,” Miller said.

I was in awe, and returned to camp not once, but twice. On the final day of the workshop, I saw the piece as Girl Mobb added finishing touches to the 60-foot mural. It spells out “Solidarity.” Six girls of various ages made up the camp’s Cincinnati edition. The powerhouse women of ArtWorks and Graffiti Camp for Girls all came together to collaborate and a beautifully, gritty union, it was.

She explained the importance of offering this sort of learning experience to girls from a younger age group.

“This is the age when they’re most impressionable and they need this stuff. They need it now. This was actually my age when I started getting into street art. It really changed the course of my life to something positive; at the time, I didn’t feel like I had an outlet or anything to do. It seems like the best thing to bring in while they’re young, because they’ll have it for their life.” Graffiti has a reputation and actuality of being dominated by men, and I appreciate Girl Mobb’s efforts to change that. If only I was born a decade later.

Following camp, Artworks’ Youth Apprentices came to the new and improved alley and began painting for New Lines. Girl Mobb lent an extra day of her time to show even more kids the way around an aerosol can, so I caught up with her to reflect on the past week. She shared her pride over completing the ambitious mural with her team of young ladies in such a short period of time. I had to close by asking her: What was the number one takeaway she wanted the girls to carry home?

“A new sense of confidence in art, I think, would be the most important thing. I think things like spray paint and murals, people — especially young girls — are intimidated by. My main job is just to make it more accessible to people — especially people that you don’t see doing a lot of murals, which is typically women, and typically young women.”

If you’re interested in supporting the mission of empowering young girls to be seen and heard through Graffiti Camp for Girls, reach out to Girl Mobb. If you’re interested in supporting transforming our youth and Cincinnati through creativity, visit ArtWorks’ website.

MoBo Bicycle Open Shop

Reporting and photography by Liz Rosevear.

Tucked away on a side street in Northside sits MoBo Bicycle Co-op, a nonprofit volunteer-run cooperative working to make biking accessible for residents in Cincinnati. On the third Saturday of each month, they host an open shop for women to come and learn bicycle repair in an inclusive environment. The biking world can a bit intimidating for newcomers – especially as a woman. Walking into bike shops, many times the staff is comprised of all men and the bikes themselves are not sized to be comfortable for women. These barriers can keep women from getting involved in biking in the first place. Marissa Pherson hopes to break down at least one of those barriers by teaching women basic bike repair in an accessible way.

Biking is a new world for me. I only learned how to ride a bike last summer. Since then I’ve become enamored with the freedom a bike can afford you and the closeness you can feel with nature when you’re out on a trail. However, I was feeling some anxiety around my lack of knowledge of basic bike repair. One of my worst fears around biking involved getting a flat tire on a trail and having no idea how to fix it. As soon as Marissa walked me outside to look over my bike, I began to feel my worries melt away as she talked through basic maintenance step by step.

Marissa has been running the women’s open shop for about a year now. While living in Minneapolis, her bike was her main form of transportation. She worked as an Americorps VISTA member and saw firsthand how lack of transportation can lead to a loss of employment for those in poverty. Marissa has always had a desire to work in nonprofit. When she moved to Columbus, Indiana, in 2011, she began volunteering at a local bike co-op – which eventually turned into a job. She moved to Cincinnati in 2016 and now works as a mechanic at TEAM Cycling & Fitness. When she’s not working, she’s learning the ins and outs of mountain biking and volunteering at MoBo Bike Co-op. Marissa has her League Cycling Instructors certification – which gives her the opportunity to teach cycling classes to children and adults.

Marissa did mention that cycling can sometimes feel like a “boys club.” As a female mechanic, there have been times that she’s had to defend her skills and remind people she knows what she’s doing. This is why Marissa hopes to see more women getting involved with biking on the roads, trails, mountains, and aims to empower them through fixing their own bikes.

If your bike is in need of a tune-up or you just want to check out the wonderful work MoBo is doing for the community, you can visit their shop at 1415 Knowlton Street. They offer programming throughout the month for people of all ages and skills levels!

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