In our first installment of Jupiter Camp, eight participants created an array of songs in a huge range of genres. All-original text and music were created by a diverse team of 100% queer-identified and 90% gender-diverse. All the funds we raised for tuition went to pay local, Richmond, Virginia musicians, all of whom are queer and 75% of whom are gender-diverse.
We spent six weeks learning new skills and learning from industry experts. We plotted out scene breakdowns for our songs and conceived of presenting our personal experiences as shared, staged narratives. You can check out of the songs that made it all the way to final demo videos on the Camp page!
We on the admin side also gained a lot of valuable experience through the experimental format and novel approach, and we're applying our findings in continuing modules.
We strongly feel that, for the audiences we serve, pre-collaboration skills such as music notation, creative negotiation, time management, creative block-busting, and conflict navigation should be presented as a foundational course before the pressures of timed, demo'd work are applied to the creative process. These skills are typically built on foundations of privilege: university or conservatory training, private studio work, residencies, internships, and highly competitive employment opportunities at established arts institutions. We had a privilege blind spot going into Jupiter Camp in assuming that these skills could be quickly referred to in passing as refreshers; what we found is that these remarkable artists need and deserve much more robust opportunities to develop this unnamed suite of professional and interpersonal skills which form the basis of current music-collaborative culture.
Our communities are uniquely susceptible to work-halting life stressors and strong trauma reactions, especially around personal topics. A trauma-informed approach for building up new queer creators means spending extra time building trust and creating workable, fair structures of expected deliverables, expected behaviors/treatment of others, and expectations to which artists can hold their leadership.
Knowing what we know now, we realize the specific need for a better onboarding process to professional creative work for those who've been shut out of the studio-to-stage pipeline.
Additionally, we are all working in a grassroots sense to build a new model for the performing arts industry. That's a big part of the "opera" that the Foundation is "developing" - not just individual works but a new professional and creative culture. We've seen that many of those coming to the Foundation are doing so in protest of mainstream industry systems, and their expectations of structure, leadership, and hierarchy reflect that.
To avoid the pitfalls of other activist-artist movements, such as the riot grrrl movement in particular, we have to find ways to create a structure of leadership that works for all parties involved. Honoring artists and respecting them as they learn is a key value; we also expect all our artists to be able to continue learning at every level and, as in any union shop, permit some level of deference in decision-making to those who, by virtue of experience and ethics, are best suited to make those calls.
In other words, we found out in practice that a leader-less, entirely flat hierarchical structure is a group-breaking, project-destroying dynamic that, as friendly as it seems at the outset, just doesn't work in learning or professional environments. And especially when those spaces are peopled with folks who have culturally, systemically heightened needs, learning artists must know they are seen, heard, understood, and respected fully before any level of leadership feels appropriate. While our leaders and teachers will always be taught by our artists, we still need to create, state, and define reasonable leadership roles and expectations at the outset, and those duties need to conform to the needs of the artist-individuals as much as the artistic community.
On the whole, counting both the fair days and the rougher ones, Jupiter Camp was an amazing, intense, and unique learning and networing experience for all of us. Cohort Zero made a remarkable contribution to how we all understand collaborative-creative work and needs. Cohort One and next steps... well, that's a project for next year!
Currently, Jupiter Opera Development Foundation is commissioning several new works for Jupiter Fest, working one-on-one with independent new wordsmiths and composers around the country. As we help those teams make their way toward the stage, we'll apply what we've learned, gather more experiential data, and come back with a solid plan to get more queer and trans folks onstage access for our stories and songs through new Jupiter Camp modules.